Business School Can Help on Your Way to the Top!

Joyce RussellBy Joyce E. A. Russell, Dean, Villanova School of Business

The latest statistics of the Fortune 500 indicated that 32 of 500 CEOs are women. That’s more women running companies than ever before, and here’s another interesting fact: 71 percent of them attended business school, (mostly AACSB accredited). They include: Mary Barra of General Motors, Meg Whitman of Hewlett Packard, Indra Nooyi of PepsiCo and Phebe Novakovic of General Dynamics. This might suggest that getting a business education, particularly an MBA, can prove advantageous for women hoping to rise to leadership ranks in the world’s best companies.

Beyond Book Knowledge

Why is a business education so important for women to rise in leadership? It’s not just the knowledge that women gain from taking courses in finance, economics, accounting, strategy, leadership, management and marketing. That’s important, of course, as is the credibility acquired from being able to speak the language of business. But also immensely valuable are the connections you make in business school and the support networks you build, which are especially helpful when you’re in a traditionally male-dominated field.

Most business schools have support mechanisms to encourage more mentoring and networking opportunities for women leaders. At the Villanova School of Business, for example, there are groups specifically for women in male-dominated fields, including Women in Finance, Women in Real Estate and Women in Technology, in addition to general women’s clubs such as the Women’s Professional Network and Women in Business. Being involved in these groups helps women to develop powerful networks that they will need to advance.

What’s more, schools are partnering with women’s organizations such as the Forte Foundation and the National Association of Women MBAs to provide even greater professional support and education for their women students. Additionally, there is much greater pressure on business schools to ensure that the course materials and cases they use in classes do a better job of reflecting women in leadership roles. This will help both women and men to see and accept women as senior-level business leaders.

On the Business Horizon

As business schools work to design initiatives to recruit and retain more women, we should expect the numbers of women CEOs to rise. In the meantime, we can look forward to seeing women starting at higher roles. The Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) found that getting an MBA leads to job placements in middle-level or senior-level positions across business sectors. Women also reported to the GMAC that completing their graduate business degree helped them prepare for leadership positions—as well as increased their earnings power—and it provided them opportunities for quicker career advancement.

For women to advance into higher-level leadership roles, having a business degree, particularly a graduate degree, can be the best way to fast-track their careers and so have a significant impact on how organizations are run.


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