For many years it was almost impossible to hear of women in leadership positions. This invisible barrier to women’s ascent to the top seemed to plague women all over the world and in almost every professional sector. In recent years, however, this barrier has begun to show real cracks and many women in leadership and management positions are proving that there are indeed ways to get past the barriers to leadership and, more importantly, to be successful in such positions.
So how can an MBA not only help women overcome obstacles, but also ensure that when they do get into a leadership position, they can comfortably stay there? Women are more likely to be in precarious positions and therefore at higher risk of failure – either because they are appointed to lead organisations in crisis or because they lack the resources and support needed to succeed. This is where strong professional relationships, unwavering confidence and the courage to act on what you know come into play – all elements that can be gained and/or strengthened by participating in an MBA programme.
Creating a support network
While an MBA cannot guarantee an open door to corporate leadership, it can certainly create opportunities to at least knock on that door and start looking at what is possible. The strong support networks and meaningful connections that are formed while studying an MBA are often cited by alumni as one of the most valuable elements of the program.
In addition to the invaluable support of a strong professional support network, building confidence is essential to avoid barriers to success. Fortunately, building confidence seems to be a common benefit that MBA graduates enjoy. For many women, a key outcome of an MBA is that it validates their skills and experience, giving them the confidence they need to thrive within their organisation. On a practical level, the work-based assignments that are often integral to the MBA give participants the opportunity to raise their profile within the organisation by becoming experts or advocates on specific issues, thereby shaping the direction they want to take.
The process of debating and learning with a group of colleagues, away from the pressures of the work environment, can be a huge confidence boost for many women. It’s not just about gaining knowledge, it’s about understanding how you want to be perceived in your next role and gaining the skills and confidence to seek your next challenge.
Sometimes building confidence is just a matter of a gentle nudge that says, “You can do it!” One of the biggest problems women face in senior management and executive roles is marginalisation – too often there are only one or two women in such teams, and so they consistently operate as a minority. The last decade has seen a healthy increase in the number of women participating in MBA programmes and so they now form a critical mass of participants. This creates a robust environment where women have the opportunity to engage with colleagues who face similar challenges to them, can interact much more intensively with men operating at similar levels, and can actively learn how to creatively assert themselves in a business environment.
Armed with strengthened support networks and relationships, a deeper belief in themselves, and a healthy dose of simply going after what they really want, women in leadership positions are able to make great strides because of what they have gained and learned during their MBA studies.