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Faster and bolder: Seeing women in leadership as a natural reality I Ivana Goossen

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Ivana Goossen is the kind of person who wouldn’t recommend something she hasn’t tested first. Not surprisingly, before becoming the European Director of University of Pittsburgh’s Katz Graduate School of Business, she attended its Executive MBA Worldwide Program in Prague and earned her MBA degree in 2009. Six months pregnant with her second child upon enrollment, Goossen was looking for best business practices that could help a woman run her own business and return to the work environment in full confidence. More than this, she learnt on her own the secret to work-life balance: “Choose your priorities carefully, know when to stop making things even more perfect, and get as much support as possible”, she says.

Q: How many women do you have currently enrolled in your MBA program?

A: Five women.

Q: That would be a quarter of your total?
A: Twenty-five percent, yes.

Q: Is that enough?
A: What is enough? What we have is good enough to maintain diversity of the class, but I wish there were more.

Q: What do women bring to an executive MBA cohort?

A: Interesting question. Women certainly bring a totally different intellectual and emotional charge to the classroom. They carry a different energy. Mixed study groups outperform homogenous ones. I would hate to support any stereotypes about men and women, but it is clear that there are differences. With these differences come the opportunities to learn and grow.

For example, women tend to be extremely efficient and are able to accomplish perfectly multiple tasks at the same time. They generally bring in strong intuition and interpersonal skills, creativity, and an eye for design. Men tend to be more focused and have a higher tolerance for risk; they are often better at concentrating their energy on one thing. So the balance between these qualities is great in a classroom. Besides, the atmosphere in the class is totally different when you have both genders on board.

Q: When women inquire about the Katz EMBA program, what challenges do they describe that they would like to overcome by developing their competencies with you?

A: Well, I think much like men, women that come to the program are people who have reached a certain level of success in their careers and they are looking to grow further. They are either looking for advancement in their current career, or for a career change – even moving into a totally different area of business. That is the typical case of women that come to the program. And that applies to men, too; they come here for the same reasons, i.e. looking for career advancement within a current job, career change or preparing themselves for a totally different role. For some of them, again men much like women, another reason may be returning from another country or preparing to move to another country. We have a regional scope, so we are dealing with people coming back from China or from India who want to re-establish their networks and their careers here. Or we have women returning from maternity leave who pursue their EMBA as a way to get back in touch best practice, to regain the confidence that they are truly on top of things and to get ahead of others.

Q: Have you observed a pattern of positions that women joining your EMBA program occupy before they enroll?

A: I would say that women in our program have really diverse backgrounds. There is a significant percentage of women that come from finance. We have women who come from managerial positions in manufacturing or sales, and women with HR or IT backgrounds. We’ve also had women that come from consulting jobs or non-profit organizations. So I would say there is a mix. And this is great – it means that capable women are no longer restricted to a limited number of career paths.

Q: You also graduated from the Katz EMBA program before you decided to actually join the school as its director. When you look back, what made you decide that the Katz EMBA was the right program for you?

A: I wanted the best program available without having to travel too far because I had a child already; actually, when I started the program I was six months pregnant with my second boy. So, I needed a program that would give me access to what was best practice globally in MBA programs, but also one that would allow me to stay close to home and balance all the other duties that I had. The program allowed me to study mostly in Prague while still building a global network. I traveled to Brazil and to Pittsburgh and still keep in touch with many of my classmates from these locations. I got the global exposure that I find so important today. And the comfort of having the American professors fly to Prague instead of me having to fly abroad was truly a luxury. For me, this was an exquisite value proposition.

Q: You mentioned the word “balance,” which comes up very often when we are dealing with women in leadership. If you had one thought for women who are wondering how to handle the balance between their work, family and their own needs, what would that be?

A: Don’t try to do it on your own. You can’t be everywhere and manage everything on your own. Just get as much support as possible because it is available. Once you start looking for it, you will see how much support there actually is. And maybe number two, probably a personal lesson for me, just choose what you are perfectionist about. Know when to stop making things even more perfect and move on.

Q: When you look at women in leadership in the Czech Republic, we still don’t have enough women in top management of companies or politics. Do you feel that such executive MBA programs as the Katz EMBA could help turn things around?
A: Absolutely. Programs like this can help women who want to have a successful career get the extra confidence, contacts and capabilities that they need to reach their goals. Unfortunately, in the short run and particularly at the executive level, we cannot produce more women who are ready to start the program. But once a woman has developed to a certain professional level, programs like this can absolutely prepare her for the tough competition that is out there, and for making her next big step with confidence and success.

Q: You said one can’t generate more women that would be ready to join the program. Currently the topic of women quotas is a big theme for Europe. Do you think that such a solution would bring more women up to a career point where they can further benefit from executive programs like yours?
A: I think quotas might not be a universal solution, but there is one good thing that they do: quotas bring your attention to the issue. They say that what you measure is what you manage, and what you manage is what gets done. So any tool that brings the business world’s attention to the fact that diversity is good for business, because it produces positive business results, is good. I think once we put diversity in our range of focus, and put incentives in place to support the process, we will start seeing the results.

Q: To round up our discussion on women in leadership, when you look at the Czech market, what is your hope for women here?

A: It’s a powerful question. My intuitive answer is that I will be truly happy with the situation when we don’t have to discuss it anymore. I hope that one day it will become natural to have mixed management teams. People will be focusing really on achieving great results with their companies rather than supporting one gender over another. That is what I hope for.

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