Scholarships to help women break into the boardroom

17 January 2018

  • The 30% Club scholarship is helping women achieve their career goals
  • An MBA helps these women challenge "preconceptions" in the boardroom
  • Calls for a change to "outdated" maternity leave and more flexible working
  • Companies perform better when they have a proper gender balance 

Revolution Bars director Fiona Regan believes an MBA can help women break down barriers in the boardroom.

With a background in HR and as Director of People Development at the premium high street bar chain Fiona feels an MBA will help in the next step of her career and says embarking on the three-year part-time executive version has already brought benefits.

She has also been helped by a 50 per cent scholarship from the 30% Club – a campaigning group started in 2010 aiming to have a minimum of 30 per cent of women on FTSE 100 boards.

Two female MBA applicants are offered the 30% Club scholarship each year at Warwick Business School and Fiona suggests having the qualification will help women change misconceptions.

“I am already seeing the benefit of starting my MBA,” says Fiona, who, before moving to Revolution Bars in 2015, was Director of HR at Rank Group’s Grosvenor Casinos where her department was named Team of the Year at the Women in Gaming Awards for transforming the company’s internal culture.

“The experience is helping to improve my confidence, I am learning practical new skills and I have found that the people on the programme are enormously supportive of each other.

“This helps regardless of gender, but I believe that as more women - and in my case I would add mothers - are seen to have the ambition to do an MBA, this will help challenge some preconceptions that balancing work, family and study are out of reach for women.

“I think in some instances it is still more likely that a mother will get asked how she can balance a commitment like this than a father would.”  

Fiona Regan
Starting a revolution: Fiona Regan is benefitting from a 30% scholarship

The recent string of high profile sexual harassment scandals and the #metoo social media campaign have brought to light the innumerable barriers and prejudices women still have to overcome in their careers.

Fiona, who is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), believes now is the perfect opportunity for companies and policymakers to capitalise on public feeling to implement policies that will help women prosper in the workplace.

“I have seen examples and had too many experiences where this type of behaviour has been accepted in a number of different circumstances,” she says.

“Over time these behaviours undermine people’s confidence and can lead to them being reluctant to be in certain situations that can impact their careers.

Related course: Executive MBA (London)

“I believe the recent press coverage on high profile sexual harassment cases is a game changer for society if we build on this.

“We need more discussion at schools and in workplaces to discuss masculinity and femininity. I think that one issue for women getting into senior roles is also the pressure on men to meet masculine stereotypes.”

Fellow Executive MBA student Sarah Darling, who has also benefitted from the 30% Club scholarship, believes maternity leave needs to be modernised.

The Managing Director of Coversure Insurance Services says: “The way we view maternity leave is rather outdated and actually what we need is encouragement to keep working, with better flexibility for those on a career path.

“Taking long periods out of industry can make the steps up much longer, some sort of blended working would be great.

Sarah Darling
Change maternity leave: Sarah Darling wants better flexible working to help mums

“We also need women to inspire young women in schools and universities. We need to bring certain sectors alive for women, rather than the movie perceptions of certain sectors. Sadly we stereotype.”

Sarah, a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), believes women can offer a different voice in the boardroom that can benefit the business.

“The insurance sector still has a high level of testosterone, particularly around the boardroom table,” she says. “The best advice I was given was to not forget I’m a woman, but forget I’m surrounded by men.

Why boardrooms need more women

“I think strong women bring real value to a boardroom and in senior roles we often have a slightly different perspective which is not softer, but from a different angle.

“I have been referred to as the iron fist in a silk glove! My methods are different but often have a strong outcome.”

Tina Ajuonuma, a Senior Director at ONE, a campaigning group co-founded by Bono to fight global extreme poverty, argues an MBA gives women access to leadership positions and to “very impressive networks and business executives who are leaders in their field, which is priceless”.

Tina Ajuonuma
Campaigning: Tina Ajuonuma argues women should feel proud of where they work

“Research shows that diversity at senior level results in greater corporate success, however that is defined,” says Tina who has an MA in Commonwealth and Postcolonial Literature and has also received a 30% Club scholarship.

“We need those at the highest levels to fully embrace the idea that truly effective leadership does not come in a one size fits all package.  

“Women should not spend their time trying to emulate the behaviour of their male colleagues, there is immense value (to you and your organisation) in you being yourself. 

“Work for organisations whose vision and mission speaks to you - you should be proud to speak to people about your work.”

Books like Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In and Arianna Huffington’s On Becoming Fearless plus authors like Nigerian feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie have helped Fiona and Sarah and they urge other women to read them.

“I feel the fact that the issue of gender is becoming a more accepted topic to discuss is already making a positive impact on workplaces,” says Fiona.

“I still feel we have far to go and I do believe doing an MBA can be one tool to support women in reaching their full potential.”

For more information on the 30% Club scholarship click here.

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