Can you talk generally about women in your programs at NYU Stern?

NYU Stern consistently admits one of the highest percentages of women MBA students among top tier business schools. So we have an average of almost 40% and have had for more than a decade, which is quite high. Approximately 20% of NYU Stern faculty is female. These faculty members teach some of the most popular classes in the curriculum. In addition to that, women hold many dean level positions within the School. 

In the Executive MBA program typically 20% of the class are women. It's never high enough; all schools would  like to increase that percentage. In one class recently, we did have 30% women, but that is unusually high. Our program is for very experienced executives so we're pulling in pretty senior women. The average age of students when they actually come in to the program is 38 and typically they have 14 years work experience. About half have advanced degrees. So, for these very senior women, they are going to be networking with peers in varying industries and varying backgrounds.  It's a very exciting mix of accomplished executives.

What advice would you give to women wishing to do an Executive MBA?

I think that advice is somewhat different for women. There is certain advice that is generic across both genders but for women we do want to make sure they have the full support of family and supervisors - that's incredibly important. We would advise women to look for a program that offers maximum flexibility in terms of scheduling. 

We also encourage women to talk with other women to see how they pursued an Executive MBA. What advice they can give, what helped them get through the program - which is incredibly rigorous and demanding. One of the other snippets of advice we hear a lot when women are considering enrolling in our Executive MBA program is that they'll say things like Oh I'm not sure if it's the right time. I've just got a promotion One of our recent applicants who has a PhD and works for a chemical company said she had just been offered this huge promotion. Was now the right time to enroll in this degree program? And as we talked she realized that it was never going to be the right time. That's advice that other Executive MBA alumni and current students say: It's never the right time or the perfect time, so just go for it! Sometimes women need to know they are not alone. If you have children there are other students who are also parents. Speak with these other women. Some of the women in the program have the best advice. We, from an administrative perspective, certainly add value from being grounded in the knowledge of the program from a School and administrative perspective; but, the perspective of the women students and the alumni is invaluable.  There is a tremendous amount of wisdom and personal experience in their advice. Some of the things that they say about skills and qualities needed are as follows: they say things like 'Success in the program is dependent on your time management skills.' For many of the questions you might ask, it very often comes back to time management skills.

Women also advise other potential women EMBA applicants to build support systems to help them deal with issues as they come up. These support systems can be from classmates or through work and professional relationships. It is the support structure that is so key in laying the foundation to sustain them through the two year program. Others say, 'You'll want to be everything for every role you're in because you are a high potential achiever on the fast track.'  As noted, our students are typically in the senior population with 14 years work experience and average age of 38.  They are also typically mothers and employees; they're the boss and the supervisor, they're friends, they're classmates. So, some other advice is 'Learn to say No'. You need a lot of patience definitely as one is multi-tasking continuously. Other advice we hear is 'Enjoy every minute and get the most out of it that you can.' 'It's an exciting opportunity, fun to learn new skills after all these years.'  Senior women at this level have typically been very, very focused and suddenly they are overlaying new skills and new tools and frameworks on what they already know, giving them new perspective. The work is tough and the advice is that sometimes you may need to settle for a Pass rather than a Pass with Distinction in order to balance all the demands. 

We talked a bit about this idea of juggling: what do you think the realities are of juggling the professional responsibilities with family commitments and now layering on this academic pursuit? And how exactly are you concretely trying to increase the number of women in your EMBA program?

It certainly does follow along from the advice and it's a particularly real issue for our EMBA students who are, as mentioned, typically sandwiched between full home life with children and their career. It's particularly relevant for those with children. It involves balance; it involves prioritizing, multi-tasking and time management. Time for these Executive MBA students is typically the most valuable commodity.  Some of the things that we do to support women coming into our Executive MBA program are that during the admissions process we team a woman applicant with another woman during the class visit so they have the opportunity to actually get that input. In addition, we have a women's lunch for the incoming class.  For instance, for the most recent August class, we had a large lunch and invited the women we'd admitted. We had some very senior women of the incoming class attend and we had a couple of women from the faculty mixed with some EMBA current students and alumna etc. who came. That's a way for admitted women  to get more information about the program and some input on this juggling act that they are about to enter into.  We put them in touch with other women faculty, current students and alumni.

Going back to a comment I made earlier about our innovative scheduling, we always have only two classes at a time.  Some of the other Executive MBA programs have four classes that start and end on the same day and, of course, that means there are going to be four deliverables, whether it's an exam or paper, on the same day.  By running only two classes at the same time, in our program the maximum number of deliverables is cut to two.  As women are, as your question suggests  juggling all sorts of responsibilities, this scheduling helps enormously and we hear that from many of our women students.  It helped to see them through the deliverables and the time crunch. We also have a very high level of customer service, which is relevant not just for women but also for  men.  I think this aspect is particularly supportive of the women in terms of taking care of the administrative details so they never have to go to the bookstore or go to the bursar or even get their visas for their passports for global study tours. We do all that in-house and basically hand it to them.   So all they have to do is show up and we take tremendously good care of them. I think those are some of the details that really help support women and encourage them to enroll, because we are saying, 'You can do it.  We will help you through the process or minimize the amount of time you have to spend running to the bookstore, etc.' One of the other things that we do to support women occurs in the way we form the study groups.  They are formed for each class in advance and are made up of 5-6 people with different backgrounds and skill sets. When a study group has women, we always have at least two women in that group. That way each woman is not out there on her own, with a group of men.  This encourages them to enroll and helps them support one another through the program. It's this network of peers that they are forming who very often become colleagues and, I dare say, friends for life.  For instance, sometimes after graduation they start businesses with these colleagues. So that study group is an integral component of the experience.  

