It’s no secret that the business world can pose a challenging environment for women who want rise to the top.
Indeed, a 2016 report found that of all Global Fortune 500 companies, only 10.9% of top management positions were occupied by women.
The crux of the issue is preconceived ideas concerning female capabilities. An MBA though, could be part of the solution.
Scholarships—such as WU Executive Academy’s Female Leadership Scholarship, available to Global Executive MBA applicants—aim to alleviate problems around female self-perception by supporting the best of female management talent.
Astrid Kleinhanns-Rollé, managing director at WU Executive Academy, confirms that the problem relates to soft skill ability.
“Women are just as capable as men,” she says, “one of the issues is that they need to believe this and have the confidence to assert themselves. An MBA is a great tool for this.
“The percentage of female students on our MBAs has risen over past 10 years, which indicates that women are focused on moving into leadership positions,” she confirms.
So, female leadership is on the up but progress is slow. Astrid, however, is sure that as companies realize the benefits that diversity in the workplace creates, more women will gain access to the C-Suite.
The Peterson Institute for International Economics completed a survey which notes that firms where women occupy 30% of leadership roles add more than one percentage point to their net margin.
Astrid also highlights the influence that peers have. “It’s important to surround yourself with a professional network of women whose drive and achievements inspire you,” she says.
The WU Executive Academy Female Leaders Network, which launched in September, is a perfect example of students realizing this. It aims to support female alumni and students by acting as a forum to share career advice.
Anita Kirilova (pictured below right) is a WU Executive Academy Global EMBA graduate, agency director and head of sales at MetLife in Bulgaria. Her inspiration to aim for the top in business was close to home.
“My mother was a chief financial officer at one of the biggest chemical plants in Bulgaria,” she explains.
“I also discovered that I was extremely good in sales strategy and influencing people and so I pursued what I was good at.”
Anita references the importance of fully realizing your potential. Staying at home and only caring for family wasn’t enough, she explains. An MBA was the ideal self-investment she was after. It also highlights the importance education has in building self-confidence.
“Ladies usually lack this because we’re used to having to be a ‘good girls’ who shouldn’t talk too much, so we become afraid to express ideas.
“I realized that my knowledge, skills, and competencies are absolutely equal to other leaders, male leaders” she asserts. Sure enough, Anita was promoted straight after graduating from her MBA.
The secret to success? “You have to articulate your career goals, to yourself and others, and show evidence of your ambition and the steps you’re taking to get there,” asserts Anita.
“Demonstrate that you’re not going to give up,” she says, before highlighting that this is especially relevant for women, who are required to “prove themselves” more than their male colleagues.
“Sometimes men and women think differently, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s due to our different experiences.”
Anita cites success as the key pivot for change. When achievements are met, you’re looked at as a manager, not a woman, she explains. Success silences any doubts about whether a woman is worthy of the position she holds; being judged by your abilities, not your gender is where real change starts.
Elena Litvinova (pictured below right) is a fellow WU Executive Academy graduate and an example of a woman at ease in a boardroom.
As vice president of strategy and development at NovaMedica, she knows the importance of self-belief when it comes to managerial promotion.
Elena identifies confidence as tantamount to EMBA value. “It becomes easier to envisage oneself in a leadership role capitalizing upon opportunities,” she says.
She also notes how the prevalence of male bias in business culture can restrict women from acquiring top decision-making positions.
Women need to break free from the perception—that even they themselves may have inherited from childhood—that certain jobs aren’t for women, Elena affirms. In business, the best way to do this is to put yourself forward for promotions, highlighting yourself as a key player in the company’s success.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re male or female so long as you do your job well,” she concludes. Taking that advice on board, it will be this way of thinking which will eventually propel more women into the C-Suite.