Underestimated as a female leader: How the MBA provided an opportunity to break the mould

09 March 2023

As part of International Women’s Day 2023, we’re celebrating the Inspiring Women from our MBA programmes by digging into their experiences around the theme of equity.

Working in the Educational sector for over 20 years, Executive MBA (London) participant Kirsty Hunter has faced the challenges of being a female in a leadership role. Explore how the MBA provided Kirsty with the resilience and resources to start her own business venture.

Being a woman in business

What paralysing statements have you encountered as a woman during your time in leadership or your career? Having worked in the Educational sector for the past 22 years, I have had my fair share of incidents. From “How old are you now?” when enquiring about a leadership role to “Have you got three years of data to support you achieving this role” (after already being in post for a year). I have watched in the wings whilst male counterparts have moved up through the ranks; overheard leaders making sweeping assumptions about potential future female leaders swaying decision makers to choose the ‘safe’ option to recruit and, whilst feeling thankful to be in the room where it happened, have witnessed surreptitious side-glances, unwholesome whispers and manipulative manoeuvres at board level.

Whether it was the trajectory of my career, peri-menopausal moments, family commitments or the hidden load, my frustration at work had intensified and my fuse was getting shorter. I was working ten to the dozen and expected everyone to keep up with me, feeling like I was doing the heavy lifting being bogged down in the operation, whilst others seemingly had time to be creative, nurture relationships and engage in the ‘fun’ aspects of the job. Being told to “perhaps be less ambitious” was the defining moment that cemented my desire to apply for an Executive MBA. Inadvertently, it was the stimulus I needed to change out of my comfy sliders and put on my big girl shoes, and I am so glad I did!

Beginning my MBA Journey

Starting the Executive MBA felt like the interval in a performance - an opportunity to stretch, switch focus and readjust my position. It made me change seats and gain a better view - I could see things more clearly, taking time to observe my interactions and myself. I knew I had outgrown my current state.

Coming from the touchy-feely, diverse and inclusive world of the creative arts and sports, returning to academia was intimidating and my search for the ‘right fit’ was my focus. Whilst I knew I wanted to set my sights on a top-ranked university, Warwick’s interpersonal, human-centric approach swayed my decision. Their focus on Women in Leadership alongside championing LGBTQUA+ and Black in Business really echoed my values and solidified my choice.

Incidentally, a few months into starting my MBA, my employer announced a restructuring - my role was at risk and I was tapping on the glass above me. I had already studied Organisational Behaviour, Strategic Advantage and Operation Management, and was just starting Innovation and Strategic Entrepreneurship. I had been given the props to shift me from being an audience member to getting up on the stage and although I was not yet ready to perform, I was ready for the technical rehearsal. Whilst it felt like I was in a dystopian play at work, the MBA had given me the resilience and resourcefulness to take the offer of redundancy and I made the decision to start my own business! Doing what exactly, I wasn’t quite sure yet - but I knew it was the right choice and the universe would work its magic.

The team at WBS became my prompt sheet - from actionable advice from my executive coach; knowledge gained from the lectures; enabling connections via the careers team to insightful and inspiring webinars and most significantly, the relationships made with my peers, I was able to refine my thinking, reestablish my confidence and recruit the excitement of my twenty-year-old self to embrace the uncertainty and discomfort once more.

Looking to the future

Do I regret not starting the Executive MBA earlier? Perhaps! But I do know that when I did start, it felt right and it has already changed my direction of travel. The PE and Dance teacher is still within, shouting at me from the wings: “Find the space and move into it!” I am now one year into my Executive MBA and whilst I would never have predicted a career change to becoming an entrepreneur, I have welcomed the shift in the state; the ability to reconnect with my creative as well as academic mind and am excited to be amongst the blue skies.

The curtains in Act Two are about to open. ‘All the world’s a stage, and all the people merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; and one person in their time plays many parts’ (adapted from Shakespeare, 1599).

Discover more Inspiring Women on our MBA programmes.

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