Women’s History Month: 8 MBAs From Elite B-Schools On Why Representation Matters

Mariam Dembele, MBA ’22
Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania

Area of MBA study: Finance; Operations, Information, and Decisions

What were you doing before going for an MBA, and what made you want to pursue one After completing my Master’s in Finance, I wanted to do two things: work in the U.S. and gain experience in the financial services industry. I decided to move to Chicago to join Société Générale as an Investment Banking Analyst and was exposed to the full suite of investment banking products offered to Fortune 500 clients. I later moved to San Francisco to join BNP Paribas’s internal consulting group where I worked on Retail Banking topics.

After 2 years at BNP, I realized that what I enjoyed the most was (1) doing financial analysis/building models and using them to make decisions and (2) advising teams/companies to help them reach their goals. Private Equity (PE) allowed me to do this every day, so I decided to pursue an MBA to pivot into that space.

Mariam Dembele is pictured with the African American MBA Association (AAMBAA), Class of 2022.

Why did you choose Wharton? I chose Wharton for 3 reasons: I was looking for a program with a strong leadership curriculum so I could prepare for senior roles in a male-dominated industry. Wharton’s McNulty Leadership Program provides a wide range of initiatives allowing students to experiment, reflect and act. Programs I have found incredibly useful include executive coaching, where 2nd year MBA students work with a professional coach to identify areas of development and actively work on them for several months.

I also wanted a school that would prepare me for a career in PE and has a large community of supportive peers with similar goals. Wharton’s phenomenal professors and classes (Valuation, Finance of buyouts and acquisitions, PE in Emerging Markets, etc.) have provided me with foundational skills needed in PE. In addition, the school has a large PE/VC club that puts together educational events, company information sessions, treks, and conferences to allow students to improve their industry knowledge and connect with firms they are interested in.

I have always been inspired by the culture and people I met at Wharton. The school is truly vibrant, and students can shape their experience by focusing on what matters most to them. As a Wharton Women in Business board member, I am currently involved in organizing the 2nd Edition of the Wharton Women Summit Female Pitch Competition where 6 founders will have the chance to pitch their business to a panel of VC investors and win prizes. With less than 5% of U.S. venture capital funding going to women-led startups, I am very excited to work with other students invested in creating a unique opportunity to spotlight women entrepreneurs, connect them to investors focused on female founders, and get a chance to address this funding gap.

Why do you believe gender parity in business schools is important? Gender parity is extremely important in business schools because as future leaders, we should learn to embrace gender parity and advocate for it in the workplace.

In addition, gender parity allows us to hear different perspectives. I would rather be in classes/group discussions where I can get insights from all genders, as a lack of parity would reduce my ability to learn and grow. Finally, business school is a great opportunity to experiment in a safe space. Gender parity allows students to learn to work with other genders or be exposed to team dynamics they haven’t encountered in the workplace. All of us can see that the effective work accomplished by diverse teams in group projects, student clubs, and conferences can be also done in the workplace.

Why is female representation in board rooms and C-suites important? For one reason: we can’t be what we can’t see. We need more women in board rooms so other women can realize this is something they can aspire to. I recently had a conversation with MBA female friends, and we discussed whether we could make it to C-suites roles as fast as our male peers if we have kids, go on maternity leave, take career breaks, etc. I strongly believe we can, it will probably require sacrifices but it’s possible and I wish there was enough female representation in those spaces that we don’t ask ourselves if it’s an achievable goal.

What can be done to attract more women to sectors and industries traditionally dominated by men? Showcasing women in these industries: We could spotlight women working in these sectors/industries and ask them to share how they were able to access these environments and provide tips/advice to women interested in following the same path. Events like the Wharton Women In Investing Conference organized a few weeks ago are a great way of inspiring women and improving their representation in specific industries.

Mariam Dembele during her Thailand trek with South East Asia Club in December 2021.

I still remember getting shivers from listening to Sallie Krawcheck’s (CEO of Ellevest) Keynote speech where she emphasized how women should be supporting women and that taking roles with power helps women become indispensable in organizations they work at. All the advice she provided made me feel even more confident and determined to work in Private Equity and ensure more women will have similar opportunities.

Learning about allyship: Business schools and companies could help people identify areas where they aren’t being inclusive of women (workplace norms, mentorship or sponsorship opportunities, promotions, recognition, etc.) and think about actions they can take to promote equity.
Creating better recruiting policies: Companies could review their hiring practices and ensure they remove bias leading to mostly recruiting men.

Have you been involved in any organizations or projects working to increase women participation in business or business education? A few years ago, I organized a series of job search workshops for unemployed women in Mali (my home country). All participants mastered application and interview skills and received one-to-one coaching. They all felt they could confidently apply for jobs, and 44% landed an internship or job within six months. This experience proved the impact of having relevant resources and networks in achieving career goals. I think there is progress on the issue given that more organizations are putting together similar programs to help women access quality jobs and become financially independent.

What are your future career goals? My goal for the next 5 years is to work in Private Equity, to provide funding to companies and help them grow. When talking with potential employers, Equity and Diversity topics are top of mind. My long-term goal would be to launch my Private Equity fund.

What don’t your classmates know about you? I only discovered ice cream cakes a few months ago and became obsessed with them. A few weeks ago, I was walking by the supermarket where I first saw an ice cream cake. I went inside and bought the largest cake I saw (a 16-person cake) and it said, “Happy Birthday”. I then ate it alone over one weekend… and it wasn’t even my birthday. I probably won’t be able to eat any sweets for the next 3 months, but it was totally worth it!

Next page: Stephanie Puzak, Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth

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