The year I began researching MBAs was the same year that #hotgirlsummer went viral. I was working on an advertising campaign about teenage dating culture. As you might imagine, my expertise in teen lingo and school love triangles was entirely lacking. For two weeks, I immersed myself in youth culture, noting how the conversation around strong female voices buzzed. Looking back, I’m tickled that what drew me to London Business School’s MBA program was blaring from the radio all summer long: confident, empowered women pushing each other on. Women supporting women, dancing their way to the top.
When asked ‘Why did you choose to do an MBA’, I talk about the importance of visible role models – women with relatable leadership stories, who inspire me to aim high. LBS, like many schools, has a proud tradition of championing women through education, and ensuring the benefit of their experience is passed on. It begins early in the MBA journey – through The Coffee Chat. These words evoke a mixture of love and hate for MBAs. During the application stage, The Coffee Chat is a key (beloved) instrument in early networking. My chats with MBA alumnae helped shape my ambitions and construct my narrative. This practice comes in handy for first-year internship applications, by which point The Coffee Chat has lost its appeal.
LBS WOMEN COME THROUGH
Applications require multiple Coffee Chats. For hopeful-consultants, this multiplies endlessly. There is an extra emphasis on women applying to consultancies – which means, yes, more Coffee Chats. A friend, let’s call her Mildred, sponsored by BCG, offered up her diary to classmates wanting advice. Two months later, she sent in an entry to a caption competition to win a place on the LBS ski trip. Alongside a photo of partying skiers, she commented, ‘Snow Trek is my kind of networking haha’ jokes bloke on 97th MBB coffee chat of the year. Mildred, deservedly, won her place and took up a regular spot leading the tabletop dancing during après-ski.
Mildred’s example surprised me early on in my MBA journey – students get involved in outreach for prospective candidates and are generous with their time and genuinely curious. Early on, I panicked when, upon reaching page 3 of my LBS application, I was faced with an entire page of essay questions asking which LBS alumni I’d spoken to about the school. I had not anticipated this – and the deadline was looming. Hurriedly, I trawled my inbox for second names and graduation years for ‘Hannah’, ‘Tara’ and many others. I created starry-eyed eulogies for them, all testament to the strength of the female MBA community. It paid off: just weeks after accepting my offer (the eulogies did the trick), I remember my inbox pinging with an invitation to the EQUALL Conference, a flagship event in the LBS calendar. The theme was ‘flattening the gender curve’ with a focus on ‘the exchange of information, ideas and experiences’. I watched Elizabeth Warren’s opening address and zoomed into panels led by the Women in Business Club. Two years later, that early network still thrives – women who’ve taken on senior leadership roles for the same club, preparing to ping invites to the class of 2025.
When I speak to women thinking about MBAs, 9 times out of 10 they’ll ask me how best to prepare. I was also concerned about this before I began. As a type A personality (along with everyone in the MBA community everywhere, ever), I had intended to devote my time to reading and studying. Now, I give the opposite advice because my MBA started on a high – and from thereon continued to climb.
AN UNFORGETTABLE WEEKEND
The weekend before school began, the future MBA 2023s embarked upon their first mini-trek to meet, greet, and dance. After the non-Brits had gotten over their dismay at Brighton’s definition of ‘beach’ (it’s rocky, the sand is fake, and the seagulls are vampiric), we kicked off the networking. In the preceding weeks, I’d rung every establishment in the city searching for restaurants and volleyball courts to host such a huge group. It was a great crash course in repeated rejection for an aspiring entrepreneur. That weekend, we learned 250+ names with just about as many nationalities before reconvening in class on Monday. I’m grateful that our lecturers were amused, if not a bit bewildered, at the widespread hoarseness as we stood up one by one to introduce ourselves.
I hear that the 24s have decided to continue the Brighton tradition – even though they, too, will begin their MBAs without fully functioning voices. The weekend was invaluable (my opinion of Brighton was very low to start with so that’s saying something) for someone like me – excited, nervous and ever so slightly worried that I’d be out of my depth from day one. I needn’t have worried – the weekend dispelled my fears and showed me I’d be at home at LBS, ready to rise to the challenges.
Many women embark upon MBAs with one eye on smashing glass ceilings. This is why most schools state their ambition of gender parity in the cohort. Most have made good progress, but few have reached 50:50. The top schools come in at around 40-43% women, but, possibly due to COVID, this percentage has fluctuated in recent years. At LBS we’re divided into six streams, A-F. My stream, stream B (the Baddies) is 85-strong with 35 women. Gender parity is important for diverse and agile thinking, especially in collaborative and discussion-led classrooms. The weekend before our first day, LBS published its key measure to promote equality in the classroom. This email prompted the greatest volume of messages in one minute in our newly-formed WhatsApp class chat. Despite an average age of 29, our class was confronted with a seating chart for lectures. Man next to woman, next to man, next to woman… and what a fantastic initiative it was. A friend, let’s call him Ajax, exclaimed how lucky I was to have the ‘king of finance’ on my right, and a start-up expert on my left.
