I entertained the idea of doing an Executive MBA (EMBA) a few years before I actually made the decision to go and do one. I still remember that each time the thought crossed my mind, all sorts of supposedly good reasons instantly killed the idea. An EMBA would be too expensive, too time consuming, much more pressure that I would be able to handle; and I would not be smart enough to get through the selection process! I was certainly not the only woman yearning to enroll in such programme while at the same time erecting her own mental barricades.
Today it has been less than three months since I completed the programme and there can only be one phrase describing it all: a life changing experience!
Beyond the wealth of “technical” knowledge you gain through an EMBA, the most valuable learning comes from what I learned about myself and about others, especially my male counterparts. And the lessons started as soon as I revealed my intention to do an EMBA.
However determined and prepared you are, never underestimate other people’s reactions. My male boss was bewildered by the idea and did not understand that as a mother of a 6 month old baby I wanted to complicate my life even further with an EMBA which, according to him would serve no purpose as I was a senior member of the team already. A senior member of the team who had not been promoted for several years and had seen her heels stuck on the same rung of the career ladder for too long. In the end I had to change job and report to a female manager to be able to work and do my EMBA at the same time.
We live in a society where women are not naturally assumed to have the same professional ambitions and goals as men, especially when they become mothers and new tags are added to their job description (no early morning or late afternoon meetings, no business trips). As a woman, taking a break or working a shorter week to take care of your children is not necessarily welcomed by the boss but it is somewhat acceptable. Asking for flexible working to follow an EMBA programme is a clear message that you have come to know what you’re worth and that you’re even capable of much more. Not everybody will receive that as good news. Yet standing for my decision and firmly pursuing my goal was the first step in giving myself an equal footing with my male colleagues.
Doing an EMBA is a family decision so the only outside opinion that mattered in my final decision was that of my husband. To stifle my internal barriers I came to the basic reality fact that if others, both men and women, were able to do it, so was I. The EMBA was actually not different from what I already knew at work: until now it is still a male dominated environment with a few female participants of each cohort. We were 11 women out of 71 participants in my cohort. There were 10 teams composed of six men and one woman with the exception of one team where there were two women. That was the typical configuration of a management committee or a board in most workplaces of most countries.
The valuable difference is that the EMBA provided multiple opportunities to experience, handle, and resolve tough conversations and management situations in a safer and non-hierarchical environment.
Level playing field
Immersed together in an experience where personal limits can be put under enormous pressure, I developed a deeper understanding of and more appropriate response to typical male behaviors and reactions, it would have taken me much longer to decode in the workplace. The wide array of team assignments, business simulations, role plays placed all participants into C-suite type situations, ones most of us did not experience directly at work. I found myself exposed to a definition and practice of many concepts such as respect, loyalty, guilt, right, wrong, decision making, etc. that could be very different from mine as a person but also as a woman.
Whether I chose adhere to it or not, I also learned a male-oriented conception of networking, one that taught me that I did not necessarily need to like people to network, do business or work with them. What I needed was to respect their business values and bear in mind that their friends and the friends of their friends may one day be valuable contacts for me. Conversely male participants not having female peers and managers at work were able to see what women could bring into a senior level male dominated group, and business environment. The absence of competition that exists in the workplace for a promotion, for an international assignment, for a very visible project created a space for more authenticity and subsequently more valuable insights into gender biases and pre-conceived ideas as well as opportunities to discuss and break cycles. The motto of the business school I went to is: “The more you know, the more you dare”. An EMBA is a life enabler, helping women knowing more about their value and talents, and daring to step up.
In a business world still ruled by men, gender inclusive EMBAs alone will certainly not be enough to bridge the gender gap in terms of salary and career advancement. However, having increased female representation in EMBA programmes will allow female participants to first master the rules of a game they are given little room to play, and then change those rules to make the game more inclusive. It will also show men that not only are women as capable, competent, skilled, and smart as them to have their place in senior level business circles, but more importantly, that those circles need the presence of more women to build a sustainable world.
In late September of this year, I was elected co-President of The European Professional Women’s Network (EPWN) in Paris, a women’s network I joined in 2005. One of my first missions is to work with my business school to share my story and encourage the 800 plus Parisian members that if doing an EMBA is an idea they have somewhere in their hearts and minds, they can allow themselves to prioritise it because it will bring them, and society at large, so much more than they would ever imagine.About the author & EPWN
Sandy Beky is the co-President of The European Professional Women’s Network (EPWN) in Paris. In 2013, after a career spanning more than 15 years in multi-nationals (licensing, pharmaceuticals, IT), she founded KyoSei Leadership®, a consultancy, positioning sustainable development as the cornerstone of leadership, people management practices, and business partnerships.
The EPWN is a vibrant growing pan-European federation of more than 20 women’s networks and 4500 members throughout Europe. To find out more please visit: http://www.epwn.net