Are there specific tips and tactics just for women who are applying to business school? While it’s tempting to dismiss the existence of any gender differences in the application process or in student life, you don’t have to look back very far to see just how controversial the subject still is.
Harvard Business School celebrated 50 years of women at the school in January 2014, and the occasion drew massive attention for the unexpected apology issued by HBS dean Nitin Nohria to female students and professors past and present for any sexist or offensive behavior they experienced at the revered business school.
Given this reality, I happily shared some of the advice we offer female applicants at Stacy Blackman Consulting for MBA Channel’s recent article, Applying to business school: What’s the right approach for women?
Obviously, these tips won’t apply for every female applicant. But there are certain demographic stereotypes that persist, and being on the lookout for these red flags just makes good sense.
I have had several clients with recommenders who have told them that they received calls from the admissions committee to probe on certain points. In particular: “is the applicant confident, will she speak up in class discussions, is she timid, etc…” Almost all of these anecdotes have occurred with female clients.
In the application process, it is critical to make sure that they exude that comfort and confidence. Essays, interviews and recommendations need to indicate a comfort level with speaking out, defending points of view, collaborating with all types of people.
An interview coach I worked with also had direction for women: don’t play with your hair, don’t fiddle with jewellery, don’t adjust your clothing – just focus on looking your interviewer straight in the eye and answering questions with complete focus and confidence.
Business schools have made significant efforts to increase female enrollment in recent years, and the numbers are much higher than when I was at Kellogg School of Management. Some male-dominated post-MBA career paths, such as finance, are more hungry for women as well. So a woman targeting finance may have an advantage over one pursuing a role in brand management. This is true in the MBA admissions process as well as in the job search.
If more women become interested in business school earlier in the pipeline, I think we’ll see the numbers continue to rise. Ultimately, better representation in the C-suite means more equality, which contributes to a stronger economy and ultimately a positive effect on society and the next generation of women.
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