Most women dread being labeled in business. Can you blame them? Too often, they’re relegated to being contributors, cogs who are cautioned to “pay your dues” and “wait your turn.” Looking around, most get the real message loud and clear. The odds are stacked against them: they’re expected to prove themselves over-and-over again.
Instead of embracing roles like glue or B Players, some carve out their own paths — and assume an altogether set of labels:
Decisive. Authentic. Supportive. Courageous.
Inventors. Examples. Catalysts. Leaders.
The MBA Class of 2018 is packed with such pioneering women. They don’t wait for permission or act a certain way to appease others. They defy expectations and pressures, shouldering the tasks that are uncomfortable, risky, or back-breaking. When there are no role models, they forge networks and become mentors. In the process, they overcome the fears that plague so many: failure, disapproval, risk, and even success. Standing proud and firm, these women step up and take ownership — breathing life into their visions, staying true to themselves all the while.
Next year’s class boasts women who’ve transitioned from high fashion to medicine, led combat companies of men, and turned themselves into celebrity bloggers. They are jocks, policy wonks, explorers, and entrepreneurs. In the coming years, you can expect them to emerge as rainmakers, with legacies cemented by bucking conventions and giving back more than they receive. Here are ten such women:
(Editor’s Note: These MBA candidates are not ranked in any order.)
Anna Aagenes / Columbia: What’s the secret to career happiness? It is connecting a passion with a cause. That’s what Aagenes did in 2012 when she co-founded Go! Athletes, a network that provides outreach, fund-raising, and education to LGBT athletes. In doing so, she provided support platform to a vulnerable group who must sometimes hide who they are to avoid the jeers and aversion from fans and teammates alike. A cross country and track athlete at Penn, Aagenes continued her leadership in this space as the Vice President of Program Development and Community Relations for You Can Play, an organization that has partnered with organizations ranging from the NHL to the Canadian Olympic Team.
So what does Aagenes do for an encore? Calling herself a “connector of people and ideas,” she intends to continue leading large scale diversity and inclusion initiatives in businesses and communities after graduation. In the meantime, she advises MBA candidates following in her footsteps to really get to know themselves before applying. “You want to have a high level of confidence that now is the best time to pursue your MBA and that this degree will truly benefit your professional development,” she explains. “Without this confidence and self-awareness, I wouldn’t have had the same motivation and authenticity in my application process…It’s also much easier to motivate yourself to study for tests when you understand the bigger picture behind the work you are doing.”
Kasey Koopmans / U.C.-Berkeley (Haas): With her round-rim glasses and penchant for adventure, you could describe Koopmans as the “Where’s Waldo” of the Class of 2018. The Seattle native has hiked the 2,650 mile Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada. She has interned with Save the Children in Nepal and conducted market research in Myanmar. She did this for a reason: She wanted to make herself uncomfortable…very uncomfortable.
“From international development to market research to clean tech, I have spent my early career seeking displacement,” she admits. “These experiences opened doors to positions and responsibilities that compelled personal and professional development. I fumbled a lot: Imagine Bambi on ice. But by finding humor, not taking myself too seriously and, most importantly, by building meaningful relationships, I eventually found my poise.”
Not surprisingly, the journey has been as fruitful as the destination for Koopmans. While she doesn’t have her path quite mapped out yet, she’ll know the right spot when she gets there. “My dream job is with a company on the cutting edge of innovation, solving a messy problem in an unprecedented way, with an explicit mission related to social and environmental impact. My dream employer will encourage life-work balance and have the capacity to provide mentorship. My current hunch is to explore the clean tech space. However, I recognize that I’m in for a wild MBA ride.”
Tafadzwa Mahlanganise / Yale SOM: Where is the next great business frontier? Think Africa, a continent of a billion people that’s blessed with natural resources and a burgeoning middle class. At the same time, growth has been stifled by poor infrastructure and tepid trade. Enter Mahlanganise, a Zimbabwe native armed with an Economics degree from Davidson College. A Research Analyst with the International Monetary Fund, Mahlanganise spent three years devising global policies, using tools like investment and entrepreneurship to tackle the toughest social ills. For her, Africa’s future is contingent on the most fundamental of pursuits: agriculture. That is where she intends to leave her mark after earning her MBA at the Yale School of Management.
“I am passionate about sustainable development in Africa,” she writes. “Given that 70% of people in Sub-Sahara Africa depend on agriculture for livelihood, I would love to work towards increasing productivity along the agriculture value chain system. I will be happy knowing that I am contributing towards reducing output loss, adding value to primary products, empowering small-scale farmers, and creating the much needed employment – a crucial step in alleviating poverty and moving the continent forward.”