Learning pathways for women in business
by Laura Wright
If you’re a woman interested in a leadership path, it’s important to understand the value you bring to the table. In this article, we’ll discuss why women in business matter and share some insights from Pearson Vice President of Academic Strategy Amy Peterson about learning pathways for women who are looking to advance their business skills and employability.
We'll also outline resources you can leverage to help elevate your business mindset, explore unique networking opportunities, and be better positioned to achieve your educational and career goals.
Recent events have brought greater attention to gender inequities in the business world. They've also shined a brighter spotlight on the women who are championing a new generation of entrepreneurship.
Data shows there has been tangible progress toward closing the gender gap in business. According to the American Express State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, the number of women-owned businesses increased 21% between 2014 and 2019. The number of firms owned by women of color grew at double that rate (43%), although the average revenue for women-of-color-owned businesses dropped slightly within the same time period.
Women continue to prove their strength as leaders, even during difficult times. COVID-19 has disrupted life for everyone — from health care professionals to small-business owners — but female business leaders are still finding ways to drive growth and innovation in a range of industries. Many of the high-stakes decisions in response to the pandemic have been made by women, demonstrating their exceptional mindfulness, resilience, and adaptability.
The big picture of women in leadership
- Women rate higher than men in most leadership skills, including innovation, collaboration, and developing others
- Data from 2019 shows that less than half of full-time MBA students in the U.S. are women
- In September 2020, there were just 36 female CEOs employed at America's 500 highest-grossing companies, illustrating the need for better representation for women in C-suite positions
- As of October 2020, only 11% of heads of state or government are women
- Short courses and certificates, master’s degree programs, and women’s conferences and networking events are all valuable tools for current and aspiring leaders
Women are well-rounded, emotionally intelligent leaders who demonstrate skills across the board. According to 2019 Harvard Business Review research, women excelled in taking initiative, acting with resilience, practicing self-development, driving for results, and displaying integrity and honesty. In fact, women were proven to be more effective in 84% of these capabilities than men.
Keeping up with new skills is a universal need, especially given technology changes and job insecurity. Globally, 88% of people believe they will need to take more responsibility for directing their own learning or upskilling for their job, according to the 2020 Pearson Global Learner Survey.
In 2019, far fewer people in the U.S. were taking on career training. Americans are now keeping pace with China and India by embracing short courses and bootcamps to take charge of their own learning outcomes. Based on our research, 50% of all Americans completed a course, training program, or bootcamp in 2020, compared to 41% of those surveyed in 2019.
If you already have a degree, these additional learning pathways can help give you breadth and depth in a particular subject area without the commitment of a full-time program, says Pearson Vice President of Academic Affairs Amy Peterson.
"Short courses are a great way to test out something and get an understanding of how to apply it in the workplace.
If the short course piques your interest, you could then consider pursuing a certificate or perhaps even a degree, Peterson explains.
She notes that taking stand-alone courses can also give you a chance to expand into spaces where your current employer may have less experience.
If your company is lighter in the business analytics realm and business intelligence, you can use short courses to support your company by gaining that expertise.
Another plus of graduate certificates and short courses is their versatility. If an MBA isn’t a practical option for you in the short term, some institutions will allow you to put your completed course credits toward the completion of a full degree program.
“You can take some of those specialty short courses and have them apply to a master’s degree,” Peterson explains. “So you get the more immediate impact on your employability with the short courses and then they stack into a full degree later.”
As for current trends in continuing education, Peterson notes IT courses as a popular option for business professionals looking to distinguish themselves in the COVID economy and help bridge any gaps between their employers' business and IT functions.
Short courses can be a way for you to expand into the technology space and be an interface between technology and business. There's a need for those who can translate the business needs to the technology side, and vice versa.
A growing number of women are building on their innate leadership abilities by attending graduate school for business. The combination of leadership skills and knowledge gained through master’s-level business programs is part of what makes this credential so valuable. According to 2019 Catalyst and Forte Foundation research, about 38.5% of students enrolled in full-time MBA programs in U.S. schools are women, a percentage that’s steadily increased since 2011.
If you already have professional experience, earning an MBA or other online graduate degree can help enhance your professional development by providing advanced education and specialized coursework. Your MBA coursework will most likely incorporate electives in areas like data science, marketing, IT, and supply chain management, which can help you broaden your skill set. Most of today’s MBA programs even allow you to specialize your degree in one of these areas.
A graduate degree not only lets employers know that you have advanced skills — it can also open up opportunities for career advancement. In research published by the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC), 87% of female business school graduates said their return on investment has been positive.
Attending conferences — whether in person or virtually — can give you new insights into business and how women are closing the gender gap in leadership.
These events are also the perfect environment for networking and brainstorming with other professionals. Here are a few you might consider adding to your calendar:
- Hosted by the National Association of Women Business Owners, the National Women's Business Conference gathers female entrepreneurs to celebrate the milestones of other women in the business world
- Women EmpowerX is dedicated to providing tools and knowledge for female entrepreneurs, leaders, and executives
- Women of Color Connecting hosts an annual summit for small-business owners and founders, and those in positions to facilitate opportunities for meaningful and sustainable business growth for women of color
- The Watermark Conference for Women brings women together to connect and network while attending motivational and inspirational leadership sessions and skill-building workshops
- Women Impact Tech focuses on women interested in entering the IT space. It’s the largest regionally targeted tech event series in the U.S. and offers keynote and panel discussions, breakout sessions, and opportunities for conversations and networking
- The Simmons Leadership Conference is a professional development event with an emphasis on equipping women with the tools they need to become successful leaders
There are plenty of opportunities for networking besides conferences. Something as simple as joining your school’s alumni association or connecting with other industry professionals on LinkedIn can enable you to network with other business-minded women.
You might consider joining a local chapter of the American Business Women’s Association or the National Association of Women Business Owners. Another useful resource is eWomenNetwork, an online networking and referral community for female entrepreneurs.
If you need help funding your education, it's worth seeing whether you qualify for financial assistance in the form of grants or scholarships.
Here are a few examples of scholarships and grants specifically geared toward female business students and entrepreneurs:
- The C200 Scholar Awards are open to first-year female MBA candidates in participating business schools; each award is worth up to $10,000 and is based on merit and financial need
- The American Association of University Women (AAUW) offers Selected Professions Fellowships for women of color in their second year of MBA study; each fellowship is worth between $5,000 and $18,000
- The Stephen Bufton Memorial Educational Fund provides grants and scholarships to women pursuing postsecondary education; national scholarships are awarded each year in the amounts of $2,000 to $10,000
- The Jane M. Klausman Women in Business Scholarship awards up to 32 scholarships of $2,000 each to women of any age who are pursuing a business degree with a specialization in accounting, economics, finance, business management, marketing, operations management, human resources management, international business, or entrepreneurship
Achieving success in business is all about maintaining a growth mindset, seeking new opportunities for learning, and furthering your potential. With the right combination of education, experience, and drive, there’s an opportunity for anyone to find success in a leadership role.
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