Women in Leadership: Girl Bosses – It’s All About Confidence

Stream B bonding at an early dinner out

As I commuted to LBS on day one of my MBA, I gave myself a little pep talk. I was excited but also nervous – concentrating so hard I forgot to control my face and started staring intently and murmuring words to myself. Dressed in ‘smart business attire’, with my laptop and a variety of shoe changes in tow, I remember feeling a bit like my 19-year-old self – subtly side-eyeing everyone next to me on the bus, wondering whether they were heading to lectures too.

I suspected my undergraduate and MBA experiences were going to be very different. I studied Classics for undergrad, so (as you might expect) lectures were masterclasses in oratory, dramatic and contemplative. Discussions took place in cosy fireside sessions, two students to one professor. Lecture dress code was usually Lycra from 5 a.m. rowing practice (this turned out not to be my calling in life). The class had consisted of more women than men, which wasn’t unusual for an arts subject.


My MBA class, however, would be the other way around. Even though I had a decade of work experience in a male-dominated industry, the setting felt unfamiliar. As I stepped off the bus, my pep-talk was still in full swing. Joining the throng of students sporting their LBS-MBA2023-themed blue backpacks, I felt buoyed along by the crowd. It was a welcome micro-boost of confidence. Thanks to my peers, that feeling has only grown, right from the start of day one.

Our very first lecture was an introduction to academic life. This included a quick walk-through of the various calendars, apps, and emails used by the school. After thirty minutes, I was still unable to connect any of my calendars together. Judging by the murmurs of the other 250 people in the room, they too had succumbed to this impossible Rubik’s Cube of a challenge. One student, seemingly the only one of us who’d solved the mystery, had sent a how-to to the entire 2023 cohort via What’s App – which I then received a hundred times on every other messaging channel – but to no avail. Suddenly a stir went round the lecture hall as someone descended from the lofty back row and strode up to the front. Lucy placed her own laptop next to the projector screen and began to interrogate the inner workings of this system. She was concise, clear and confident – and galvanised the room. Groups started forming to help each other troubleshoot. More and more students piped up with questions and comments. The morning evolved into a lively discussion.

This early memory has stuck with me because of the tone it set for the rest of my MBA. The classroom is as much about seizing opportunity as building skills or expertise. It takes confidence to make something of those opportunities. This is significant for women. Only this week, as I completed the background reading for my second-year elective ‘Paths to Power’, did I come across a chapter on gender stereotypes in the workplace. This is the notion that women find it harder to speak up and show confidence than men because of historical mores. This impacts salaries and career expectations and perpetuates glass ceilings. My former industry, advertising, wasn’t immune from gender inequalities, so I notice when women buck the stereotype. This girl boss, striding up to the front of the room, busted it on day one.

Stream B in our final stream lecture together


The next onboarding session proved just as eye-opening. We were ushered into lecture room 17 for an introduction to our stream. The MBA cohort is divided into 6 streams of roughly 85-90 people each. The first term-and-a-half of core classes are taken in streams, so we get to know each other very well. Some students moonlight as party planners to arrange stream social events, which fast-tracks the bonding. I’d already met many in my stream on a pre-MBA weekend away, but seeing all 85 members of Stream B together made me realise how many I had yet to get to know. The next 45 minutes were pure entertainment.

During this lecture, everyone introduces themselves with an interesting fact. First up was a man who last week abseiled into the Grand Canyon, but whose first impression betrayed nothing of his adventurous side. Another liked to cook. The next few people played it safe too, with nice but unmemorable facts. Then, we reached our first New Yorker. Josh, speaking a good ten decibels above his predecessors, confidently announced that he’d been patted down by police in three different countries. The silence which followed was broken only by the sound of 84 students swivelling in their chairs, craning for a better look. Was he talking about airports? Festivals? Something else…? Grinning from ear-to-ear, Josh handed over to the next person, who had the unenviable task of keeping up.

