A group of happy female MBA students at their graduation ceremony.

Choosing to challenge – the MBA experience for our female leaders

5 March 2021

The article at a glance

Meet the female leaders from MBA Class of 2020 who are choosing to challenge as we approach this year’s International Women’s Day.

Meet the female leaders from MBA Class of 2020 who are choosing to challenge as we approach this year’s International Women’s Day.

Cambridge Judge is proud to have partnered with the Forté Foundation for several years and this year we welcome three Forté Foundation scholars into the MBA Class of 2020/21.

Why Cambridge?

Sarah Sketchley.
Sarah Sketchley (MBA 2020)

UK based Sarah Sketchley comes from a marketing and startup background. She tells us a little about what motivated her to look at an MBA as part of her career plan.

“I come from a marketing background, initially working with startups and also in the enterprise tech space. My main concern was to move into a more strategic role, away from the purely marketing role, but to stay in the tech space.

“For me I wanted to gain that broader perspective on my career, to try and take a step back and look at the wider context for the work I am doing now and how I can make more impact.”

She continues, “I was looking to remain in Europe, and I also wanted a one-year programme. Cambridge had a strong link to the tech sector with Silicon Fen and so on. I was also attracted by the practical nature of the programme that allows you to put into practice your MBA learnings through the Cambridge Venture project and the Global Consulting project”.

Rachel Baxter.
Rachel Baxter (MBA 2020)

For Rachel Baxter, the one-year programme as well as the language was a big consideration. USA born, Rachel had worked previously in the impact sector in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

“I came to Cambridge to learn more about social impact and be able to apply some business acumen to the non-profit world,” she explains.

“As an American I wanted to look beyond the business school experience in the USA. I wanted to be surrounded by those with a different perspective, with those working in a wide range of sectors and to learn from as many different global perspectives as possible. I wanted to be challenged and to really be pulled out of my comfort zone.”

Singapore born, Yinshan Loh, had previously been an Assistant Director to the central bank of Singapore, and she was also on the founding team of an award-winning social sector consultancy, “I feel I had a non-typical profile before my MBA”.

Yinshan Loh.
Yinshan Loh (MBA 2020)

Yinshan holds a unique position as winner of the BCG Women’s MBA Fellowship, the first time awarded to a female from Asia, which offers a year of one-to-one mentorship with a principal at BCG, as well as access to a whole host of benefits, including the opportunity to network with BCG women fellows and share her MBA experience with them. Yinshan is also a British Chevening scholar, which is funded by the UK Government.

“For me I was looking at a range of master’s degrees, such as an Economics Master’s. I had applied to the Chevening scholarship in November the year before applying for the MBA.

“I wanted to gain exposure in business beyond the government and social sectors that I was working in. I wanted to learn more about private companies and the corporate sector. I felt it was the right time for me to embark on a master’s and after my enquiries I decided the MBA was right for me. I applied to Cambridge in Round 3 in the January of last year.”

What is the Cambridge experience like for our female leaders?

Forté Foundation scholar and CJBS alumna Natalia Dziergwa (MBA 2018) shares her experience.

Natalia Dziergwa.
Natalia Dziergwa (MBA 2018)

“For me it was so much more than just a steppingstone on my career path. My Global Consulting project took place in Cyprus, working with the Cambridge Judge Centre for Circular Economy. This work in the circular economy sector, was in a sector I had not been aware of previously and a career choice I had not considered beforehand.”

Polish born, Natalia works as a Circular Economy Innovation Specialist at the World Economic Forum in Geneva, “My advice would be to have a clear path at the start of the year but also keep an open mind”.

On the female support network, “We set up the ‘Sisterhood’ WhatsApp group in my first term at Cambridge and this is still something that continues to this day. During the recent year in particular, we have reached out to our female cohort and met up when we could. The Sisterhood are very much in touch, supporting each other and our careers.

“The classmates that I met during my MBA year became much more than just friends, they are like family to me now.”

Special Interest Groups, the Wo+Men’s Leadership Centre and much more

The Cambridge Judge Wo+Men’s Leadership Centre further supports the MBA cohort of women, from a range of events and networking opportunities to the prestigious annual conference each year.

But beyond academics lies a whole host of opportunities, both within and beyond the business school itself.

Sarah is one of the leaders of the Wo+Men’s Special Interest Group (SIG) and she outlines some of their plans.

