Meet the Female Dean Championing Diversity at Vlerick |

Meet the Female Dean Championing Diversity at Vlerick

By Niamh O

Updated August 24, 2018 Updated August 24, 2018

Diversity is a quintessential part of MBA programs around the world, with business schools priding themselves on selecting the best candidates from a wide variety of backgrounds.

At a time when female empowerment is at an all-time high, Prof Dr Marion Debruyne, Dean of Vlerick Business School is championing diversity within the business school.

Debruyne knows the importance of this pillar when it comes to the business world. She says, “Showing diversity includes women in business, but it can also include many different types of people. That’s one of the things we have sought out to do.

“We have a series of people we profile, students and alums of our school. Our ambition was to showcase people from different walks of life and show anything is possible.

“They’re people from the arts, entrepreneurs, doctors and we had a specific zoom in on women.”

Vlerick’s ‘journey to your dream’ series demonstrates the importance of showing what’s possible, rather than simply telling. Debruyne says, “We believe it can be very valuable to see people like you or role models to show you there’s a diverse set of people who do an MBA and it’s this diversity that enriches the MBA experience.”

One of the profiles features a student who was a musician when he started his MBA and, following completion of his studies, started his own digital music company.

Debruyne adds, “Another was a young, female entrepreneur with three children. The tagline was ‘doing an MBA with three children? Yes, you can.’”

The series of profiles (which you can read here) is all about dreams. According to Debruyne, the whole idea surrounding the profiles was homing in on what a student’s dream was as a child, their dream at the start of the MBA and how they put that learning into action.

Bringing it to the table

According to Debruyne, gender shouldn’t be an issue at business school and Vlerick has taken measures to boost this. She says, “We created a Female Leadership Grant for our Executive MBA as well as our master’s programs.

“We’ve found the Female Leadership Grant not only gives a real concrete opportunity to promising women, but it’s also an enabler for women to start putting it on the table, express their ambition and start that dialogue, both at home as well as at work.”

Working parents understand the difficulties which arise when going back to education, problems which can hold them back from pursuing their dreams. Debruyne says, “We see that, for women, juggling family, work and an MBA is especially hard.

“It’s hard for men as well but, maybe because of society’s expectations, it can be even harder for women and demands to be on-campus have been even harder.

“That was one of the motivations to launch an online MBA for people to fit the MBA into their lives and not fitting their life around the MBA.”

Although the online MBA only launched this year, Debruyne is hopeful it will appeal to many women. She says, “It’s early days, but we see there’s a slightly higher percentage of female participants in the online MBA, and one of their motivations is it’s flexible.”

Breaking down barriers

Debruyne was only 42 when appointed dean in 2015 – a young triumph if ever there was one. She says, “I’m three years older now, so I’m a little hesitant to call myself young, but I’m youngish for a dean.

“You don’t see many female deans. I think in the top 20 European business schools there are only two female deans, although I do see more being appointed.”

Although proud of her work, she admits her gender shouldn’t be a defining factor, “You don’t get up in the morning and think ‘what will I do today as a young female dean?’ My focus is on the job and to ask ‘where do we want to go with the school? How can we deliver our mission even better to create entrepreneurial leaders?’

“As a female dean I think one of the questions you face is will I use my gender as a key platform? And maybe male deans face this to a lesser extent, but I don’t think a male dean thinks ‘will I choose my gender as a platform?’

“The way I thought about this is implicitly you show that diversity simply by being who you are. You show a different face of leadership than the standard and that’s definitely one way to contribute.”

Debruyne’s position has very much been earned, but that doesn’t mean people didn’t have an opinion on her appointment. She says, “When I started the job, people asked me ‘how do you feel about it? Aren’t you a bit young for the job?’ My standard answer is that it’s a problem that solves itself every day a little more as I age a day at a time.”

But has she enjoyed her position so far? She says, “Absolutely. I’m an alum of our school, and I find it worthwhile taking the school forward, this school which I carry deep in my heart, because it’s had such a transforming influence on myself.

“I am really honored to be able to carry the torch forward for Vlerick.”

Moving with the times

Vlerick will continue to adapt as all business schools must do to survive, and with Debruyne at the helm, there will be a lot to look out for. She says, “Today we have 32 percent female participants in our MBA program, and more than 20 different nationalities, so in that respect there’s a tremendous amount of diversity. That’s a really fantastic environment and classroom setting to be in.”

Debruyne hopes for a bright future for their students and alums, she says, “For us it’s all about inspiring people to be lifelong students and lifelong entrepreneurs, and to be able to contribute to that mission, I find it very worthwhile and inspiring.”

What’s next for the dean?

She says, “I’ve never been a long-term career planner. I’ve always worked hard and I’ve been very fortunate to have opportunities come into my path and I’ve embraced them.

“Today my focus is on taking the school forward. There’s plenty of work to do still.”

This article was originally published in August 2018 .

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Written by

Niamh is Deputy Head of Content at QS (;, creating and editing content for an international student audience. Having gained her journalism qualification at the Press Association, London and since written for different international publications, she's now enjoying telling the stories of students, alumni, faculty, entrepreneurs and organizations from across the globe.  


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