Why MBAs Are Not Just For Men

by | Jul 14, 2011


Women can take responsibility

Grant Mason threw a pebble in the pond when he commented on Twitter that “MBA's are done by blokes in their 30s and 40's. Women are doing career and mothering.” The ripples spread across the world, as women on four continents responded to this rather sweeping statement.

My experience was that I had done an MBA as a woman with a strong career and two small children (then two and four years old). I was in my late 30s at the time: I certainly did not conform to Grant’s characterisation!

However, it’s worth considering what the situation looks like worldwide.

Global view

According to the Financial Times, while women have outnumbered men in worldwide university enrollments and graduations over the past five years, there are still major discrepancies when it comes to business schools, with men outnumbering women significantly. Women comprise 31.6% of MBA classes on average worldwide.

So I am in a minority, and maybe Grant can be excused for believing what he did….

Since our interaction, I have reflected on what helped me break the trend.  I  took personal responsibility for my own career strategy and personal development. Without that , I would not have achieved my success.   It is also  a truism that “Behind every successful man, there’s a woman”. Behind my MBA success there is an army of people!

Who supported me!

I could not have done an MBA without the support of:

  1. My employer. I had bosses who believed in me, arranged company finance to cover my significant study fees, gave me a year’s unpaid sabbatical to pursue my goals and dreams, and ensured I had an interesting role waiting for me when I returned to work.
  2. My husband. He took on the major load of fetching and carrying the children, and looking after them, while I had my nose in my laptop. (You’ve heard working women say, “What I need is a wife!” He is that and more.)
  3. Friends, family and church. We were involved in a church group, which provided us with social, spiritual and practical support. Regular meals were supplied by friends and family, helping to close the nurturing gaps!
  4. My parents. They had helped me to learn that I am intelligent, and that I do not need to be limited to societal roles reserved for “girls”.

What I did for me!

I also needed to take responsibility for:

  1. Pursuing my goal of completing an MBA. I decided to not be one of those people who say “When I do my MBA…” interminably. I decided to “Put up or Shut up”!
  2. Choosing the appropriate course structure for my circumstances. I chose a full time course, which suited my lifestyle needs and learning style, although this involved financial sacrifice.
  3. Applying myself to my studies. I had been a very lazy student in my youth, achieving reasonable results. I worked hard on my MBA and achieved superior results.
  4. Making personal sacrifices. When my classmates were out having after-hours fun, I was involved with family responsibilities. When my family was out having fun, I was locked to my laptop!

Change starts with individual women

If women are to take their full place in MBA classes, they will need the ongoing support of friends, family, employers and business schools. Some countries are getting it right: “Women comprise 47.2 per cent of MBA students in Hong Kong,” however, most countries need improvement.

While formal strategies of employers and business schools need to be strengthened to increase the percentage of women in MBAs, I believe most of the change required starts with individuals.

It may be that most MBA students are male, but it does not have to be that way. We can all help change this by changing mindsets, and supporting others in pursuing their dreams.

Spread the word!


lbarbour Subscriber
Lynn Barbour has extensive experience in human resources, both as a senior leader in a large multinational organisation and as a senior consultant to executives in a variety of organisations. Her most extensive, specialised knowledge is in the area of remuneration and benefits.
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