The MBA Advantage

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Whether changing careers or continuing your education, MBAs are a way to set yourself apart from the competition.

Survey any class of adult students in an MBA program in Chicago, and you’ll soon discover that there’s no one reason professionals pursue a master’s in business administration. Nevertheless, the skills gained are universal in their ability to propel professionals. The rapid pace at which business is evolving has many MBA programs concentrating on the relevancy and timeliness of their coursework. Faculty and staff recognize that their students must understand how to bridge expertise in business fundamentals with leadership, teamwork and networking, in order to discover success.

“Management education is now more relevant than ever for both women and men,” says Elizabeth Ziegler, associate dean of MBA programs and dean of students at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. “It’s about taking yourself to a higher level – to propel your career forward, to open up new opportunities and to become a leader of lasting impact.”

Many students enter MBA programs because they feel a career switch is integral to their professional growth. Donna Wu, a full-time University of Chicago MBA student, chose the Booth School of Business because she felt that the curriculum layout would prove more helpful to her as she transitioned from a background in engineering to a career in strategy and consulting. Booth MBA students are only required to take one core class in leadership development; the remainder of the curriculum is arranged according to a student’s professional goals.

“I knew that it may have been possible to make a short-term switch and be successful,” says Ms. Wu. “[But] long-term, as you’re climbing through management ranks, it’s almost required that you have a wide breadth of exposure to different topics.”

While an MBA is helpful for changing careers, hard skills in administration and leadership remain the foundation of the curriculum. The expedited accessibility to management and training in higher-level thinking motivated Latia Howard to pursue her MBA at Kellogg.

“As I’ve moved along in my career, I’ve noticed a strong trend of who the key decision makers are,” Ms. Howard explains. “When you look at the common characteristic, it’s graduate degrees, whether in law or business. I chose the MBA because I wanted to expand my career opportunities.”

Though tuition reimbursement for MBA programs is currently rare among employers, Ms. Howard, a part-time student, is fortunate that her company agreed to pay for her education under the stipulation that she work there while in school and three years after graduation. Ms. Howard happily accepted the offer; minority women with MBAs from competitive universities within the commercial insurance industry are rare, she says, and having one will distinguish her in the field.

Where are the Women?
“The need for women to be in positions of leadership, providing a voice at the top levels of management, is crucial so that we have companies, businesses and organizations whose leadership values diversity and the unique perspective each gender brings to every discussion and decision,” says Joanne Legler, associate director of admissions at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

The disparity of women leaders in business is echoed in MBA programs. While women account for 50 percent or more students in many graduate degrees, women in MBA programs continue to lag behind. Most Chicago programs have a female enrollment that ranges from about 20 to 35 percent; at Notre Dame, for example, 26 percent of the Executive MBA students are female. As a result, the school’s administration has decided to redevelop its recruiting efforts.

“We recently ran an ad during the Chicago Marathon of a woman in a pink outfit with a bib that said ‘Notre Dame EMBA. Your next challenge,’” says Lisa Heming, assistant director for admissions and student services for the Notre Dame EMBA. “We know how important it is to elevate women in the workforce.”

Campus organizations such as Booth’s Chicago Women in Business provide feedback to MBA administrations on attracting female students and understanding their concerns. Sonalee Jayaprakash, a Booth MBA student and co-chair of Chicago Women in Business with Ms. Wu, explained that such organizations also help women network and build relationships on campus.

“Because there are fewer women, you tend to stick together a little more and have a community that’s more supportive,” says Ms. Jayaprakash. “Of course, you feel a bit like a minority in the space. But, when you go to the workplace, that’s how it’s going to be with men and women.”
Ms. Jayaprakash works with the organization to dismantle stereotypes about women and men in business. At the Chicago Women in Business Fall Conference, a popular topic that was debated was work-life balance.

“When you typically hear about the topic, you hear that the woman wants to have children early and have a part-time schedule, but that’s not necessarily what these sessions are about,” says Ms. Jayaprakash. “They’re more about, how does the family make the decision about what works best, based on what opportunities that are available for both the husband and the wife.”

Increasingly, the skills and relationships offered in an MBA program remain significant to helping women reach their career destinations. Whether you’re looking to switch careers or place yourself on the fast track in your current one, an MBA may provide the boost you need.

By Ashlei D. Williams

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