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Leadership Tuesdays -- Developing Women Leaders

August 21, 2012


This blog is Part II of the series, "Are We There Yet? My Climb and Journey". A conversation with John T. Delaney, PhD., Dean of the University of Pittsburgh's Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business, about the current state of women in executive leadership and why women do not choose to get advanced business degrees at the same rate they obtain professional degrees in other areas, like law and medicine, was the catalyst for this series.
 

 

MY CLIMB--FIRST STEP, GET AN MBA

by Nona Ogunsula

I remember driving to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in January 1996 like it was yesterday. I braved a wintry mix praying at least two of the approximately five hours that it took to drive to Pittsburgh because my Toyota Camry ran out of windshield wiper fluid halfway through the trip. You see, driving was a last minute decision. Although snow had been in the forecast, I wasn’t sure if we’d really get any snow.  U.S. Air was the only airline who flew non-stop into Pittsburgh from the Washington, D.C. area and well, let’s just say, given the number of winter airplane accidents that had occurred at that time, I felt driving would be less stressful and safer. Nothing short of a blizzard was going to keep me from arriving in Pittsburgh for my orientation as a student in the Executive Master of Business Administration (MBA) program at the University of Pittsburgh’s Katz Graduate School of Business.


I was so excited to be beginning my MBA program. Months earlier I had been accepted into this program that was fully supported by my company, AT&T.  An Executive MBA program meant that I could attend school full-time and yet remain employed full-time. It also meant that the company was making an investment in me and continuing its commitment to develop a pool of diverse leaders. I had ambition and I wanted to move up in the company and I had been advised by supervisors and mentors that an MBA would increase my chances of being promoted.  Most of all, I was motivated to increase my ability to manage people make and sound business decisions. 


I chose the University of Pittsburgh because their program offered several unique attributes that appealed to me.  Number one, they had a global business focus that was weaved throughout most of their MBA classes. I had a keen interest in international organizations and even wanted to do an overseas assignment for AT&T. Secondly, instead of meeting every other weekend like most of the other Executive MBA programs, this two year program concentrated all of their class meetings in a two week period every quarter.  At the time, I was a second level manager in sales with accounts that consisted of the Embassies, Consulates, and Missions of international countries who had offices located within the United States. I also supported the International Monetary Fund and several other quasi-governmental organizations. My work duties required me to travel frequently and sometimes, I traveled internationally. Although there were “weekend only” Executive MBA programs in the Washington, D.C. area, this program was a better fit for me.


As you can see from the class picture in Part 1, I was the only African American in the program. There were four other women in the program: three white and one Hispanic.  The women were 5 of the 19 students or about 26% of the students enrolled in my class section.  As mentioned in Part 1 of this blog, John T. Delaney, Ph.D. is the current Dean of the undergraduate and graduate business programs at the University of Pittsburgh.  In his July guest blog, The Great Business School Challenge Hidden In Plain Sight, he talked about the problems MBA programs have had in the past attracting women to their programs.  As you can see from Table 1 of Dr. Delaney’s blog, our class composition for women in 1996 was slightly less than the 2011 statistics for business schools ranked 11-57.  I have to qualify my earlier stated statistic regarding the students enrolled in my specific MBA class with the fact that my class section was only a percentage of the students obtaining MBAs at the University of Pittsburgh that year. The University also offered four other MBA programs that year that included the one year full-time MBA (an intensive program which they were the first to offer in 1963); a two-year full-time MBA program; a part-time MBA program; and a traditional Executive MBA which met on weekends. The Flexible Executive MBA, the program I selected, was targeted to students who worked outside of the United States or those whose family or work duties/obligations would prevent them from attending a weekly MBA Program. These people would find it easier to manage their current work responsibilities and a two week stay in Pittsburgh once every quarter. Katz Graduate School endeavored and is still committed to make obtaining an advance education in business accessible to a wide variety of men and women who may require a flexible schedule.

 

 

With so many options available at Katz and other business schools, why aren’t women choosing business school at the same rate as they are choosing other professional degrees like medicine and law, for example?  When I posed this question on Facebook, one of the responses I received from a woman who happens to be a lawyer was that there could be a fear of the math classes that were required.  Most Business Schools do require their students to take math courses that include Calculus and other courses like advanced Statistics. I had not previously considered that this might be a deterrent for some women, but as it has been for women pursuing engineering and other STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) careers fields, there may be a need for outreach programs to encourage and support women to prepare for and take the advanced math and statistics courses needed to matriculate through undergraduate business programs and prepare for the advanced business education.

Now what of the traditional barriers that has kept women out of the C-Suite or discouraged them from going into business? Companies must take decisive actions to create the type of change needed to ensure that their businesses will be viable in the next ten, 15, 25, 50 or more years. In my opinion, company leadership should be reflective of their customer base.  As business imperatives and risk mitigation against civil rights law suits drove the proliferation of diversity training in the late 1980’s and 1990’s, company leaders today must be intentional about continuing to make diversity a priority.  As Denise Morrison, the Chief Executive Officer of Campbell’s Soup, stated in an interview on Boston’s NPR Station in October 2011, “Diversity in a company doesn’t happen by chance. It absolutely takes a leadership imperative. And you need to declare that you are going to become a more diverse organization because it’s good for business. The consumer is diverse for any business…and therefore it just makes good business sense.”[i] And this commitment to diversity has to be embraced at every level of the organization from the CEO to the entry level professional. Lewis Griggs, a pioneering Diversity Educator, said that 'diversity needs to be valued…we need to value the differences in others'.[ii]


What's Your Opinion?

    • Do you think that math classes required in college deter women from majoring in business and going to MBA school?

    • How do you feel most companies are doing in supporting and promoting women executives? 
    • Is diversity valued in your organization? How?


Nona's MBA Program pictures.


Next: Part III-Bumps In the Road at AT&T




[i] See Leadership Tuesdays' Motivational Moment, Denise Morrison, Campbell's Soup CEO...On Diversity.   Also see,  Morrison, Denise, “CEO Sisters”, On Point with Tom Ashbrook, 90.9 FM WBUR NPR, Boston’s NPR Station, http://onpoint.wbur.org/2011/10/07/ceo-sisters

[ii] Vaughn PhD, Billy E., “Managing Diversity”, Diversity Officer Magazine, Promoting Expertise and Credentials, September 2008, http://www.diversityofficermagazine.com/cultural-diversity-factiods/historical-issues

 

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