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

Nikki Liao, MBA ’22
Yale School of Management

Area of MBA study: Finance

What were you doing before going for an MBA, and what made you want to pursue one? I worked for five years as an architect and design strategist focusing on commercial office building design and workplace strategy at Gensler, a global architecture and design firm. While I enjoyed the creative aspect of my design career, I wanted an MBA to develop the business acumen and financial skills that would allow me to explore a career at the intersection of real estate and finance—where I can drive impactful decisions affecting the built environment. I also wanted to learn from, and develop a network with, peers who share Yale SOM’s mission and who have a wide variety of backgrounds and interests.

Why Yale SOM? First and foremost, the people. Everyone I have met within the community at SOM, including current students, alums, faculty, and staff, has been incredibly supportive, caring, and welcoming. During the admission process and after I was accepted, I was overwhelmingly impressed with the number of students and alums who reached out to me to offer their time to share their SOM experiences and career advice. After attending the SOM Welcome Weekend event in which I met with the then–current students and potential future classmates, I felt excited to come back to SOM and knew that this was the right fit for me.

Secondly, I was impressed with the integration of SOM with the rest of Yale University. The ability to take classes outside of SOM at, for example, Yale Law School, and attending classes with dual-degree students and/or students from the rest of the university, has enriched the classroom experience and diversified my network.

Lastly, as I have a passion for creating built environments based on collaboration with stakeholders from both business and society, Yale SOM’s mission, “to educate leaders for business and society,” really resonated with me, and it was important to me to attend a school with peers who share the same values.

Why do you believe gender parity in business schools is important? Gender parity is crucial for both business education and business. A diverse classroom with females and minorities enriches the MBA experience, especially classroom discussions on topics that are not typically discussed in everyday life or business settings.

For example, as a part of the core-curriculum at SOM, all first-year students are required to take Workforce, among many other core classes. One session of the Workforce class focused on the topic of gender pay gap, and it created a platform for both male and female students to offer their perspective within the classroom setting. Many of my male classmates expressed the appreciation for the class, not only because it exposed them to challenges around gender pay gap, but because hearing from their female peers offered them new perspectives on how to handle such issues as they embark on their future career paths. Authentic and educational experiences like these would not be possible if gender parity is not a priority in business schools ,and I am grateful to SOM for creating such opportunities for us.

Why is female representation in board rooms and C-suites important? Boardroom and C-suite executives are the key decision makers in all aspect of business, which ultimately affects diversity in representation and thought leadership. The inclusion of female representation brings unique perspectives to the table and can challenge the traditional ways of conducting business.

More importantly, female executives can serve as role models and mentors for the emerging generation of female employees who aspire to become leaders. Diversity in boardrooms can also be a tactics for firms to signal their values to existing and prospective employees. Personally, I would feel inspired to work for a firm that makes a dedicated effort in ensuring female and diversity representation in boardroom and leadership positions, as it would signal to me that there will be leadership opportunities for my female colleagues and me.

What can be done to attract more women to sectors and industries traditionally dominated by men? Having worked in industries that are traditionally dominated by men, I have noticed that one way to attract more women to such sectors and industries is through increased awareness of such career paths to female candidates as early as possible. I studied architecture in undergrad, and was so focused on one subject matter and career path that I wished I had the opportunities to explore the diverse array of career paths in industries like finance services.

While a business school education allowed me to explore and pivot careers, I believe the best way to attract more women to business and business education is by increasing awareness, demystifying perceptions, and building a strong network. To this end, Forté Foundation does an incredible job in offering programs such as the Forté College Fast Track to Finance Conference, which targets undergraduate female students, and a similar conference for MBA students. I attended the Fast Track conference and would recommend it to all female students for the purpose of education and networking.

Have you been involved in any organizations or projects working to increase women participation in business or business education? Prior to business school, I co-founded Supporting Women at Gensler, a mentoring and networking committee with over 70 members for the Gensler Boston Office. This group created a platform for female employees and male allies to discuss gender and diversity topics within the office and the architecture industry.

Additionally, I served as a Steering Committee Member for the Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI) with Urban Land Institute (ULI) in Boston in co-leading the planning of an annual real estate women-speaker-only panel with 10+ female speakers from diverse function within the real estate industry. Such female-focused initiatives and events have most definitely created opportunities to spotlight female leaders, and more importantly, encouraged female participation and engagement in the design and real estate industry.

While at business school, I am a member of the Forté Foundation, the Robert Toigo Foundation, and the Women in Management (WIM) club at SOM. All of these organizations have hosted events and provided resources to attract more women to either attend business schools, pursue careers in finance, and/or navigate career challenges in traditionally male dominated industries.

One of the most memorable experiences I’ve had at Yale SOM was participating in the WIM Circle as a first-year student. The Circle is a monthly discussion sponsored by the Women in Management club. It gives students a safe space for personal development and a supportive network to connect, reflect, and inspire one another. It allowed me to ask second-year students for advice on navigating the challenges I faced as a new student during the pandemic. Their feedback was incredibly helpful, and the opportunity further showcased what a supportive, caring, and welcoming community Yale SOM is. To this end, efforts at both the macro and the micro scale are equally important in supporting and advancing women within business and business education.

What are your future career goals? Immediately post-MBA, I plan to return to Credit Suisse’s real estate investment banking group in New York City. My internship with CS last summer confirmed that this role perfectly aligns with my desire to learn more about the intersection of capital markets and real estate while developing my financial acumen in a fast-paced and dynamic workplace. In the long term, I hope to leverage my diverse career experience from architecture, real estate, and finance to drive impactful decisions affecting the built environment and advance the collaborations with stakeholders from both the public and private sectors.

What don’t your classmates know about you? I volunteered for and appeared as an extra in the movie Patriots Day with Mark Wahlberg.

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