Women and the Executive MBA | TopMBA.com

Women and the Executive MBA

By QS Contributor

Updated May 30, 2018 Updated May 30, 2018

Women who decide to plunge into the world of EMBAs face many challenges along the way.  It is no easy task and yet thousands of executives choose to invest in themselves every year to pursue this prestigious degree. 

What happens though when you have all of the EMBA challenges along with the added responsibly of caring for a family? Does it make a difference if you are a woman studying forthe EMBA? Does it have the same impact on your career? Does it require extra dedication? 

These questions can really only be answered by those who have had the experience themselves: women who have lived the journey and are thrilled to tell the tale.

“You must do the things you think you cannot do.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

The program

An average EMBA classroom is filled with 23% women, 77% men. The large gap in these numbers is most often explained by the fact that the ideal time to seek an EMBA usually falls at about the same time in a woman’s life that she is ready to start a family. There is also the fact that women are quite simply not targeted as often by their companies to build on their education and particular career expertise. However, business schools would like to see a bit more equilibrium in the gender mix of their classrooms and many are now targeting advertising and information campaigns to a feminine audience. That does not mean though that business schools are specifically tailoring their actual programs to female candidates.

According to Bernie Zanck, Director of Recruitment and Admissions for the Executive MBA Program – Europe of The University of Chicago Booth School of Business, when it comes to their program, there is no difference between the sexes. “Our program enables both women and men to develop into leaders. Chicago Booth is a place where ideas compete and people collaborate.” Maria Puig, Executive Director of the IESE Global Executive MBA agrees but adds, “A professional life requires a comprehensive set of competences, skills and network, no matter whether you are a woman or a man. Therefore, the program should make the same impact on men as on women. What is sometimes different is the perspective that men and women may bring into the class when analyzing business problems. Having a balanced group in terms of gender is extremely important for rich learning and class dynamics.”

Once in the program, women certainly do not seem to have a problem fitting in and they often actually seem to gain much more than they had expected. Fabiana Prada, alumna of the University of Pittsburgh’s Katz Graduate School of Business, EMBA class of 2007 remembers, “I decided to pursue an EMBA firstly because it is a complete education that covers different areas of a business enterprise in depth and secondly because of my own interest in continuing to renew my knowledge base and to be in contact with the latest business practices.” Yet she also found that, “from a personal level it is very gratifying to know you accomplished such a demanding program while still dealing with your full-time job and balancing your personal life. It gives a sense of "achievement" and proves how much we are capable of.”

Career Impact

The positive impact of an EMBA on a professional’s career is undeniable and documented in most any survey or research done on Executive MBAs but is there any difference in the impact that an EMBA can make on a woman’s career as opposed to a man’s? According to Joan Coonrod Assistant Dean of Executive MBA admissions and marketing at Emory, Goizueta Business School, “there is no difference. An EMBA from a top business school should act as a catalyst for growth and development – regardless of gender”. Whereas Francis Petit, Associate Dean for Executive MBA Programs at Fordham University, Graduate School of Business Administration believes that it actually may give an added benefit to a woman’s career. “It is well documented that there exists an "earnings discrimination" among women within many industries. Female students, in many cases, make less than the male students in our program. With that said, an EMBA can make a positive impact on a women's career especially in the long term. Whether a female EMBA graduate stays at her current company or switches industries or starts up an entrepreneurial venture (which is often an attractive option for females), the EMBA can be that needed vehicle within a women's long term career and journey.”

Ghada Simon, INSEAD 2010 GEMBA alumna sees many benefits for women pursuing an EMBA. “First, they get a real chance to be considered as peers and to be treated on an equal footing. Building on that, I have the feeling that after an EMBA most women are more self-confident and more assertive, they act accordingly and break the 'glass ceiling', as the perception of their professional environment changes positively.” Ms. Prada adds, “The greatest advantage for a woman getting an Executive MBA is to differentiate herself and to be able to have a much broader and deeper view of an organization, and to help put the puzzle pieces together to find the best possible alternatives.”

Kerry Watts, Durham University 2009 EMBA alumna, didn’t actually go into the program with set expectations but was pleasantly surprised by what she found. “I never thought of the EMBA as a guaranteed passport to a specific job but the whole experience has enhanced the opportunities that are now available to me. I believe those undertaking an EMBA need to look at the bigger picture and the added advantages that the qualification gives you: providing you with new knowledge, rounding off the knowledge you have, and learning from other colleagues (their backgrounds, experiences and dilemmas). It has helped me to enhance my confidence by being able to transfer the skills I had developed through nursing into different business scenarios and realize that I can make a valid contribution.”

Extra dedicatio

The one difference you will often hear about between men and women pursuing an Executive MBA is the amount of juggling involved. In most cultures, though it is slowly changing, the family and household duties still rest mainly on the woman’s shoulders. Yet, this does not seem to deter those truly determined to make it work. As current Kellogg-WHU EMBA participant, Charmaine Leung notes, “The women in class have been phenomenal and exceptionally inspiring from career driven mothers who balance school, career and travel, to individuals that are passionate, vocal, and confident and excel in the areas they work in.” Natacha Dagneaud, Kellogg-WHU 2009 EMBA alumna adds, “No need to visit Cirque du Soleil... All the women I saw at the EMBA were excellent jugglers. They had created a support system around them with the help of family, work/colleagues and classmates. My tip to you is: During the EMBA, learn to delegate and to empower. This also applies to your family, kids, relatives... They can live without you for a while. Take this time out for you.”

Ebrahim Mohamed, Director of Executive MBA Programmes at Imperial College wisely notes, “Family life can be distracting. But the most successful executives have the most fulfilling personal lives – it’s all about being focused and prioritizing accordingly.” Nora Benhabiles, IESE 2008 GEMBA alumna, enthusiastically agrees, “Yes, do it! I had 9-month old twins when I began the GEMBA and worked in Belgium while living in Paris. Regarding the balancing act, it is always difficult to balance personal/professional life and there is no secret potion to succeed. But I would say that in many cases men are now sharing the familial responsibilities and the cultural taboos are becoming less present.” Additionally, Lamees Qasem, IESE 2009 GEMBA alumna believes you must “be realistic about what you can do. You can never have everything perfect and bear in mind that at any point in time something will have to give and it is ok. The most important point is to have great support from your partner. It is a tough and taxing period on everyone and somehow your family will have to see the value and appreciate the sacrifices you have made.”

The payoff

The one point that each and every woman agreed upon, whether she was an alumna or a current participant, was that the effort is truly worth it. Catherine Clauzade current participant at the EMLYON Executive MBA program noted that “even after 20 years in business with a strong technical training, through the EMBA program I am able to learn new habits, and new ways to analyze everyday problems! It's a bit like someone with myopia discovering the benefits of a pair of glasses!” Ms. Qasem adds, “the greatest advantage to having an Executive MBA degree is the depth of analysis I am now able to engage in thanks to the vast experience of my colleagues who have many years of knowledge and challenges under their belt.”

Finally it is simply the fact that they have conquered such a challenge that adds to all of the other benefits their new EMBA degree brings these women executives. Ms. Watts acknowledges her gratitude for her support team and knows that to survive the EMBA challenge you simply have to stay the course, “My determination to succeed was supported by great friends, colleagues and similar minded people at the business school – both classmates and staff. Keep your eye on the goal that you have set yourself and the time flies - before you know it the hard work has paid off.”

This article was originally published in November 2012 . It was last updated in May 2018

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