How can women make the most of executive education?

Written by
Changeboard Team

03 Dec 2015

03 Dec 2015 • by Changeboard Team

Opportunities for improvement

Poke your head inside the typical executive education classroom and you’ll find a noticeably small proportion of women participants. The slow but steady increase of women in MBA programmes hasn’t yet been matched in the exec-ed arena, largely because there have simply been more men in leadership positions than women. 

Some of the qualities women business leaders are often praised for include passion, entrepreneurial attitudes, inspiring others to achieve, and acting as networkers and connectors -- all of which connect to the more human side of business. When it comes to the kinds of skills that women leaders should focus on developing, Bonnie Hagemann, CEO of Executive Development Associates, suggests, “They can push their interpersonal understanding and wisdom even further by applying it to operational aspects of the business. Many have not focused on operations and finance in the same way that men. I recommend that women build their skills in strategy, business and financial acumen.”

Assess your skills gaps

The ideal first step in choosing among exec-ed options is to conduct a self-assessment of your personal and professional skills gaps. And then the big question: programmes designed specifically for women or mixed-gendered courses?

Hagemann advocates a balanced approach: “A gender-specific course can help you understand that other women are experiencing the same challenges and triumphs. It’s a great opportunity to learn from each other and champion each other’s successes.” At the same time, a “gender-neutral” course also has its benefits: “If they want the top jobs, women have to know as much or, even better, know more than their male counterparts, and be able to collaborate with them effectively.”

Increasing c-suite participation

“If women are 50% of the workforce, having a leadership team that is only 15% female doesn’t make sense,” says Hagemann. So, what can c-suite leaders do to help ensure more women are able to join their ranks? In addition to setting percentage goals, senior leaders can personally champion women in their organisation and endorse diversity initiatives designed to develop women leaders. Hagemann also recommends that business line leaders help by “paying attention to rising stars and positioning them for development so that they are competitive for operational, technical or financial line leadership positions when they become open.”

Lastly, Hagemann adds that the limited number of women currently in top echelons of management does not reflect overall changes that has been witnessing. “Women leaders are currently in a sort of renaissance time. They are figuring it out, getting it right, and starting to make real progress toward the C-suite. The numbers will follow. It’s just a matter of time.”


This article originally appeared on The Economist Executive Education Navigator blog