What Female Deans Want MBA Women In The Class of 2017 To Know

mba advice women

Joyce Russell, dean of
Villanova School of Business

Joyce E. A. Russell

The Helen and William O’Toole Dean

Villanova School of Business

To the women of the Class of 2017, what is the key piece of advice you have for those who seek to make their mark in business?

“To make a mark, you need to move things forward. To do this, people have to listen to you. In other words, you have to be able to influence them. How will you be able to do this? You need to have great leadership, influence and negotiation skills and the confidence to use them. Do you have these skills? If not, you need to get them. Take a negotiations course. It will be the best thing you can do to improve your confidence so that you can effectively communicate, influence and lead others. Then, you will be able to make a mark.”

What are the hard truths or realities that aspiring business women should be prepared for?

“Being the only woman or one of a few. In college, you may have been on teams with half men and half women, and you had this sense of equality. If, however, you enter a job and are surrounded by male colleagues, it may initially feel uncomfortable being the “only one” or “one of a few” You may find that your voice is not as easily heard as it was in college. I would suggest that you do a few things in order to succeed (until organizations themselves change and become more accommodating to diversity in the workplace):

  • You have to be able to communicate with men. Understand and speak their language – whether that’s golf, sports, real-estate, investing, news, etc. For example, you don’t have to play sports, but you do need to understand the basics. It helps in forming relationships with many of your male colleagues if you can hold a conversation about the game the night before.
  • Have a sense of humor, smile, and be enthusiastic. People expect this of women in particular at work and they gravitate towards people who are energetic and enthusiastic.
  • Keep confidences, no matter what the temptation is to reveal something.
  • As “one of the only women”, you will be more visible to others – in terms of your dress, your sense of professionalism, your demeanor, your working hours, everything. They may judge all women based on what you do. Just remember this as you make choices about what to wear, whom to talk with, what time to show up for work, etc. You are role model for women and professionalism is critical.

“It’s all about relationships. You need to take the time to build relationships with others, network, and continue to get mentoring, no matter how much experience you have. Get sponsors (or advocates) as well. They are critical since sponsors are the ones who get you assigned onto important or visible projects and help to advance you in the firm. You should have 1-2 sponsors from within the firm (higher-level people who can enhance your career prospects) and several mentors (can be internal and external) to provide role modeling and social and psychological support.”

What advice do you wish someone had shared with you about being a successful woman in business?

“I did really learn from successful and unsuccessful leaders about what to do and what not to do as a leader. This may be because as an Industrial & Organizational Psychologist, I was always an observer of the impact of someone’s actions on others. I think in general though we do not prepare people, particularly women, enough about how to lead their whole life. I think women have the tendency to put their heads down to the grindstone and work away day after day, without thinking about how doing things for themselves (like having hobbies or leisure pursuits) are so important to their own development. Women are just too busy to find the time for themselves since we are trying to balance work, home, school, children, chores, and the rest of our lives. And, yet, finding time for ourselves is critical for our own growth. I know I share this message with women (and men) a lot. I want them to work hard, yet at the same time, plan time for their physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional growth. There is no question that you will be much more successful if you take care of all of these aspects. You will come to know your purpose in life and will prioritize actions to be in alignment with your purpose. And, you will be more well-rounded, healthier, and happier if you find time for enhancing your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual self.”

What is your favorite quote or mantra that you live by and you’d like to pass on to women in the Class of 2017?

“Since I was in high school, I have always believed that “anything is possible” and that each one of us was put here on Earth for a reason and to have a positive impact on the world around us.  We just have to keep moving forward, being positive, optimistic and enthusiastic about making a difference.

“I also believe in servant leadership and that our job as leaders is to serve others and to remove the obstacles that may be in their ways – to help them be successful. I believe that really it’s not about us, but about the mission – about driving change forward for the firm. If we can remember this, then we too will be successful. And, more importantly, we will have made an impact by moving the world forward.”

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