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Online MBA: Empowering Women in Business and Leadership

13 Nov
Three businesswomen having a conversation on a staircase

As the world continues to address the importance of equality, women are working to shape the future of business.1 In recent years, multiple studies by respected business institutions have shown that businesses that embrace diversity, in gender as well as many other areas, have a higher likelihood of outperforming their competitors.2 Women need to be ready to take the reins and help lead these companies toward success in a more equitable and prosperous future.

This moment of unique opportunity holds important potential and many challenges for female executives, and the right education can prepare these professionals to thrive and succeed through both. Read on to explore how an online MBA is a means toward empowering women in business and leadership.

Gender Disparities and Pay Gaps in Business

Many parents left the workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic to attend to increased childcare needs at home. The 3% drop in share within the labor force was equally distributed between men and women.3 Recent data from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, however, shows that men returned to the workforce more quickly than women did.3 This information highlights the need for more women to reestablish pre-pandemic progress and move toward equality.

Further, the 2023 Women in the Workplace McKinsey report shows the career advancement women made over the last five years, which holds significant room for improvement. From 2018 to 2023, women's presence in entry-level positions held steady at 48%. However, representation of female employees falls notably in higher leadership roles, and the gains made over this five-year period leave much to be desired:4

  • Women in manager roles
    • 2018: 38%
    • 2023: 40%
  • Women in senior manager/director roles
    • 2018: 34%
    • 2023: 36%
  • Women in vice president roles
    • 2018: 29%
    • 2023: 33%
  • Women in senior vice president roles
    • 2018: 23%
    • 2023: 27%
  • Women in C-suite roles
    • 2018: 22%
    • 2023: 28%

In contrast, men comprised more than 50% of roles at every level, with white men holding more than 50% of the roles in the vice president, senior vice president, and C-suite level positions.4

In addition to the disparity in representation, the gender pay gap between men and women has remained largely static over the last 20 years. According to a Pew Research Center analysis of median hourly earnings of full- and part-time workers, in 2022, women earned an average of 82% of what men earned. This is not a significant change from 2002, when women earned 80% as much as men.5 The National Bureau of Economic Research notes that this ongoing pay gap is in place even at the top executive levels of business.6

The Online MBA: Benefits for Women

An online MBA program provides an excellent springboard from which women can continue closing the gaps in representation and pay.7 The knowledge gained through an MBA program includes the business acumen, leadership expertise, and strategic thinking necessary for leaders in senior positions throughout different industries in the corporate and non-profit business worlds.

Flexibility and Work-Life Balance

A distinct advantage of an online MBA program is the flexibility it offers. The very act of balancing employment, personal commitments, and educational responsibilities is a tremendous challenge. However, an online MBA offers the flexibility to tailor your education to your schedule. Online MBA participants find that the ability to access course materials and engage in educational sessions from anywhere at any time makes it easier to maintain work-life balance while pursuing professional development.

Empowering Female Entrepreneurs

There has been a global increase in women's entrepreneurship in recent years,8 with the United States leading the world in support of female entrepreneurs.9 A strong example of female entrepreneurship is Lillian Lincoln Lambert, MBA: Having become the first African-American woman to graduate from Harvard Business School, she grew Centennial One, her building services company, to garner $20 million in annual revenue.10

An online MBA curriculum can be tailored to address the specific challenges and opportunities of entrepreneurship, including courses in entrepreneurship itself, as well as in strategic business negotiations, business valuation, and change management.

Leadership Development and Career Advancement

A high-quality online MBA program prepares people to be successful leaders. It instills practical and theoretical knowledge, as well as teaching necessary data-driven strategies and multifaceted soft skills.

Academics and experience, however, may not be enough to bridge the gender gap. A 2023 study found that:11

  • Having more female peers in an MBA program increases women’s likelihood of attaining senior management positions
  • Women with more female MBA peers tend to advance into senior positions at female-friendly firms
  • Strategies for addressing the gender gap include enhancing gender diversity in MBA programs and promoting networking opportunities

This study reinforces the idea that women who enroll in MBA programs increase their chances, and their female classmates’ chances, of ascending into leadership positions. As with other elements of social change, breaking the glass ceiling is a collective effort.

Networks and Mentoring

Online MBA programs help students develop networks of connections through collaborative projects and interaction with alumni. These networks not only facilitate the exchange of insights and ideas, but they’re also vital for sharing opportunities with other women to help break barriers in the business world.

