Closing the MBA Gender Gap

NY Women’s Leadership Panel calls for more women in business

10/10/2014 New York

NY Women's Leadership Panel
Women are still underrepresented in the world of business

In a corporate world still largely dominated by men, the choice to pursue an MBA as a woman comes with challenges of its own.

Today, corporations and institutions, IESE among them, are taking positive strides toward a more equal distribution of sexes in the business world.

The successes of female MBA alumni attest to IESE’s efforts. A panel of these remarkable women came to IESE’s New York campus on the evening of October 8 to share their experiences with a classroom full of prospective female MBA students.

The intimate conversations that ensued reflect what has made and continues to make the IESE MBA experience an integral part of these women’s lives.

A lifelong network of classmates

Lorraine Merghart-Ballard (MBA '84) placed relationships at the top of her list of greatest “takeaways” from the MBA program. “The relationships that you create are very long-term,” she said, emphasizing the fact that even decades after her graduation, she is connected with and supported by an enduring network of fellow MBAs. Some serve as professional resources, others as close personal friends. “I felt like part of a family and that feeling has not stopped,” said Ines Barrutia (MBA '10).

Recent graduates Sarah Knudson and Christie Garcia insist that the close-knit network of support that is created during the program is an elemental part of the MBA learning experience. “Your classmates are your greatest resource,” Christina Garcia (MBA '14) said.

Learning to think

From an academic standpoint, IESE’s rigorous teaching methodologies have provided these alums with business-critical skills that apply directly to a wide array of careers.

The emphasis that IESE’s MBA program places on the case method has been of strategic and practical use to Lashaun Skillings (Exchange MBA '06) in the workplace. As the Senior Manager at Amazon, Skillings is able to take diverse clients’ high-level ideas, process them, and find viable solutions.

“That type of structure helped me in dealing with my clientele, and has made that process easier to digest,” she said.

Vice President of U.S. Marketing at L’Oréal, Carrington Cole (MBA '01), affirmed that the IESE MBA case method approach has helped her to distill each big business challenge down to its essential points, to make an executive decision - and most importantly to accept the fact that such a decision may or may not be the right one.

“You have to feel comfortable with that, and that is something that I use at work every single day,” she said.

A Global Platform

IESE’s global presence, which extends from New York to Barcelona, Madrid, Munich, Sao Paolo, and other parts of the world including Africa and Asia, distinguishes its MBA from many other programs.

“IESE offered me a global platform,” said Sigridur Sigurdardottir (MBA '01). Upon graduation, Sigurdardottir was recruited to work for American Express in Australia. Since then, she has enjoyed a highly successful international career with stints in Singapore, London, and most recently, her home in Iceland.

Skillings echoed this sentiment, adding that the choice to spend a semester at IESE’s Barcelona campus as the best decision of her education. Learning to adapt to cultural differences and to work with international students from all walks of life is a skill that is directly applicable to corporate America today, said Skillings.

Humanistic approach

IESE aims to make a transformational impact on the way individuals interact and on standards of conduct in today’s global business world.

Dean Jordi Canals talked about maintaining a clear and consistent focus on people, and the need for integrity and respect for others within the business arena. He described the “crisis of trust” between individuals as a key factor in the global recession.

“Trust can only grow, develop and flourish if there is a deep respect for each person,” he said. People not only long to be respected, but also to be appreciated as human beings—and this is an elemental component of IESE’s educational model.

“We are not working with machines,” Canals said. “We are working with people.”

Julie Verdugo (MBA '12) agrees. The atmosphere of trust and collaboration at IESE helped spark her creativity and build a more adventurous approach to her own goals and objectives. She joined the IESE MBA after launching her own jewelry line, and took advantage of the internship opportunity to work at a fashion company in London, deepening her understanding of the industry. “I used portions of my MBA program and internships as a playground of sorts,” she said, “ in order to try out different things and discover what I wanted to do.”

Closing the gender gap

The panelists agreed that while women are still underrepresented in business, prospective female MBAs should not be put off. They called for more women to proactively redress the balance and become part of a process to change the gender dynamic.

“If you want to do something, your gender should never stop you from doing it,” said GEMBA student Sybil Ford.

While the panelists acknowledge that behavioral differences still prevail in the way that men and women negotiate, they all agree the “gender hierarchy” is changing.

“The best thing you can do to prepare for that change,” said Cole, “ is to put as many tools in your toolbox as you can.”