Then of course, we include their partners because the support structure that we talked about is so important.  The partners, the spouses, need to be involved at every step along the way.  We include them so they can experience and meet the others in the program and really get a feel for the rigour of the program and what their partner/spouse has committed to.  We have a launch for the new class, an event where we bring in EMBA alums but we also bring in the partners so they really feel involved and part of the program. Also, during the first residency week we have an evening at the end of the week when we include the partners.   For some women though, interestingly enough, the issue of increased demands on their time pushes them to accomplish more.  For example, one of our Executive MBAs who is single was telling me that although she has neglected a few of her friends she basically set priorities for herself and thinks she is doing as good a job for all of her responsibilities, if not better, than before she enrolled in the EMBA program.  In fact, she's even intensified her workout program and its all working perfectly fine.  So it's interesting when one sees that for some women having more on their plate just spurs them on to even greater heights. 

I do want to share one comment though about multi-tasking because I think this juggling in a multi-tasking environment is very relevant for women.  In a recent conversation with one of our women management faculty, she talked about women being better at multi-tasking then men.  She referred to the research showing that the part connecting the hemispheres in the brain differs in structure for women and men.  This brain mapping demonstrates that women can think on parallel tracks while men tend to think sequentially. So as such, balancing a career, a family, and an Executive MBA may actually pull on this ability to multi-task for women.  An Executive MBA is certainly an issue of multi-tasking, prioritizing and making choices.

What are the benefits for women to get an Executive MBA and can you possibly provide an example of the impact of an Executive MBA on a woman's career?

Some of the typically perceived benefits and reasons for getting an Executive MBA for both men and women are this desire to build on what are already strong functional skills in one area; to flesh that out, to become accomplished in other functional areas.  Also, to integrate that knowledge across functions and to get a seat at the management table.  In this economy especially, certainly having an MBA can differentiate a candidate in selection and can be used as a retention tool.  Some of the reasons companies value EMBAs are interesting.  As part of a customized career service initiative for our senior Executive MBA profile, we  recently had a panel of representatives from four executive search firms.  These panellists highlighted that companies are looking for more rigour when hiring and that an Executive MBA candidate demonstrates  that rigour in the way he / she thinks.  Executive MBAs, particularly senior ones they said, can think holistically more like a general manager.  They are well rounded professionals.  Companies are looking for these, what they termed 'Athletes.'  So on top of these benefits, specific program benefits for women, from the perspective of women in the program and women alumna, are really interesting.  They will say things like: 'It gives you more leverage, people see you differently, and they perceive you differently'.  'It gives women options which were not on their radar before.' ' It makes one aware of a broader range of options and it can put women on an equal playing field with their male counterparts.'  So what I'm hearing a lot from this is, confidence, leverage, options, and, of course, the networking- networking with a strong cohort of similarly accomplished women executives in multiple industries. 

An Executive MBA provides additional credibility to any person who completes it; people believe in you and perceive  you as a high performer. One of the women I was talking to recently said she had learned a tremendous amount of new material, and, I liked what she said next,:  I can now better understand what it is I don't know. Now that of course could apply to a man and a woman but this is very much coming from a woman's perspective. They say that the program has allowed them to step back from their area on which they're focused to widen their lens and to see things more as a generalist. Finally, before I give an example of the impact on a woman's career, some women may feel that the corporate world doesn't allow for work -life balance and so what we see is a number of women then being interested in starting their own businesses and working on their own time.  NYU Stern, has The Berkley Center for Entrepreneurial Studies to support them in this regard. We also have a business plan competition.  The EMBA program has electives in this area, so it's a terrific playing field for these start-up entrepreneurial businesses.  So then, in terms of concrete examples of the impact of an Executive MBA on a woman's career:  one of our alums from 2002 actually formed a partnership with one of our faculty.  They started a business together which is thriving.  It's a lovely example of these entrepreneurial ventures of like minded people coming together, who otherwise might not have met, taking the learning and applying it. One of our current students has just landed, while she's still in the program, her dream job at Google, which we are all very excited about.  Another one, just joined the program and, switched jobs to Goldman Sachs.  That was pretty exciting and put even more pressure on her. The Executive MBA then increases the options, shall we say, available to women.

We often hear about the glass ceiling especially in reference to women and the small percentage of women in the higher echelons of corporations, how can education providers actively educate corporations to concretely change these things and how do you see things changing in the near future?

This is an interesting question, this glass ceiling, and it sparks a lot of dialogue and input. It seems to me for women nowadays, often with financial independence, and, since we have the pill, it's often about making choices rather than being blocked.  So, often the opportunity is available within the organizations and start-ups and so on, but the choice may not be attractive. So for instance, a woman may not be interested in the lack of balance in life that results from these terribly demanding jobs in the corporate world.  She may not be interested in that kind of race at this particular time in her life.  It may be more enticing for her to spend more time with her family at this particular stage in her life.  Power is often not as attractive to women as to men.  All of these factors can play into the concept of why women are making choices not to penetrate that glass ceiling.  So, it's not really that they are always blocked, it's more a choice situation.  Taking a long term view and thinking of your career path over a long period of time, you can decide perhaps when you choose to break through your own self-imposed glass ceiling. So, what happens here is that, as I mentioned, women who are more senior, who have children, who have returned when they are older, not needing to spend as much time at home; they'll decide that they are then going to get their Executive MBA, start their own business, and get off the career track they have been on.  We see them then at this stage develop and hone their entrepreneurial skills through our Executive MBA program.  The program is really a lifetime investment in oneself.  It provides an opportunity to transition ones' career, to build on skills, and, in our Executive MBA program for senior experienced executives, to do so with similarly experienced colleagues.