Their help was invaluable to me as I navigated WACC, beta, and other four-word financial mysteries during Finance 1. This was one of the reasons I’d warmed to LBS – learning is as much about group work as it is lecture-based. For this reason, Ajax was even more delighted when he discovered that the ‘king of finance’ was in his study group too. The two went on to win an inter-MBA finance competition, though I’m pretty sure the king still has no knowledge of his apt title. My own study group consisted of an Excel whiz, a PowerPoint magician, an aviator, a trader with exquisite lunch recommendations, a hostess from our class’s party flat, and me, a female Madman from advertising. We were able to divide-and-conquer where needed and got the top mark in not one, but two courses (we won’t talk about Operations Management, though). Collaboration carried us through. There is absolutely no way I could have completed a timed assignment on the microeconomics of plane bookings without the help of my study group (a sentiment common to most, I later discovered). So, whilst we joked about handing a seating chart to 30-year-olds, it worked. Splitting up the finance bros meant that no corner of the room dominated discussions, crowding out anyone else’s voice. As a softly spoken woman, I appreciated this extra boost. Someone even told me they thought me speaking quietly was a power move (win).
LEADING THE TOP CLUBS
Many women I talk to about the MBA ask me about the clubs, which contribute so much to students, in more ways than one. The Women in Business Club runs empowerment circles and mentoring. Popular MBA destination firms sponsor some of the biggest clubs on campus. Their logos populate the student lounge on club hoodies around November. The Women’s Touch Rugby Club, the biggest network of women on campus, run an alumnae and careers network. Belonging to the clubs brings huge advantages, particularly for women and others wanting to broaden their professional and social footprints.
I realised halfway through the year that I hadn’t joined nearly enough clubs. In February, when we start thinking about electives, a plethora of clubs send their members spreadsheets with course reviews and ratings (a few kind souls helped me out while I hurriedly joined the clubs in question). Trek and tour tickets go on sale then as well. Treks sell out in seconds – imagine my consternation whilst trying to secure a place on the Jordan trek, realising I’d neglected the prerequisite step of signing up to the Middle East Club. As the membership page loaded, my Telegram pinged ‘sold out’ and all hope evaporated. 100 MBAs embarked on that trek (spoiler: I made it onto the list a week later. A week after that, I muted the half-a-dozen Jordan Telegram chats which pinged hourly).
I joined clubs I’d never planned on joining, and I’m so glad I did – if only for the reams of photos I’ve taken from the last year. I’ve got endless snaps of Leopard-Print, the team name of the women’s touch rugby team. We’re playing in leopard lycra, sopping wet from Tuesday morning practices (the reality of British weather), dancing in leopard flares, running around in leopard onesies, socks, roller skates, sequins – you name it, it’s there somewhere. Alongside rugby photos, I’ve got downloads from EClub event fliers. I’ve got slideshows from tech and media trek speakers. I’ve got 100 copies of the same photo of 100 LBSers at Petra on the Jordan Trek. The clubs introduced me to a huge network of people, all future allies, colleagues and peers – for many women considering MBAs, this is the most important factor.
When I look back over my first year at LBS, I see evidence of the growing, positive influence of initiatives to boost women. Women sit as presidents on nearly all clubs’ senior executive committees. My one-on-ones with careers advisors were with women. The MBAs I’d list as favourites for Dean’s List are largely women (I’ll keep you posted). The biggest club by membership in the school is headed up by a woman. Let’s call her Di. Di recruited the largest ever membership by dedicating time to speak to each new member (yes, The Coffee Chat is never far away). She re-energised the club after a year of virtual events only. She set up an efficient committee, and even motivated women who’d run against her for the presidency to take up different committee roles with as much enthusiasm. Best of all, Di won the largest on-the-spot inter-continental MBA school competition: a twelve- foot beer pong match with Harvard, CBS and Yale. Joking aside, it’s important to recognise hard-working, successful women for being visible and being brilliant. I’ve met many women like Di during my first year at LBS, and I’m sure I’ll meet many more in the next. We’re all here to support each other on our journeys to better, brighter careers, whether that’s in the classroom or on the dance floor.
Bio: Jemima is a second-year MBA candidate at London Business School. She is a Forte Foundation and BK Birla scholar and sits on the Executive Committees for the Entrepreneurship Club, Women in Business and Women’s Touch Ruby Club. Prior to LBS, Jemima spent 8 years in advertising and communications at AMV BBDO and challenger brand consultancy eatbigfish. Jemima worked across numerous sectors, winning a silver Cannes Lion and numerous marketing awards. Jemima is also a qualified Coral Reef Research Diver and received her MA in Classics from Queens’ College, Cambridge. She is currently completing the Entrepreneurship summer school.
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