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

Ziana Kotadia, MBA ’22
Harvard Business School

What were you doing before going for an MBA, and what made you want to pursue one?

Before coming to HBS I was living and working in London. Immediately before school I was working in consulting, and before that in consumer goods. I was so fortunate to have an incredible female manager, and mentor, when I was in my consulting job who got her MBA in the U.S. She would often use her MBA skills on projects and would reminisce about the experiences she had in school. She inspired me to pursue further education; I wanted to learn, be internationally mobile, meet new people, and make lifelong friends.

Why did you choose HBS?

I’m going to answer this question like a true consultant. I chose HBS for three reasons: the section experience, the case method, and the campus.

The section is like a microcosm of the world. You’re intentionally placed among a diverse group of 90 students, (although in my year it was 70 because of COVID) who represent a range of identities and backgrounds. It’s amazing to be surrounded by such diversity, to be able to learn from the differences of opinion and form better business and ethical judgements as a result. The section is also like your family at HBS. You take all your first-year classes together, no exceptions, and so you form this deep bond and immense pride in the section letter you’re assigned (Go Section H!).

Every class at HBS is a case discussion. You read 10 to 20 pages before class on a company or country (10 if you’re lucky), and during the class discussion you assume the role of the protagonist who must make a key decision. The conversation in class is dynamic and engaging. It’s also incredibly practical and you’re forced to articulate yourself succinctly and persuasively. It’s a great simulation for the real world where you must make decisions with limited information and be able to defend your actions.

Almost 70 percent of HBS students live on HBS campus, and it’s always buzzing with activities and people. I did my undergrad at the London School of Economics, which doesn’t have a campus, and so I wanted to do get my MBA at a school where I could experience that.

Why is female representation in board rooms and C-suites important? I think representation of all kinds, whether it be gender, race, ethnicity, sexual identity, or socio-economic background, is important. Female representation is of course essential, but I have learned that it’s really important to remember the role of intersectionality in these discussions. I would like to live in a society that tries to create equal opportunity, as much as is possible.

I know there is still so much progress that needs to be made in achieving this, but a board that is only made up of one gender, or one race, probably reflects a much wider and deeper issue within society—that only some people have access to these opportunities. If we can remove some of the barriers that prevent capable people from achieving their goals, I think we should. From a business perspective, there are so many studies that have shown an increase in all areas of diversity (not just gender) improves company performance and financial returns.

I think it’s valuable for the next generation to see people in high powered positions who are like them. Role models help break down traditional social norms and can be a great way to motivate people throughout their careers. It’s hard to push yourself to succeed if you see no one that looks or sounds like you at the top. It makes the professional climb seem impossible. I’d love for every young person to be able to see a part of themselves in the world’s business leaders, and to be given access to the opportunities that could help them lead in the future.

What can be done to attract more women to sectors and industries traditionally dominated by men? I think part of it starts from a really young age. It’s about making sure young children are given an equal opportunity to learn and excel, and that women are equally encouraged to pursue STEM degrees. Part of it is recognising that men and women can behave differently, understanding what drives these differences, and changing the job process to account for this. For example, there is the widely shared statistic that men apply for a job when they meet only 60 percent of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100 percent of them. If we understand what is driving this outcome (Is it fear of failure? Or maybe the belief that qualifications are mandatory, not preferred?), we can change the process and ensure that we are reducing the impact of this bias.

Having male allies is also essential. Colleen Ammerman, director of the Gender Initiative at Harvard Business School, and Professor Boris Groysberg wrote a great book, “Glass Half Broken,” which I thoroughly recommend. In it they talk about how having effective male allyship and mentorship can help women make progress in the workplace. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I try to challenge my own biases every day. We are all on a journey when it comes to learning about gender equity and the ways it interacts with other forms of identity.

What are your future career goals? I am moving to New York post graduation to work at Bain, which I’m really excited for. I love big cities, and so moving from London to New York seems like a great personal decision. Long term my path is less clear, it depends on what opportunities come my way. Regardless of where I end up, I hope I’ll be able to use my career to make a positive impact and help make meaningful change.

Next page: Ashley Snow, Kellogg School of Management

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