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Forget Competition: Women Help Other Women at HEC Paris

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That’s why there are very few women-only events at HEC Paris. Women in leadership is not just about women, but it’s about men supporting, developing, managing, and being managed by women as well. Even the Women in Leadership Club has a man on the board. He represents the idea that gender equity is a topic that affects all future leaders, not just women, and so men MUST be part of the conversation if we’re going to reach a solution.

For example, Syiek remembers a judgment-free round-table event just for the male MBA students. The goal was to get their thoughts on the many issues facing women in leadership. It ended up being a very eye-opening conversation.

“Men are so rarely asked to sit down to consider these questions and any implicit biases they might have, so it was fascinating,” explains Syiek. “We got to hear how individuals from different countries viewed certain issues, and to dissect some of the issues under a global lens. Working with that group helped to solidify my belief that we are able to move the needle on these conversations when we invite many diverse voices to the table.”

Inclusive Classrooms Mark the HEC Paris MBA Program

And inviting diversity to the table has to start in the MBA classroom. An inclusive classroom means that guest speakers, case studies, students, faculty, and staff should represent all genders, ethnicities, and backgrounds. This is essential to creating an environment where everyone can thrive through participation, and it’s how you support women in business school and beyond.

“At HEC, once in the thick of coursework, organizations, and events, there were many wonderful examples to look to in terms of female leaders,” says Syiek. “I was perhaps most inspired by fellow classmates that were able to take the lead on giant projects, such as Tay Sue Jean who was able to organize and pull off MBAT (the Olympics-esque giant competition between MBAs in Europe).”

Hilary Matson, current HEC Paris MBA student and President of the Women in Leadership (WIL) Club.

For Matson, it’s the care and concern of the professors that really makes the classroom feel inclusive. “The professors at HEC genuinely care about seeing you succeed, even after their course is over,” she says.

For example, one time Matson reached out to Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, professor of Gender Balance, asking for help. She needed advice on how to design and execute a speaker-panel event for women. The professor got involved in everything from naming the panel to creating the theme and constructing questions. “It was really meaningful to be able to tap into her expertise even though the course was long finished,” remembers Matson.

Another example is Nicole Pense, a recent alumna (MBA ’19), who started her MBA program at HEC while she was five months pregnant. While in many business situations being pregnant could cause a lot of issues, that wasn’t the case when Pense was at HEC Paris. She was still able to participate in MBA life throughout her 16-month program, even attending a two-day leadership seminar and completing an eight-month exchange at Yale.

Pense describes how the HEC Paris administration “bent over backwards” to help her throughout the MBA. “They made sure I knew that I could take as much time off as I needed. Once I went to a Financial Markets class and I could not sit down because I literally could not fit in the desk. Within three minutes, they had found me a special desk. They were just so incredibly accommodating, and it really helped make my pregnancy so much better.”

Women in Leadership Club

Outside of the classroom, HEC Paris continues to promote women and inclusivity through the Women in Leadership Club. The club’s goal is to promote gender diversity on campus and in the business world by inspiring the next generation of male and female leaders to challenge social constructs around gender roles and to work to change gender relations.

“The Women in Leadership Club is important for three main reasons: it helps students, the school, and employers,” explains Matson. “From the students’ perspective, it makes women feel seen and heard. The mission of the club is to ‘connect, inspire, and empower’—so every event we do is geared towards those objectives. From the school’s perspective, we need to acknowledge that women have yet to represent more than 35 percent of an HEC class—and this isn’t unusual for MBA programs. From the employers’ perspective, the WIL Club creates more opportunities for them to find and attract top female talent.”

For many women and men, the WIL Club is instrumental to their personal and professional development. Through its many events, MBA students, alumni, faculty, and industry experts are given the opportunity to get together and have intimate and expansive conversations about gender equality. For Syiek, all it took was one Lunch & Learn session to realize that she had a passion for discussing and dismantling the ways in which we think about women in the workplace. And that’s just the start.

“The WIL Club acts as a powerful bridge to set up a win-win scenario: employers have an avenue to show us that we (women) matter to them; and students can interact more with companies that share their ideals,” says Matson.

Forté Foundation

Finally, HEC Paris is also a member of the Forté Foundation, which is an organization dedicated to changing the balance of power in the workplace. It does this by helping tens of thousands of businesswomen across the world through:

  • Financial resources: Over $180 million in Forté Fellowships awarded to female MBA students.
  • Gender-focused research: Forté is a thought leader in gender equality, changing how the world thinks about women in the workplace.
  • Career recruitment: The Forté Job Center connects members with more than 100 Fortune 500 companies.
  • Events: From conferences to webinars, networking events, and forums, there are hundreds of ways to get involved throughout the year and around the globe.

As part of HEC Paris’ partnership with the Forté Foundation, female MBA students have unique access to Forté programming, resources, and activities. It’s a great way for women to connect with other women in their community, generate conversations on campus, and create a strong female-focused environment on campus.

“Even if we hit gender equality in MBA programs, that doesn’t negate the need for women-focused conferences and women-inspired events,” says Forté founder Elissa Sangster. “Once you’re in an MBA program, there’s no reason not to be a member of Forté. There’s still a great deal of support needed for women in business, which is why we exist and will continue our mission for years to come.”

HEC Paris Supports Women 100%

At HEC Paris, the school’s goal is to empower everyone to reach their full potential in business. No matter your gender, ethnicity, or background, the MBA program is there to give you the foundation you need to be successful. Students learn how to think critically and challenge the status quo within a highly diverse and tight-knit community. It’s less about competition and more about working together to shape the future.

For women, HEC Paris offers an incredible opportunity to stretch their limits and become thoroughly prepared for the real world of business. Through enrollment that’s focused on eventually reaching gender parity, inclusive classrooms, and unique women-focused clubs & activities, the HEC Paris MBA paves the way to a successful future.

Learn more about how the HEC Paris MBA could make your career goals a reality by visiting the program’s website.

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.