Fridays from the Frontline: Being a Woman at Duke Fuqua
Being a Woman at Fuqua
One of my favorite stories is Jamaica Kincaid’s “Girl,” for reasons probably different from what the author had intended. I had lived and worked in spaces where sentences too often began with, “Women should do this,” or “A woman cannot.”
That story is a reminder to brace myself when someone starts a sentence with, “Women should…” Getting an MBA was an act of positive rebellion. I wanted to, but somehow, I knew I also had to. For me, and for others after. Choosing the right business school was even more pertinent to the success of this ‘rebellion.’
I like to joke that my business school journey would make a perfect entry for, “How not to prepare for business school.” In July of 2018, I made the decision, wrote the GMAT in September, and applied to schools in October.
I chose Fuqua for many reasons, the most compelling of which is the Fuqua community. The turning point for me was attending the Women’s Leadership Weekend in November 2018 (which, of course, I found out about and applied to only two hours before the deadline).
Of the 150-plus women in attendance that weekend, I had traveled the farthest—all the way from Nigeria. But here was my tribe. I cannot explain in words how that weekend changed my perspective. Right there, I knew that I wanted to be a part of helping women find all the spaces where they belong. I want to push opportunities their way because I believe that awareness is half the battle and providing the support necessary to reach these professional goals was one of my main objectives.
It is important for me to fulfill the promises I make to myself. It is doubly vital when those promises involve bettering others. So I knew that I had to be part of the Association of Women in Business (AWIB). AWIB tries to cater to the many layers of support that women at Fuqua require, including guiding a community of women, charting international careers and perspectives, conventional and unconventional career paths, male allies and their much-needed support, and much more.
In my role as VP of Careers and Mentorship, (with my excellent cabinet) I strive to provide support and opportunities across all areas, but with a focus on emphasizing and uplifting non-traditional roles and careers.
Some of our biggest challenges have been getting people to realize that AWIB is another touchpoint for career opportunities, actively curating opportunities and events beyond the most commonly pursued career paths, and utilizing the network built over the years outside the U.S.
The goal is to consistently demonstrate that AWIB encompasses every woman who has shown up to Fuqua, regardless of background, color, proposed career and any other intersectionality.
As with everything related to 2020, COVID-19 changed many things. Much of the business school experience is premised on contact and communication, usually in person. It became more important than ever to innovate and be dynamic in creating events and opportunities up to par or even better than what we experienced, pre-COVID.
It was hard for the first few months because everyone was Zoomed out! I could now argue that some of the events we held virtually gave us more than what we expected. Maybe because there was a kind of intentionality, resilience and camaraderie that only comes from a sense of having survived, and continuing to survive together.
Despite everything, there have been many successes. In 2020, we had more attendees than ever at the Women’s Leadership Weekend because the virtual option broke attendance barriers for women across the world.
Going forward, this is something we know we have to make room for. More corporate sponsors have shown up and are putting in the work to ensure that women MBAs are aware of all the opportunities available. The Daytime MBA class of 2022 is made up of 46 percent women!
Of course, a lot of this has been possible with male allies and allies across multiple groups. Remember my three-month shotgun business school process? Throughout that journey, it was men who pushed me, from school shortlists to essay reviews and recommendation letters.
Of course, this is not every woman’s story, but it is mine and that of many others at Fuqua. The role that male allies played in showing up for women and actively placing them in opportunity zones was clear.
Here at Fuqua, it is a blessing to say that I do not go around consciously being reminded that I’m a woman. I do not feel that this is erasure or othering, but more an impartial weighing of your experience, opinions and decisions. I’m grateful and thankful that we show up and do what is necessary when it is essential to center women.
There will always be more work because the world is evolving, and women-related issues may not stay the same. But here at Fuqua, we’re loudly and actively pushing for the change we want to see.