Just Is – An MBA Girl Shares Her Perspective

 In Inspiration

I wrote this post for the Forté Foundation a couple of months back about being an MBA gal. They asked their members what we would say to other women to help them get off the fence and on the path to achieving their MBA dreams. So here is what motivated me, how I made it happen, and what I discovered along the way. Special mention to @889Christine who taught me my “Just is” mantra during a meditation class a couple of months ago. Check out her fabulous studio, 899 Yoga.


I remember beginning my MBA journey in the summer of 2007. I was fresh out of Journalism school, experimenting with writing a novel, and absolutely lost in life. My original dream of being a wartime correspondent was fading as I started to envision a future life with a spouse and children. Ducking mortars, standing on the fringe of violence, and hiding in dangerous cities no longer “fit” for the future version of me.


Things evolve – including the vision you have for your life. It just is the way it is.


On impulse, I applied to a pre-MBA type of program with Stanford’s Graduate School of Business (the Summer Institute for General Management). I was terrified and had no idea what on earth possessed me to think that I could survive a B-School environment. I literally add numbers together using my fingers.


But that experience was incredibly valuable in showing me that the make up of a business school classroom today is not just suits and ties. Yes, you’ll have the i-banker, the consultant, and the engineer crossover. But more and more, the power and presence of creatives, entrepreneurs, and “other” types of people in the classroom is a valuable driver of motivation and change.


I found myself at the edge of my seat during lectures from professors like Garth Saloner (now the Dean), Margaret Neale, and Yossi Feinberg. I was engaged, stimulated, and actually contributing actively in class! (Granted, some times I may have been counting on my fingers under the desk). This experience showed me that I could add value with my “other brain” skills and abilities.


I returned from this Palo Alto love bubble and went on to work some marketing jobs before eventually applying to the Rotman School of Management in Toronto. I started my part-time morning classes in 2011 – and recently finished the whole shebang!


I would like to share some experiences of being an MBA student, particularly an employed one, in the hopes that it helps Forté femmes relax and enjoy their ride.


Own the Male/Female Ratio

My experience, and likely yours, was of entering quite a male dominated environment. Though more and more women are entering the mix, and even in the part-time cohorts that I studied with, it can still be daunting and uncomfortable to be a few among many. Much to my amusement, I was even labeled an “MBA Barbie” or an “MBA Doll.” Much less to my amusement, I was Facebook and LinkedIn creeped or placed on “lists.” (You know, the kind you thought were left behind in high school).

There’s the saying “don’t shit where you sleep,” but I actually met my significant other in class. However, I do encourage a certain reserve and professionalism as you start getting to know your classmates on those pub crawls or wine and cheese nights. At least until you get the full story. You never know what dynamics and relationships will be like by the end of the carnival ride.


Own the Male/Female Wins and Losses

This year, I was the lone female short-listed for valedictorian of the part-time sections (Morning and Evening). One female to four males, out of a student body of +100? As I started reading the book, The Confidence Code, I started to learn more about how this phenomenon likely began in the classroom back in core courses. I realize that I exude more “masculine” than “feminine” traits in my education and career pursuits, and that these traits are often viewed more positively for men than women.

“Positive” male traits (read: equivalent “negative” female traits):
Proactive (Aggressive)
Straight-shooter (Uncouth)
A-type Scheduler (Nagging)
Firm (Rigid)
Outspoken (Not gentle)
Able to make a decision (Bossy)

Ooooh – “bossy!”

So while female students may default to being the more gentle, nurturing, secretarial – I challenge you to not be scared of being disliked for having a backbone. It shouldn’t be a trade-off.


Own Your Strengths and Bolster Your Weaknesses

Much like my time at Stanford, my time at Rotman was spent shying away from the betas and t-tests of a quant-heavy MBA. In Strategy and Marketing courses, however, I could shoot from the hip like Angelina Jolie. If you are from a “non-traditional background,” you will be pleasantly surprised by the bounty of opportunities to make your mark!

My skills as a writer paid off in spades as I wrote dozen page papers or whipped up Powerpoint decks without batting a mascara’d eyelash, while my quant peers struggled. This is an incredible opportunity to expand your skill set and strengthen your weaknesses as much as it is a time for diverse talents to shine.


Own the Group Dynamic

During my MBA time I was fortunate to take (and TA) a Management Consulting course taught by our Associate Dean, Professor Beatrix Dart. In this course, students were split up randomly for various group assignments, mixing together cohorts. It was fascinating to see the natural inclination of female students to assume the role of the note taker or presentation makeover artist (as noted above). When left to our own devices, women can inadvertently pigeon hole themselves in to being the literal and figurative “secretary.”

Even though my strengths do happen to involve presentation makeover artistry, what this experience taught me was the need for the non-alpha male personalities to take their seat at the table. Very Sandberg-esque, I know.


Own the Hamster Wheel

There is debate about whether it is possible for a woman to have it all. I have done talks about this subject in the past, and still think it’s ridiculous. No matter what, the ride is going to be tough. You are going to have to slog it out with your calendar. Re-scheduling dates, prioritizing assignment deadlines over movie nights, spending endless hours studying, or dreaming about taking a trip after an exam. I have classmates who literally got married between semesters (once exam schedules were released).

Making this amazing commitment to improving your education is divine, not easy, but totally rewarding. It is not impossible so long as you embrace the suck and accept that some things may change. You may do less yoga, stop writing, or struggle with ill-timed promotion. It just is how things ebb and flow. But at the end of it all, you will make it work – and it will work wonders for you.

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