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3 Key Tips For Women Starting Business School In 2024

This International Women’s Day, we spoke to McKinsey business leaders and female MBAs from Chicago Booth and Stanford to find out their top strategies for success

Thu Mar 7 2024

As top MBA programs such as Oxford Saïd and Wharton reach gender parity in the classroom, business schools are gradually becoming more representative of the outside world. 

While greater representation in MBA and master’s programs is a positive step, more can clearly be done to ensure women have the same access to opportunities and development as their male counterparts.

One way that female business school students can be supported is through the insights and advice from successful women business leaders, fellow students, and allies.

If you’re starting business school in 2024, here are some top tips for success:

1. This trick will build your confidence

 We’ve all been there—you’re in a work meeting or conference and find that it’s mainly the male employees asking the questions. Far from being a sign of women’s lack of inquisitiveness, this hesitancy to ask questions can be caused by a lack of confidence or even imposter syndrome.

“In both the academic and professional setting, never be afraid to ask questions, interject, and take on tasks outside your normal scope of work,” says Kate Reasons, an accounting manager at Ampla, and graduate of the Master of Accounting with Data Analytics program at Villanova School of Business.

If you shy away from those all-important questions, you’re missing a great opportunity to advance your learning and confidence at the same time.

“You may tap into a skill or passion by being inquisitive or taking on a new task,” she adds.

One 2022 study by Henley Business School found that studying an advanced business degree such as an MBA can improve women’s confidence, self-efficacy, and motivational energy. 

This was the case for Joy Jones, CEO of Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) and Stanford MBA alum.

“It [MBA] surrounded me with talented and ambitious people who understood business and the workplace in ways that differed from my views. The exposure opened my mind to prospects that I wouldn’t have imagined otherwise, like business data analytics,” she wrote in US News & World Report recently.

2. What to do when you reach your limits

You might assume that once you get to business school, you need to always work independently so as not to show any sign of incompatibility for the rigorous nature of an MBA. Yet asking for help is never a weakness—in fact, it’s a sure-fire way to identify areas of improvement and sharpen your existing knowledge.

Simone Ruiz-Vergote is an Executive MBA grad from Frankfurt School of Finance and Management. She is also the executive director and global head of ESG and Climate Regulatory Solutions at MSCI ESG Research. 

“I personally benefited a lot from the coaching and self-leadership work, which I continued even after concluding the program,” she says.

Something that might be worth considering is the Forté Foundation MBA fellowship, which provides scholarships, access to conferences, and networking opportunities to students accepted into partner business schools. 

“Understanding industry dynamics, trends, and setting clear career goals early on is crucial. Aim to secure quality internships that provide hands-on experience and valuable networking opportunities. It is relatively easier to find an internship than a job,” says Rupali Deshpande, Hult International Business School grad and global partner business manager – healthcare at NVIDIA. 

Since unfortunately women face limitations in the workplace, women in business regardless of their career level or experience can benefit from help along the way. Even if this is just someone to gain a second opinion from when it comes to your career direction.

3. These are the people you need to meet

With so many women-focused business networks out there, you need to take advantage of these opportunities from the very early stages of business school.

“Getting to meet so many super inspiring and hardworking female peers in business school was one of the biggest benefits for me,” says Rachel Enright, engagement manager at McKinsey & Company and Chicago Booth MBA grad.

One great way to build your network before even starting business school is to attend a business school networking event. GMAC MBA and Master’s Tours hold Women in Business Breakfasts in partnership with the Forté Foundation in cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York.  

“Seeing what other people did [at business school], what they had done, and the way they thought about things, while having those individuals as supportive peers, was very valuable,” adds Rachel. 

Meanwhile, at business school there are always women-focused societies or groups. At Warwick Business School for example, there is a Women’s Professional Network aimed at bringing together alumni, students, and staff invested in supporting women and underrepresented groups in business.

“You’ll be amazed at how having authentic and curious conversations can grow your network organically,” says Jané Cilliers, Warwick MBA student.

So, celebrate this International Women’s Day by supporting women and underrepresented groups around you. Make sure to also support your future career by connecting with inspirational female business leaders and seeking as much advice as possible.