Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. — Marianne Williamson
When I applied to the EMBA program at Kellogg, I had been out of school for 12 years, the first few of which I spent working in corporate finance at General Electric and Microsoft and in private banking. Then, I began working with my real passion – international development as Founder and CEO of a non-profit organization. I was also a mother to three daughters, ages 6 and 2-year old twins. Life was interestingly busy.
I have always enjoyed business. At 11, I recruited a friend to bake cookies to sell at the neighborhood corner – an uncommon act for young girls growing up in Nigeria, like I did. Even then, I was an entrepreneur at heart with a relentless knack for innovating and serving.
For six years, I was on the Kellogg distribution list, both electronic and print. I knew that I wanted to one day go back for my MBA, but there never seemed to be an ideal time. There was career, then family, then children. There was always a reason I couldn’t pursue this dream at the time or really at any time. How would I juggle a demanding career with a young family and an intensive MBA program?
However, I thought, “If I don’t do the MBA now, I never will.” In 2010, I took the bold step and applied to Kellogg. I was at a point in my career where I knew having an Executive MBA from Kellogg would make a world of difference for me and my organization. I remember driving down to Evanston from Louisville with my husband in inclement weather to attend an informational session at the Allen Center. As I stood in a room filled with accomplished “career gurus,” I pinched myself to see if this was really happening, if I was really where I thought I was and then whispered under my breath, “What am I doing here?” There were Senior VPs of investment management institutions, regional sales directors at pharmaceutical companies, physicians and heads of specialty units in medicine, CEOs of Fortune 500 businesses – all very seasoned professionals.
As I scanned the room, I saw some women, but very few. There were two or three total. One of the women, Quiana Williams (EMP 85), was already in her first year. She candidly and kindly shared her program experience with me, the challenges of balancing family life and school and the overall outlook. In so many ways, I’m glad I listened carefully to the advice she gave me. Another woman, Grace Healy (EMP 86), also an applicant, shared her background and her application timing. Coincidentally, Grace and I ended up both being admitted the same year, became great friends and were pillars of support for each other during the course of the program.
According to the Graduate Management Admission Council, applications from women in Executive MBA programs were up substantially in 2012, by 37%, but still incredibly low compared to full-time programs. There are many reasons for this, including the lack of an enabling environment for women, cultural barriers and the fact that these programs are available to women in probably one of the most challenging periods of their lives: mid-career while raising a family.
In my cohort, EMP 87, there were 44 students, 11 of whom were women. Immediately, I identified a gap and longed to create an enabling platform for women, like myself, applying to or already enrolled in the EMBA program. Thus, Kellogg EMBA Women was born. I was fortunate to work with an amazing woman and classmate, Rebecca Madelman (EMP 83), to flesh out the idea and mobilize our classmates to join the efforts. The purpose of Kellogg EMBA Women is to connect and support EMBA women at Kellogg through selectively targeted networking events, speaker series, mentoring programs and community service.
Success in the business world, as we know, is not all about working hard. It’s about that strong sense of community, diversity that includes the presence of women and how active they are, good mentorships and a support network. In addition to a mentor/mentee program within the Kellogg EMBA Women platform, there will also be opportunities for female applicants to join existing students or alumni at Kellogg events and for applicants to participate in breakfast sessions that encourage networking and support among Kellogg’s female community. It was very inspiring to see some of my male classmates pitching in and providing insight and contacts based on their experiences and an understanding of me for whom I am – a woman.
I am really excited to see how this platform plays out this year and to share success stories with the broader Kellogg community.