By Dr Kim Johnstone, UN Women NC Australia MBA Scholarship recipient and current student in The University of Sydney Business School MBA
It’s the end of 2016 and I’ve just finished the second unit of an MBA. I’m exhausted from the intensive learning, which has challenged how I manage and work with others, but also thrilled to have finished 1/6 of the MBA and excited to be putting new ideas into practice. I have new opportunities in front of me that come from being a part of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program, and from being the recipient of the UN Women NC Australia MBA scholarship.
The opportunities started when a friend encouraged me to apply for the scholarship. The application process meant I had to think about my eclectic career and what I could offer by leveraging my skills alongside new potential learnings from the MBA. Participating in a facilitated discussion with other applicants, and writing a reflective essay about what I had learned, was the prompt for reasserting a long-term commitment to feminism and women in leadership. The scholarship process made me sit down and think about my career, what I wanted to achieve, and what actions I wanted to take next. I also met an amazing group of women with whom I feel incredibly proud to be associated with.
Being a better leader
The University of Sydney markets its MBA as being practical and hands on. The first unit, ‘Leadership Development and Practice’, delivered! This course was my introduction to the MBA and was an opportunity I feel very lucky to have had. I learned and practiced how to listen better, give feedback, take responsibility for my own future, and got the most practical demonstration of how different work styles manifest themselves that I’ve ever seen.
The best thing was taking what I learnt back to work and putting it in place immediately. A professional relationship that I used to describe as dysfunctional is now productive. The way I manage up, down and horizontally has changed, because I make sure I set agreed expectations with others. I’ve become a better mentor because I listen better, and I ask questions rather than try to solve people’s problems.
Practical tools to lead change
As a long-term feminist I have had many conversations about gender inequity between men and women. Often I get disinterested nods, or hostility to the idea that women are discriminated against (I’m not going to repeat the evidence here, but if you need convincing look at occupation and employment differences by gender). Using the techniques I have learned in the MBA mean I am now more likely to engage people in conversation that prompts consideration of the many facets of diversity (women included). I have noticed that I am less likely to be dismissed and at the very least have people say that my ideas sound interesting.
I have just finished ‘Managing People and Organisations’, a unit focused on diversity and the future of work. Applying change management principles and processes to improving women’s representation among senior leadership roles was the most useful take away. In leadership roles, we always have to implement new organisational structure, or introduce new products and services. Of course, it makes sense that we use the same processes to improve diversity in our workplaces.
A voice for women
The thing I value most about being part of the Business School’s MBA and being the 2015 recipient of the UN Women NC Australia MBA Scholarship is that it has given me a voice. I have always been vocal about women’s rights, and my paid and volunteer work reflect a long-term commitment to supporting gender equity. The process of applying for the scholarship made me realise that my voice had become a whisper. Receiving a scholarship in which the sole purpose is to put more women in leadership turned up the volume.
Since the award of the scholarship, I’ve made the front cover of the Australian Financial Review, said yes to my first panel appearance and wrote my first blog. Now I have a schedule to write more blogs and have opportunities to contribute my opinion to other publications. The whisper is certainly getting louder!
Receiving a scholarship that was only available to women means I have had lots of conversations about merit and it’s given me the entry point to talking about affirmative action. I often ask people to consider, do I deserve to be in the MBA program since men couldn’t apply? Frankly, I don’t care. I have the requisite management experience to be accepted into the program, I was successful against a talented pool of women, and I’m becoming a better leader and manager because of it.
So I finish 2015 grateful for the opportunities that I’ve been given: a scholarship that lets me do a degree I couldn’t have done otherwise; the breadth of learning on offer; the high calibre of my MBA peers; and the platform to speak up about women in leadership. The University of Sydney Business School achieved 50 per cent gender equity for the MBA program with my cohort. Not only will maintaining this diversity make the Business School MBA a role model for gender equality around the world, it will ensure many more women can exploit the opportunities available.
Applications are open for the $60,000 UN Women NC Australia MBA Scholarship for 2016. Learn more and apply now.