The gamble worked. Anthony had lived on a submarine for 70 days. Delia was a professional parachutist. Nofi owned a bubble tea company… Josh, like all great entertainers, even earned copycats. No fewer than three other classmates told us their own pat-down stories. We consequently nicknamed ourselves Stream Baddies (disclaimer – all 85 of us are upstanding, law-abiding citizens, and all parties involved were – mostly – innocent). Josh’s confidence was infectious and he paid it forward, infusing others with confidence. As the term continued, I noticed the quieter stream members (who were often women) growing in confidence in line with their classmates’ examples. It reminded me of the old saying, “It takes a village.” Here, it takes a stream.

With the ice truly broken, we embarked on our first assessed lecture series. GLAM – or Global Leadership Assessment for Managers as it’s also known – is a week-long leadership course aimed at building students’ confidence and self-awareness. Students complete a series of self-assessments, which they then analyse with a career coach, to determine their personal leadership style. The course concludes with self-reflection and a series of goal-setting exercises. This is harder than it sounds: beware the students who fail to distinguish their goals correctly. This is the first MBA course each student completes, and the first one where it’s possible to fail. Consequently, many treat the course as the starting point in their leadership journey. Here’s where I met the second girl boss who stood out from the start.

Tattoo 2022 Light Show. Photo Credit: Mateusz Baj


Meet Emma. Emma nailed this course immediately. She was confident, sassy, and switched on. Her secret? Comedy. Emma had practised improv and stand-up comedy in the USA before arriving in London for her MBA. Stand-up had fortified her with confidence, sharpened her self-awareness, and enabled her to feel comfortable with conflict. I didn’t appreciate what this meant until later in the term, when she and another friend, McCreagh, invited us to watch them perform at a top comedy venue in central London’s Leicester Square.

I remember walking to my seat in the venue, in the dark and totally anonymous, feeling the sheer weight of expectation from the crowd. And all I had to was sit down and watch. An hour later, both Emma and McCreagh were up. They had five minutes to perform their sets. If the crowd booed loudly enough, they’d be kicked off the stage before then. Relatively new to London, they were competing against seasoned participants. Emma went first. She sauntered up to the mic, pouted mischievously at the crowd, and kicked off her set. Her comedy style, she’d warned us, was ‘mean and raunchy’, whereas McCreagh’s was deadpan and witty. Both delighted the twenty-year-old boys in the front row. They hooted and heckled, whistling and calling out. Even though neither made her full five minutes (my own nerves couldn’t have taken that), they got a full-hearted response from the crowd and held their attention.

Just getting up onto the stage was enough for them to identify how to read and capture a crowd with a thought, an idea. The rest was just practice, repeatedly, in holding the audience. I noticed the same performative skills at the end of the summer when Emma pitched a start-up business plan to a room of investors. With ease, she deflected a spicy question, laughing off the doubt expressed in her plan with a quick comedic flourish. Others, more experienced, cracked under the pressure when it came to their turn.

Jemima Maunder-Taylor

Emma, McCreagh, and Josh ended up performing as hosts at LBS’s annual Tattoo festival, a celebration of the school’s diversity delivered through club dances, singing, and a talent show. The trio scripted hours of jokes and material satirising the three eminent professors judging the talent show. They took risks – I lost count of the number of times the crowd gasped at their audacity. One friend, eyes wide with surprise, declared with absolute certainty that their school passes would be revoked the next day. But the trio, even though they’d been nervous at the start, projected confidence and ease, bringing energy to the show. They even invited all three professors up on stage. To my utter astonishment, despite having been the butt of 30 minutes of jokes, all three jumped at the chance. A six-way shoey ensued (a term best googled, I think).

As I’ve described above, confidence is infectious. Just like a smile or a yawn – you see someone do it, you do it yourself. This is very much the spirit of LBS, with its ethos of everyone raising everyone else up, together. In the incredibly competitive world of MBAs there are scores of talented, successful people. It’s easy to be intimidated by them, but as day one of LBS proved to me, it’s equally possible that they’ll be the ones teaching us the most valuable lessons – and, hopefully, showing up as the girl boss leaders of tomorrow.

Bio: Jemima is a second-year MBA candidate at London Business School. She is a Forte Foundation and BK Birla scholar and is Vice-President of 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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