“We ran our first event in Michaelmas Term. The event came out of the one of the lectures, ‘Representation of women in leadership roles’, and we wanted to have the space to discuss this further. We spoke to some of the lecturers, and we set up a time where they could present their research and facilitate a deeper conversation around the topic.

“We have 146 members, which out of a cohort of this size just shows how much this is valued by women and men across the class as a place for discussion.”

Yinshan is leader of the Government and Policy SIG, and one of the three female co-chairs of the Consultancy SIG this year. “It is very common to have female leaders across the CJBS community. This is something that is really encouraged and supported by the whole MBA community.

“This year we have also formed part of the committee supporting undergraduate women who are seeking a career in business. The Cambridge University Women in Business Group runs a University wide mentorship scheme, which we are excited to be supporting and involved with this year.

“One thing I am really passionate about is mentoring other young women in business, to help them fulfil their potential.”

Natalia concludes, “Divide the different aspects of the Cambridge experience into different buckets, making sure you can make the most of the wider University community and all the opportunities it presents, managing your time and interests across the year”.

Making the most of the Forté Foundation

Natalia also recommends using all the benefits that the Forté Foundation membership has to offer. As well as the £25,000 scholarship award, being a Forté scholar gives the Cambridge MBA candidate access to Premium membership of the Forté Foundation throughout their MBA year.

“I am still part of the wider Forté community after graduating”, Natalia explains. “I receive the newsletters and have access to their career and job portal, as well as to their expertise and resources exclusive to members

“I also network with the Forté scholarship recipients from my class, as well as those that have followed me at Cambridge.”

Sarah suggests using the Forté name as a way to reach out to those on LinkedIn and at other business schools, “Using Forte as a way to open that dialogue. There is also a job posting page which will be useful going forward across my MBA year”.

Rachel says, “I have access to a really wide North American network through the Forté platform, but there is also the Forté European network. Attending the virtual conference in June 2020 was the most useful thing I could’ve done before my MBA. I felt very ready to jump in and start my MBA after attending the online conference.

“Engage with the Foundation as soon as you can, I started workshops in the summer to work out my unique career story; it made it so much easier when I started at Cambridge”.

What doubts did you have before starting the MBA?

Rachel, “There are definitely barriers that women might face going into an MBA, the time and the cost commitment can be a factor. You may have a family or spouse that you need to consider in your decision, even with the pandemic those issues do fall a little more on women than men”.

Women are thinking a little bit differently about the ROI and we have to question the next level of leadership after the MBA and the career choices after graduating.

“For me it took me about four years to come to a decision before I got to a now or never position, and I don’t regret it at all. Anyone who is questioning, just do it, if it is the right thing for you don’t question it.”

Natalia supports this hesitation, “I was always putting it off or making excuses. My GMAT preparation became a big challenge for me as well. Then once I decided, I committed to it fully. My advice is to set out a reasonable timeline and start to work through it”.

For Yinshan having scholarship support has really changed the return-on-investment equation, “I feel very privileged to secure these scholarships. To be successful with the scholarship, my advice would be to be very clear on where you came from, why you want the MBA and where you are going”.

Sarah, “My biggest worry was not having the necessary finance background for the MBA programme. But I found there is no expectation at Cambridge for you to be an expert, and there are so many people across the class who are willing to help you gain that understanding. Yinshan is one person who has helped me a lot, and it is something I know I need to work harder on than other subjects”.

Last tips as you choose to challenge.

“Give yourself that space to really think about what you want before you go into the programme, as you really do hit the ground running and it is important to know what you want to get out of it,” says Sarah.

Natalia concludes, “Cambridge MBA alumni are always really happy to talk about their MBA experience. Connect with as many classmates and alumni as possible and having those conversations early is key to building a strong network for your future career”.

Yinshan says, “Be really clear on what kind of life plans you want to create for yourself.” On the Forté Foundation scholarship she concludes, “Highlight any passion you have for raising other women to leadership positions and your passion will come through on your application”.

This interview is a result of a webinar held in Michaelmas Term 2020 on the experiences of women at CJBS and specifically on the Cambridge MBA programme, where the Cambridge MBA Admissions team and our current Forté scholars, together with Forte MBA alumni Natalia Dziegwa, discussed their professional backgrounds and what the Cambridge MBA can offer for female candidates.