Viviane is professor at the European Commission's Jean Monnet Chair, as well as being a highly respected professor at the ESSEC & Mannheim Executive MBA program. She serves as the director of the ESSEC Law Track, is co-director of the European Centre for Law and Economics and is Academic Director of the program Women Entrepreneurship. If there's anyone who can talk on the subject of how women can pursue all of their goals while still keeping a work/life balance, it's Viviane. She speaks with Dawn Bournand, Editor of the QS TopExecutive Guide about Women and the Executive MBA
Before we delve into the subject of women and the Executive MBA, I was wondering if you could tell us how do you feel about the specific difficulties in women's career choices?
When I was around 30 years old, I realized that when you're a woman and want to have a real career, you are 'supposed to sacrifice' your personal life. This is what I am fighting against. The question will be the same for my daughter, who is 23 years old today. I think that we must try to change this situation not only in business but also in politics. We must really encourage younger women to do what they feel they have to do. An Executive MBA is a great example of this because it offers an advanced level of training and a good degree, which often leads to more responsibilities in business and management and enables participants to move on and to look forward.
What advice would you give to women wishing to do an Executive MBA?
Just do it! It is your prerogative! I managed the ESSEC & Mannheim Executive MBA at ESSEC for four years so I interviewed a lot of candidates and participants and could feel their anxiety. Women worry about whether they can manage an Executive MBA , a career and a family. It is not the same question for men. During these four years, and now when I teach such groups, I realize that when women enrol in the Executive MBA - when they decide to do it - there are no more questions; it is always a success. I have never spoken to a woman who had regrets.
So how can women get the family buy-in for this very big endeavour?
Women usually bear 70 to 80% of family duties. Of course they must take care of their children and family matters, but they have to organize themselves. I really think it can be done, and again, it's because I did it myself. When I talk with my daughter now that she's older, I am able to give her more, and fulfil her needs more, because I have a career. I have a network to help her, and I can answer her questions regarding her own professional future. If I did not have my career, I would not be able to do this. I think that when you're younger, people you know can help with taking care of children, perhaps your grandparents. So firstly, it is not only your issue but also one for the family to deal with, which includes your husband or your partner. Secondly, everyone should recognize your prerogative to do an Executive MBA and must be present to help you because it is not just an investment for you, it is an investment for everyone in your family. By doing an Executive MBA you will become someone better, and it helps everyone.
How are you concretely trying to increase the number of women in your Executive MBA program?
ESSEC & Mannheim business schools are very involved in this question of diversity. So by examining the balance of women and men we really have made a great efforts. One example is the fact that three years ago, I was given the green light to create the Women Entrepreneurship program at ESSEC. We have been the first business school in France to offer a program dedicated to women.
Specifically for the Executive MBA, the proportion of women participants has always been a question. Why? Because, usually you do an Executive MBA around 30-35 - an age when women manage families and have children. So there is a structural difficulty for women in doing an Executive MBA.
So, apart from the fact that women 'have the right' to pursue an EMBA, what can we concretely do to help them? Firstly, we organize coaching sessions. Coaching is open to all participants, and for women -- if they express the need for it -- there is help from a woman coach on this question of gender.
Secondly, because participants come regularly to La Defense (ESSEC's Paris campus location - ed.) for their courses, someone at ESSEC - a woman, what a surprize! - had the idea of setting up support for women participants during their time on campus. She built a partnership with a company to take care of children, to run family errands such as shopping, for example, during the time that women participants at ESSEC are in the classroom or working in teams. It's helpful, especially on Saturdays.
Thirdly, we have set up and are continuing to develop a specific course on human resources dedicated to women in the program, Women Entrepreneurship. This gives women in the Executive MBA an opportunity to make contact with women's networks. We also organize conferences. It's an opportunity to open one's mind and also to exchange with other women who have the same questions and concerns. I think it helps a lot.
Finally, within the EMBA there is an obligatory entrepreneurial project which focuses on developing a coherent business plan. This is important because I think our society will evolve: we don't just have an economic crisis, business models will change and a lot of people, men and women alike, will have to drive their own projects. I encourage women to pursue the Executive MBA and also my program Women Entrepreneurship to give them the tools they need to build their own businesses.
We have many ideas to promote the Executive MBA for women and we do a lot of things, but it's not enough in my mind, and we must do better.
Can you give us a true success story of a woman who has gone through the Executive MBA and the impact this has had on her career.
I often meet alumni and I think that usually it has been a success for everyone. One very interesting case is Maike Schuh-Klaeren. She is a lawyer and had a good position in the tax department of Heraeus Holding based in Germany and pursued the Executive MBA at ESSEC & Mannheim, as a senior manager in tax law. When she finished her Executive MBA, the company offered her the presidency of their New York office. So I think it is really very interesting to see how an Executive MBA can broaden and boost a career.
Also there is Renate Echtermeyer who lives in Germany. At the end of the Exec MBA she carried on with her entrepreneurial project. And the company WLM-Agency she started, focusing on services for employees in order to improve their work-life-balance, is now supported by the Chamber of Commerce and renowned companies in the Mannheim area. I think it's very interesting to see that you can pursue an Executive MBA to open your career in a big company, but sometimes you can do something else and say I now have the abilities to manage my own company too.