Why These Women Knew An MBA Was Right For Their Career – 4 Women Share Their Journey

Ambitious career women are gaining tools to help break the glass ceiling without sacrificing family life with a Master of Business Administration, propelling themselves and their businesses forward.

Associate Professor Terry Fitzsimmons is an expert in gender disparity and leadership at the UQ Business School. He says an MBA is an ideal qualification and important investment for women aspiring to leadership positions.

“The MBA really is the asset people need to get ahead, and because women have so many more barriers to career progression, the MBA is actually more important to women than men,” Terry said.

“However, one of the main barriers that women face to undertaking an MBA is that the age most people start the program coincides with the peak time for having a family.

“Women still often end up taking more responsibility for family care and domestic labour.”

Terry said an MBA helped remove barriers to senior positions and the advance of women to company boardrooms, which was beneficial for the whole organisation.

“There’s good evidence now that demonstrates gender diverse executive teams produce better outcomes, and that filters down to better profitability for the company,” Terry said.

“Diversity of thought and diversity of experience is very powerful.

“When you have a homogenous group, they don’t know what they don’t know and can’t see different points of view.

“Nearly all businesses in the wider community offer products or services that are applicable to men and women. If you’re blind to one sector of the community, then you’re not going to be able to offer whatever it is the community wants.”

Professionals decide to do an MBA for a multitude of reasons. Here, MBA News spoke to four inspiring UQ MBA female students and alumni about their motivation to pursue an MBA, how the program empowered them in their career journey and why it was such a worthwhile investment in themselves.

Athena Manley – Chief of Strategy & Chief of Staff at Aon

I’m one of those geeky people who had an MBA on my list of goals since I was 21 years old. I never considered the MBA to be a ‘tick in the box’ exercise, so I was determined to learn and apply new skills as much as possible. I was also keen to expand my networks. Both of these aims were more than achieved! It turned out to be 20 years between my undergrad graduation and my postgrad one! I wanted to be in a role where I could apply my skills.

Having a young family and a demanding job, I was certainly concerned about the workload. I specifically chose the UQ MBA as it was highly regarded, offered face to face learning, and was the most flexible. I wanted to be able to switch between weekend, weeknight or intensive modes as my availability allowed. I also funded my studies myself, so it helped to pace out the investment over time. There were certainly times when my family were out having fun, and I was inside studying hard, but the time and financial investments have paid off. As a bonus, I’ve role modelled good study habits for my kids – I’ve tried anyway!

The UQ MBA has given me a great sense of achievement, enhanced networks and career progression opportunities.

Stephanie Elwin – Director at PwC Australia – Government Consulting

I had been working in a government role for many years and came to a crossroads. I thought that I could either have a really comfortable career in the public service or see what else was out there and be a part of a different culture. I had a nagging feeling that I could achieve so much more, and the UQ MBA was a way for me to get confidence and springboard to the next level of my career.

The need for gender equality in business is also something I’m very passionate about. In business, an equitable, culturally diverse leadership team is really important to drive innovation and success. There need to be more strong female role models in leadership positions for women to look up to.

Julia Chun – Analyst at Endua

I nearly didn’t make it to the starting line of my MBA. I asked myself: ‘Am I bright enough? Do I have anything of value to add? Am I too old? Am I really capable of completing an MBA?’ The negative thoughts churned over in my head as I struggled to gain confidence in my abilities.

Then one afternoon, I was sitting in a meeting at work – a meeting where I was the only woman with a dozen male colleagues. This stirred something in me. I realised I wanted to get more value out of myself – I wanted to bring something more to the table. I contemplated an MBA many years ago, as I knew it covered such a broad range of subjects, from strategy, marketing, and management, to innovation, technology, accounting and finance.

I also wondered why there weren’t more women in that meeting. As a mother with three children, if I wanted a future where my daughters weren’t outnumbered by their male counterparts, I was going to have to set an example. So that evening, I raced home and googled ‘UQ MBA’ and took my first steps to what I was hoping would be a brighter future.

Kelly Morgan – Senior HR Leader – Current UQ MBA student

A growth mindset led me to want to further develop my commercial acumen, including my numerical, data and critical thinking skills. Having held executive roles, I saw undertaking the UQ MBA as a way to develop these skills and bring legitimacy to my work experience.

Not being from Brisbane, I also saw the UQ MBA as a way to build my network and to hone my collaboration and influencing skills through group work. And on a personal note, role modelling hard work, perseverance and being pushed outside my comfort zone has been good for our two boys to see.

I was encouraged to complete an MBA by executives I have admired and those who have mentored me. However, the biggest barrier to commencing this journey was the fear that I wouldn’t be able to hold my own in a room full of very intelligent people. Being 7 subjects into the program, it still amazes me that I can! I believe this is in large part thanks to the supportive lecturers and the cohort, who bring different industry experience and skills to the program. We learn from each other and can play to our strengths while developing new skills in a safe environment.

Ultimately, I see the UQ MBA as an investment in my personal and professional growth, and I’m excited to see where it takes me.

Hear from Julia and Athena and learn what it’s like to study the UQ MBA at the Information Webinar on 4 May. Register now or apply before 31 May 2022

Doug Estwick
Doug is an author for MBA News and Fixed Income News Australia. Doug has been a media and communications professional for more than 10 years, including working as an editor for News Corp's Quest Newspaper group.