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Forget Competition: Women Help Other Women at HEC Paris

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Women’s MBA enrollment has reached its highest level ever, reaching 36 percent in Europe and Canada, according to the Forté Foundation. Over the last five years, there’s been a definitive increase in female students at top business schools around the world, and Forté CEO Elissa Sangster believes that “at this pace, we’re confident we’ll reach our goal of 40 percent women’s enrollment by 2020.”

More women MBAs means more economic mobility for women around the world. Recent research reveals that female MBA graduates increase their salary by 63 percent or more. It also means that, in the near future, we could witness more women CEOs.  Currently, only 5 percent of S&P 500 CEOs are women, and of those women CEOs, 40 percent have an MBA. So, the more women we see in business school ultimately equates to the more women we’ll see leading business.

The question then is, “How do we promote gender equity and how do we keep the momentum going?” For HEC Paris it means forgoing competition between women and instead promoting the idea of women helping women. And they do this in a variety of ways.

HEC Paris MBA Enrolls One-Third Women

Elissa Sangster, CEO of Forté Foundation

The first way that HEC Paris promotes females within their MBA program is by enrolling more women. Thirty-three percent of the HEC Paris Class of 2020 is made up of women and, while this is below the ultimate goal of 50/50, it still creates an environment that feels very welcoming to every gender.

“It’s essential that business school is a safe place to explore,” says Sangster. “Having an MBA program where women are well represented, where they can share their stories, support each other, and become friends in the classroom, is what makes business school a safe place for women.”

This is exactly what HEC Paris has done. With one in every three MBA candidates being a woman, women feel more represented. When students are broken into small teams, there’s not just one woman per team, but two to three women, so they have someone there to support their voice. And that’s what makes a difference in the feel of the HEC Paris MBA community.

A Strong Sense Community at HEC Paris

Joanna Syiek, MBA ’16 and current Marketing Director at RightsTrade in Los Angeles.

“The sense of community at HEC Paris is incredibly strong,” remembers alumna Joanna Syiek, MBA ’16 and current Marketing Director at RightsTrade in Los Angeles. “It is very easy to get to know one another. Whether working together on group projects, organizing events together on campus, or exploring Paris together with all the city has to offer, the sense of community at the school is tight-knit.”

A tight-knit community means that it’s possible to have all parties be present and open to meaningful topics about anything and everything. This can be especially important when it comes to addressing gender inequity in business school and the workplace. The reality is that it’s a multifaceted problem that has no “easy-out;” so, the more willing people are to discuss it, the better. But it’s not just about discussing gender inequity; it’s also about bringing strong businesswomen together to learn from each other and work together.

“Women encouraging women is a powerful thing,” Sangster says.

When women are willing to open up their network and share their journey with other women, it can inspire and help them chase after their own dreams. Women can learn so much from other women, agrees Hilary Matson, a current HEC Paris MBA student and President of the Women in Leadership (WIL) Club.

“I talk about everything with my close female peers. Some have helped me with coursework, some have discussed salary negotiation tactics with me, some have passed me Advil in the middle of class,” explains Matson. “Personally, one of my most treasured MBA experiences has been working with my WIL Club board. I trust the three women (and the one man, for the record!) on the Club board completely. Each person is a successful, independent boss-lady (or boss-man) in their own right, and getting to lead this team and accomplishing so much more together than we ever could alone has been extremely rewarding!”

HEC Paris Male Allies Are the Best

It’s not just women at HEC Paris that are focused on gender equality; it’s the men too, and that’s essential to success. “Women are, of course, critically important, but we also need men to step forward and have a voice about creating a gender-inclusive culture,” explains Sangster. “Without their involvement, we’ll never completely achieve gender equity.”

Go to the next page for more on HEC Paris’ inclusive classrooms, Women in Leadership Club and more.

Kelly Vo
Kelly Vo is a writer who specializes in covering MBA programs, digital marketing, and topics related to personal development. She has been working in the MBA space for the past four years in research, interview, and writing roles.