Women and the Executive MBA – Spring 2013

Women and the Executive MBA – Spring 2013 main image

So many people talk about quotas and glass ceilings but what about the women themselves? Are they ready to step up into leadership roles?

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO, has hit a nerve with her Ted Talks presentation entitled ‘Why we have too few women leaders’. The media may still be talking about quotas for the number of women executives in a company that should or must be met. And there is also that constant chatter about the pesky glass ceiling that keeps getting in women’s way. Yet, what if there is a barrier that is not being talked about and could be just as hindering to the numbers of women entering the C-Suite? What if that barrier were actually self-imposed? Now that would be something that we haven’t really talked about before and Sheryl Sandberg had the courage to bring up just this point in her presentation.

Preparing for the boardroom

What if women themselves are not prepared or even sure they want to take their place at the table? The boardroom table that is. Now that the subject has been breached, it has opened up a whole new conversation, one that can help both women and men in their career paths. This new conversation delves into mindset, knowledge and support. Fortunately for aspiring women executives, these aspects are all being addressed in most every top Executive MBA program today

Donna March, MBA Program Manager at the School of Business, Royal Roads University affirms, “An (E)MBA can help build confidence where it may not have existed before. The demands of the program, combined with the busy lives of our students, often help participants develop better ways of doing things. Confidence increases, the ability to quickly synthesize information improves, and they become better communicators in and around the boardroom. This is applicable to both sexes, but can be quite powerful for female (E)MBA candidates.”

So it would seem that as long as enough women are getting into Executive MBA programs or similar continued learning options, the numbers of women in C-Suite positions should be on an upward trend. Yet, this is not the case. In her new book, Lean In, Sandberg attributes the gender gap, in part, to women who don’t aggressively pursue opportunities. “We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in.” New York Times writer, Nicholas D. Kristof backs this up, “A McKinsey survey published in April 2012 found 36% of male employees at major companies aspired to be top executives, compared with 18% of the women. A study of Carnegie Mellon MBA graduates in 2003 found that 57% of the men, but only 7% of the women, tried to negotiate a higher initial salary offer.” A perfect example of women pulling back when as Sandberg says, ‘they should be leaning in’.

The need for role models

More often than not the ratio of men to women in an Executive MBA classroom is also evidence that things are out of balance, with men typically outnumbering women by three to one. There are many theories for this discrepancy ranging from the fact that a typical EMBA student’s age is the same as the average childbearing age; to the fact that women are not being offered the continuing education opportunities by their employers as often as their male counterparts; to realizing that women simply do not have enough role models to show the work-life-school balance can be done.

While it is true that the best time to do an EMBA is when you have a solid amount of work experience under your belt, which for most women coincides with the ideal baby age of thirtysomething, many women have proven it can be achieved. Simply talk to a group of alumnae and they will often tell you the EMBA was the hardest and most rewarding thing they have ever done. This is exactly where the support element comes in and women need to bring in help while they balance each aspect of their life. Child care, house cleaning and laundry may all have to be delegated for a year or two but the short-term sacrifices will turn into long-term payoffs.

Which brings us to the question of having role models who can show women the path of least resistance and the ‘it can be done’ attitude. NBCNews.Com writer Eve Tahmincioglu puts it perfectly when she says, “A well-placed, successful, encouraging mentor can be your champion if you want to get noticed by the higher-ups but don’t have the stomach to let everyone know how great you are. And a mentor can also help you navigate the ins and outs of what is still a good ol’- boys network in the upper echelon of the business world.” According to Tahmincioglu’s research, women hold only about 16% of corporate officer positions in Fortune 500 companies, and there are only ten female CEOs among biggest companies, according to the research firm Catalyst.

The changing financial tide

Perhaps the tides are changing though. Anne Nemer, Assistant Dean for Executive Degree Programs at Joseph M Katz Graduate School of Business, University of Pittsburgh points out, “The Financial Times recently quoted a US compensation survey that said “Higher average take-home pay for male chief executives appears to stem from the scarcity of female company heads, [and] women’s relatively recent arrival at the top[...]” This scarcity cannot be rectified without an increase in professional women who are qualified for key leadership positions. A master’s degree is an essential tool that provides women the credibility and experience to surmount and surpass barriers to success.” In short, if we want more women in the Boardroom, we have to start by getting more women into the classrooms.

As if to underline Nemer’s point, and motivate a new wave of women executives, a recent US News & World Report feature noted that “women who are considering applying to business school may find encouragement in recent data from the McCombs School of Business at University of Texas – Austin. Of the 201 members of McCombs’s full-time MBA class of 2012 who reported base salary data to the school – which excludes students who started their own businesses, returned to sponsoring companies, pursued further education, or are currently looking for work – women posted higher average salaries than their male counterparts.”

“Women represented just 31.8% of the overall class, but held a disproportionate percentage (33.3%) of the jobs reported by the class three months after graduation. Their average postgraduate base  salary of US$106,073 was also higher than their male counterparts, who earned US$104,631 on average. That was despite the fact that the women had an average pre-MBA average salary of US$60,792, compared with US$64,047 on average for the men.” The data clearly shows women benefit from continuing their education.

Beauty and balance

It is time for women to stop, as Sandberg says, “Lowering our own expectations of what we can achieve.” With the right support and education we are seeing more and more that women can help lead and are extremely capable of making valuable contributions but they have to believe this themselves before they can make it happen. Perhaps New York Times’ Kristof sums the whole situation up best when he says, “Some people believe that women are more nurturing bosses, or that they offer more support to women below them. I’m skeptical. Women can be jerks as much as men. But we need more women in leadership positions for another reason: considerable evidence suggests that more diverse groups reach better decisions. Corporations should promote women not just out of fairness, but also because it helps them perform better. Lehman Brothers might still be around today if it were Lehman Brothers & Sisters. So, yes, let’s encourage young women to “lean in,” but let’s also change the workplace so that when they do lean in and assert themselves, we’re directly behind them shouting: ‘Right!’”

Written by Mansoor Iqbal

Mansoor is a contributor to and former editor of TopMBA.com. He is a higher and business education specialist, who has been published in media outlets around the world. He studied English literature at BA and MA level and has a background in consumer journalism.

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