Women MBAs are Changing the System

Businesswoman negotiating with men By Tina Vasquez (Los Angeles)

According to the GMAC Global Management Education Graduate Survey, 106,000 women took the GMAT exam last year and more than 1/3 of MBA students are women. As we’ve all heard, this means that there are more women MBAs than ever before. The problem? These highly educated women are encountering two massive road blocks: they’re struggling to find employment after graduation and those employed hit the second major hurdle that must be overcome by countless women across every industry, the glass ceiling. Women are half of the population and 36.8 percent of MBA holders, yet, compared to their male peers, they’re struggling.

As is often the case, the numbers just don’t add up. The GMAC Global Education Graduate Survey also found that female MBA graduates submitted 20 percent more job applications than male graduates last year, yet they received half the job offers. A 2010 Catalyst survey of global MBA graduates found that women lag behind men in job level and salary starting from their first position, and guess what? They never catch up. Catalyst also reports that on average, women make $4,600 less in their initial jobs, even after accounting for experience, time since MBA, industry, and region.

There is a lot of talk as to why this is happening, as to why in the year 2012 gender parity is still something that highly educated women fight to attain. In all of this talk what never gets said – or rather, what never gets said enough – is that it’s not their fault. Women are putting in the work, gaining the experience, obtaining the degrees; women are leaders, rainmakers, negotiators, and networkers; there are qualified female candidates and the pipeline should be filled with these women – but it’s not.

In light of these challenges, women are focusing on the ways that they can better equip themselves to excel. Not by fixing themselves, not by “being one of the guys,” but by developing a better understanding of the culture in which they’re working, creating a pathway that works for them, and changing the system for the next generation of women MBAs.

In other words, the time for talk is over – just ask the participants of next week’s Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), where women will see an extended network of power players supporting them.

Designing for Impact

The theme of this year’s CGI is Designing for Impact, which seeks to explore how the CGI community can design their world to create more opportunity and more equality. Naturally, women will play a key role in shaping these conversations, with topics ranging from women in the economy and how women-owned businesses can advance in the developing world, to turning oppression into opportunity for women worldwide and integrating women into global supply chains.

One of this year’s CGI attendees will be Gail Romero, senior advisor for MacKenzie-Romero Consulting, Executive Producer for Rainmakers TV, and former Ambassador of Global Health for the American Cancer Society. This isn’t Romero’s first time participating in the CGI and it surely won’t be her last, especially not in her new role as CEO of MBA Women International (MBAWI), a not-for-profit organization dedicated to empowering female professionals, assisting women into leadership positions in business, and enhancing the diversity of the workforce worldwide.

Go Forth and Conquer

Romero has only been CEO of the organization since January, but she’s already made a major splash spearheading MBAWI’s International Leadership Academy. Romero enlisted the help of human resources professionals, consultants, social scientists, anthropologists, and a host of other professionals to help MBAWI develop curriculum for their new 15-month program, most of which can be completed online, enabling women from across the globe to hone their skills and become more adept at navigating the corporate landscape as leaders. The beta test for the program will begin this fall, as 100 women from 10 major companies will undergo a battery of rigorous leadership assessment tests, partake in coaching, and engage in role-playing exercises that will test their leadership skills. At the end of the program the women will be given a three-hour exam and if they pass, they will receive an Executive Leadership Certificate with the understanding that they will now be expected to mentor other women that will go through the course.

The seeds for the program were planted when Romero participated in a panel for women in leadership as part of the Global Center for Dialogue and Cooperation’s annual meeting. She sat in front of the global media and 250 world leaders, including CGI founder and former President Bill Clinton, and vowed to affect change.

“I made this commitment in front of President Clinton and in so many words he said, ‘If I were starting a business today, who would buy shares of a company that did not engage 50 percent of the talent pool? In this economy, no one can afford that.’ I took it as his blessing to go forth and conquer, and that’s exactly what we’ve set out to do,” the CEO says.

Five Skills to Have in Your Back Pocket

MBAWI is growing by 900 percent each month and with 1.6 million viewers of its online magazine, 5,000 global members in 52 nations, 76 collegiate chapters, and 20 professional chapters – including the re-launch of its Greater New York City Professional Chapter, it appears as if the organization’s International Leadership Academy can spark real change – especially because Romero made sure to pinpoint the exact areas women need to address.

“When we spoke to leaders and professionals from around the world we didn’t ask what women should do or what women were doing wrong; we asked what key attributes are necessary for a corporate leader,” Romero says. “We identified five key pieces that will help women move forward.”

The first piece of the puzzle is learning what makes a strong leader and teaching women how to lead themselves, lead their careers, and lead others. The second is having a global mindset. The third is cross-gender communication skills. The fourth is cross-cultural communication skills and lastly, the fifth was cross-cultural ethics.

“Corporate culture isn’t supporting women, but when they have these skills in their back pocket there won’t be an option anymore, they must be given a seat at the table because companies need them and can no longer afford not to utilize them. Women don’t need corporate America, that’s why they’re leaving. It’s not to have babies, it’s because the culture doesn’t support them,” Romero says.

Paradigm Shift

It does appear as if many companies are recognizing this, as evidenced from the number of corporate sponsors MBAWI has garnered for its International Leadership Academy and next month’s Leadership Conference and Career Fair, taking place in Phoenix Arizona from the 18th through the 20th. Sponsors include American Airlines, AT&T, Intel, and even Walmart, which has had a rocky history when it comes to promoting women. According to Romero, part of the change is a direct result of women themselves, who are now “voting’ with their checkbooks. This was illustrated by Facebook’s turbulent IPO earlier this year.

“Why would women buy stock in a company that didn’t have a single female board member at the time?” Romero asked. “Women still make 80 percent of the financial decisions and when they don’t see gender parity, they’re no longer willing to look past it anymore. The bottom line is that it’s about the bottom line. More women in the C-suite provides a higher return on investment. It’s time for a huge paradigm shift and all of us at MBA Women International are literally burning with excitement to help make it happen.”