Writing for Forbes, Corporate Director Maryann Forbes said, “A mentor is someone who takes an active interest in your career, serves as a sounding board, shares their experiences and wisdom, encourages new ways of thinking, challenges your assumptions, and helps you learn new skills.”12

Mentorship programs that encourage women and offer leadership development are essential in the push toward gender equality in the workplace. Such programs empower women through the development of core leadership skills, including negotiation, strategic thinking, decision-making, and communication. Established female business leaders who dedicate themselves to mentoring upcoming female leaders cite the importance of having a mentor who’s a living example of a woman's ability to overcome hurdles and break gender barriers.12

Mentoring programs, such as C200, offer opportunities for women to connect with experienced mentors who will help them in their professional and personal growth as businesswomen.13

Overcoming Challenges and Barriers

It's not unusual for women in graduate school to encounter bias and inequality. Advocating for equal opportunities becomes crucial in this context. Being vocal about one’s achievements, contributions, and aspirations helps to ensure visibility and combat biased viewpoints.

According to clinical psychologist Audrey Ervin, Ph.D., “There’s an ongoing fear that’s usually experienced by high-achieving individuals that they’re going to be ‘found out’ or unmasked as being incompetent or unable to replicate past successes.”14 Many women in higher education experience these feelings of imposter phenomenon, which the American Psychological Association (APA) describes as, "struggling with the sense [people] haven’t earned what they’ve achieved" and are frauds. They're not alone: According to the APA, up to 82% of people face imposter phenomenon, which can increase anxiety, depression, and burnout, and decrease the willingness to take risks in one's career.14 Strategies for overcoming these crises in confidence include sharing one's experience, celebrating successes, and nurturing self-compassion.

Make Your Impact on Society and Future Generations

Women in leadership positions are equipped to bring diverse perspectives, innovative solutions, and an approach to decision-making that fosters an inclusive and equitable business landscape. An online MBA is not just an academic pursuit but a bridge connecting present achievements with future possibilities.

Santa Clara University’s acclaimed Online MBA program features a robust curriculum designed to instill thorough, insightful business expertise. Led by an expert faculty of seasoned industry veterans, it also provides the benefits of online learning: You can study from anywhere, without interrupting your professional or personal commitments.

Discover how you can advance your career, contribute to gender equality in the workplace, and build a path to leadership—all on your own schedule. Plan a call with an admissions outreach advisor today.

  1. Retrieved on October 12, 2023, from entrepreneur.com/en-in/women-entrepreneur/how-women-entrepreneurs-are-shaping-the-world/448367
  2. Retrieved on October 12, 2023, from mckinsey.com/featured-insights/diversity-and-inclusion/diversity-wins-how-inclusion-matters
  3. Retrieved on October 12, 2023, from uschamber.com/workforce/data-deep-dive-a-decline-of-women-in-the-workforce
  4. Retrieved on October 12, 2023, from mckinsey.com/featured-insights/diversity-and-inclusion/women-in-the-workplace
  5. Retrieved on October 12, 2023, from pewresearch.org/short-reads/2023/03/01/gender-pay-gap-facts/
  6. Retrieved on October 12, 2023, from nber.org/system/files/working_papers/w28216/w28216.pdf
  7. Retrieved on October 12, 2023, from forbes.com/sites/theyec/2022/03/28/the-role-of-mbas-in-the-rising-number-of-women-leaders/?sh=5022c1f63a44
  8. 8. Retrieved on October 12, 2023, from weforum.org/agenda/2022/07/women-entrepreneurs-gusto-gender/
  9. Retrieved on October 12, 2023, from statista.com/statistics/1368758/index-of-women-entrepreneurs-worldwide-country/
  10. Retrieved on October 12, 2023, from alumni.hbs.edu/stories/Pages/story-bulletin.aspx?num=2017
  11. Retrieved on October 12, 2023, from siepr.stanford.edu/publications/policy-brief/breaking-glass-ceiling-how-mba-programs-can-make-big-difference
  12. Retrieved on October 12, 2023, from forbes.com/sites/committeeof200/2021/10/26/mentoring-matters-the-importance--of-female-mentorship/?sh=8015551ccaa9
  13. Retrieved on October 12, 2023, from c200.org/our-mission/
  14. Retrieved on October 12, 2023, from apa.org/monitor/2021/06/cover-impostor-phenomenon