MBA Student Project Drives Gender Equity Debate

In MBA classrooms and chat boards across the country, students grapple every day to identify solutions to the real-world challenges faced not just by business, but society as a whole.

And there is almost no greater challenge in modern business than finding a path to gender equality, where women and men are equally valued and represented at every level. Unfortunately, while progress has been made, the gender pay gap remains a reality and women are a rarity at the top of our biggest companies.

In a bid to stimulate debate and provide actionable advice, particularly for businesses focussed on operational issues, the National Association of Women in Operations (NAWO) recently teamed up with Ducere Business School to undertake a unique industry partnership.

The project is part of Ducere’s unique 12-month online MBA (Innovation and Leadership) program that gives students the opportunity to work with industry partners on real world challenges.

After completing her own MBA at Ducere in 2018, NAWO Board Member Melissa Donald had no hesitation in signing the not-for-profit up as a Ducere partner and early this year helped assemble a 10-strong team of students, advisors and academics to embark on a ground-breaking initiative.

“We wanted to create a project that would not just be of value to our corporate and individual members, but also reached out into the broader community to help change attitudes and practices,” she said.

“The primary purpose was to identify current trends in gender diversity and inclusion practice in an Australian context and develop recommendations that can lead to real change.”

“The end result is a white paper on gender diversity that recommends actions members can take to attract, retain and develop their pipeline of female talent.”

The final results of the research and accompanying recommendations will be released over coming months and it is hoped they will be another brick in the wall of gender equality across society.

Melissa said the success of the project as an industry partner followed on from her own experience as a student undertaking the process.

“As a student I got to work on projects with one of the big four consulting firms, a for-purpose organisation and a well-known hospitality group. The last project was particularly exciting as we were able to develop a strategy to help turn around a poorly performing restaurant into one of the best in the group,” she said.

“These are the sort of projects you just wouldn’t get to experience in a traditional MBA format.”

Ducere Global Business School founder Mat Jacobsen said the key to success of the industry projects was to create an alignment of values between the students and the partner.

“Ducere’s mission is to connect students with real world learning to excel their future as a global citizen and NAWO’s aim is to equip members with the tools, resources and networks they need to drive and navigate their own careers… it was a perfect fit.”

The Ducere MBA program is structured around three major projects with industry partners such as KPMG, NAB, Spotless and the Federal Treasury (and many more), where students start as a Learner, continue as a Manager and finish as a Leader.

Each project typically lasts for four months and involves the industry partner treating MBA students like practicing business consultants who have been called in to help address a challenge the company may be facing.

After a request for service and a project brief is made, the students and supervising academic sit down to meet with partner to discuss goals, outcomes and communication, before getting to work.

NAWO is a national organisation led by a volunteer Board and State Committees of senior professionals, with a combined corporate and individual membership reaching over 8000 people working or associated with operational roles and industries.

NAWO’s mission is to inspire women to take charge of their career by providing meaningful networks, inspiring role models and development opportunities; and to connect businesses through membership – facilitating dialogue, sharing ideas and progressing actions to achieve greater inclusion and gender balance in operations.

Ben Ready
Ben Ready founded MBA News in 2014 and is the Managing Editor. He is a former business and finance journalist with Australian Associated Press (AAP) and Dow Jones Newswires in London. Ben completed his MBA in 2012 and was awarded the QUT GMAA Entrepreneurship Prize. He is also the founder and Managing Director of RGC Media & Mktng (