Women can do an MBA

RSM encourages women to dive into the corporate MBA world

Times are changing for women in business.

Challenges women face in Master of Business Administration (MBA) programmes while trying to climb the corporate ladder are being addressed by Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM).

“RSM is very women friendly,” says Anna Grigoryan, an Armenian Full-time MBA13 student at RSM and co-president of RSM MBA Student Association Women in Management Club. “[RSM] does a very good job in encouraging and welcoming female students,” she says.

“There’s an ‘at home’ culture at RSM, which attracts women,” says Ayumi Kimura, a Japanese MBA student at RSM. She recently travelled to Budapest with 15 female students and plans to organise another event. “We don’t find boundaries between men and women, but women are bonding with each other,” says Kimura.

Grigoryan thanks this to, amongst others, the efforts of Dianne Bevelander, associate dean of MBA programmes at RSM.

Research by Bevelander and Page on women in MBA programmes, has shown that women and men network differently.  Women appear to be more exclusive in building trust networks in professional situations; particularly with other women.  Additionally, when it comes to risk taking women exclude each other and prefer networking with men, putting themselves and other women at a disadvantage.

Bevelander says that working with women to help them expand their professional trust networks, particularly with other women, is hugely important if we are to increase the number of women reaching the highest levels of organisations. “Gender diversity in the boardroom enhances group intelligence and improves governance, ethics, decision making and productivity. Moreover it mirrors the market. Therefore, companies and societies can only thrive if all the highly talented, passionate and creative women in the workforce are supported in developing appropriate trust networks and thus in accelerating their career progress to the boardroom. That is why RSM is focussing on this issue.”

RSM runs a number of programmes, electives and networks promoting the participation of women in management. These initiatives have been introduced to address challenges women face in the world of business.

Central is a proactive progress focusing on the empowerment of women by emphasising the importance of taking initiatives to help each other, says Bevelander. Programme innovation includes exercises in network development, mentoring, and of course the Kilimanjaro project launched for the first time in 2011.

Reaching new heights
A women-only course was developed to make revisions to RSM’s full-time and executive MBA programmes, including a unique leadership experience: the MBA Kilimanjaro Leadership Project. This elective course is designed to develop communication, leadership competencies and team building qualities in participants. Fourteen female MBA candidates climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. In light of RSM’s passion for innovative business education, the project challenged students to experience leadership to reach the top, in more ways than one, by encouraging, mentoring and coaching each other.

“The Kilimanjaro Leadership Project is a good example of what an MBA can do for women,” says Monique Kappert, a Dutch EMBA student at RSM. “The women networking events also attract females,” she says, emphasising the success of RSM’s women empowerment group.

The Erasmus Centre for Women and Organisations (ECWO) is committed to women’s continued advancement into leadership positions across multiple sectors – in large and small private companies as well as public and private not-for-profit organisations.

The Open Programme on Women in Leadership, a two-day programme in Rotterdam in November, aims to enable participants to discover more about themselves through interaction with other corporate women. 

RSM offers the Women in Business scholarships to women showing exceptional business leadership potential. The scholarships aim to increase gender diversity within the respective MBA programmes.

“This is one of the best experiences in my life”
“A lot needs to be done beyond addressing the number of women in MBA classes,” says Bevelander, referring to text presentations often containing an implied gender bias and too few business cases featuring women in executive positions.

The positive outlook is that more women than in the past are getting their MBA, says Bevelander. Still, “women have many hurdles to overcome.” Bevelander explains that besides corporate challenges, it’s also the ongoing issue of balancing work, school and family.

According to Marjukka Le Noble, a Finnish Global Executive OneMBA student at RSM, women are often discouraged to do a post graduate degree and generally there’s a lack of support towards women’s career development. “The expectation is still that the man is the bread winner,” says Le Noble of Dutch family life. But she has seen plenty of women studying while having a full-time job and family. Le Noble says these role models prove that “it’s possible [for women] to have a job, do an MBA and even enjoy the experience.”

“I don’t care [what people think], says Kappert, whose company didn’t want to sponsor her MBA. I do the EMBA for my own development. I want to become a better leader,” she adds.

It’s a real shame when women don’t believe in their own capacities and do not consider the possibility of studying for an MBA, says Grigoryan. “Doing the MBA I consider to be one of the best experiences in my life. You gain so much from the programme and more.” Grigoryan adds. “When doing an MBA, there are no limits to improving oneself personally and professionally.”