The Wharton Women in Business (WWIB) supports, empowers, and connects Wharton MBAs, alumnae, and the community at Wharton. Wharton boasts one of the largest populations of female MBA students across Top MBA Programs in the United States, as such, it should come to no surprise that it also boasts over 100 female student organizaton leaders. We were able to chat with one of those leaders in WWIB: Co-President Ashley Wells (Wharton, ’16.) Ashley talked to us how women are leading across campus at Wharton along with the incredible support she’s received from other students, faculty, and administrators on campus
MBASchooled: Are there specific factors that you think are creating momentum for more females to apply to top business schools in the United States?
Ashley: While the Wharton data-driven side of me hesitates to answer this without conducting supporting research, my intuition (based on personal experiences and the experiences of women in my network) aligns to Sheryl Sandberg’s “you can’t be what you can’t see” philosophy.
Take a school like Wharton – Wharton has the first MBA student body with 40% women, boasts women successfully obtaining post-MBA jobs in male-dominated industries (PE, Tech, etc.), celebrates over 100 female student club presidents, and promotes a culture that strongly includes and supports women. Women can envision themselves thriving here because they see it and believe in their own potential, and therefore more qualified women apply and these highly qualified women place into top programs.
MBASchooled: Was the ratio of males to females in business school something you considered before apply and attending?
Ashley: Yes. I applied in 2013, a time when there was substantial negative press about certain top programs’ female diversity and inclusion issues. I was on the fence about those programs and that was a factor that discouraged me from applying.
Whether you are evaluating your fit with a school or company, factoring in how women are valued, treated, and supported is critical when deciding where to invest your time, hard work, reputation, and money.
MBASchooled: How have your relationships with female classmates impacted your time at Wharton?
Ashley: Within the first month of being a co-president of Wharton Women in Business (WWIB), we decided to host a social gathering to congratulate all the newly elected female club presidents of Wharton. We were happily surprised when the list was more than 100 deep – running everything from PE/VC to Dance Studio. Seeing these women come together was incredibly powerful. These women inspire me because they are able to hold themselves to their own highest expectations, all while cheering on fellow women in the community and trying to navigate and define their own authentic leadership path. I go to these women to inspire me, to vent, to share ideas, to seek honest feedback, to learn, to support, to be supported, and also to have fun within our two years together. It’s a pretty fantastic environment.
MBASchooled: What opportunities have you had in business school to meet other women who serve as resources or mentors on career and life?
Ashley: My foremost mentors are my classmates – women who have prepped with me in the final hour before interviews, who have given me rich perspective and feedback when I needed it most, and who have guided me through big career and life decisions. I was also assigned a life-changing Executive Coach – Cheryl Rice – through Wharton’s Executive Coaching program who has been an invaluable resource to me. Professor Adam Grant has made me a smarter and better person as he leads through example as a genuine Giver. He has also been a true friend to WWIB, never hesitating for a moment to connect us to powerful women in his network for WWIB’s benefit. Finally, Maryellen Lamb, Deputy Vice Dean of Wharton Admissions, Financial Aid & Career Management, is a strong model for me because she is able to be polished and commanding while being authentic and personable. She cares deeply about each student at Wharton and is just fantastic at her job – I would argue that many students here probably consider her a role model.
MBASchooled: As Leaders of WWIB, are there any initiatives you have or are working on to provide a support network for female students at Wharton?
Ashley: In addition to hosting more than five WWIB events per week for the 700+ women at Wharton – events ranging from speakers such as Tory Burch, to career networking with companies, to WWIB yoga – there are several initiatives WWIB has recently championed, including:
- Wharton 22s – WWIB is a partner with this pioneering group of men dedicated to gender equality at Wharton and in the business world
- Mothers @ Wharton – a dedicated support network for Wharton moms who have all of the challenges MBA students do, in addition to being mothers
- Return on Equality – WWIB is a founding partner of Wharton’s newly formed student-run coalition dedicated to Diversity & Inclusion at Wharton
- Women Entrepreneurs – WWIB has created a community for female entrepreneurs, including hosting a WWIB “holiday shop” featuring female founders’ products
- Admitted Women – WWIB is facilitating connections between female admits and current women at Wharton, to provide “real talk” insights on the Wharton experience to incoming students
We are excited about these budding initiatives and look forward to growing them in coming years as we pass the baton on to incoming classes of Wharton women.
MBASchooled: Outside of WWIB, what are ways that the Wharton community supports a supportive and inclusive environment for women?
Ashley: The Wharton student body seeks to create a safe space for students. What does this mean? Wharton is a testing environment to learn and grow. For many men, Wharton may be the first ever time they have worked with women–that can be hard to imagine, but it’s true. Wharton is a safe space for men to learn how to work with, work under, and work above women. Mistakes may be made, but we embrace feedback and honesty and I know many men who have shared with me how enlightening it has been for them to learn how to be an inclusive team player. This year, hundreds of Wharton men have signed the 22s pledge for gender equality, demonstrating how supported women are not just by organizations like WWIB, but by the men in our community as well. We are working together towards gender equality, which is a priority we hope every Wharton student carries into their future careers and lives.
MBASchooled: What’s something that isn’t currently being done, or that you’d like to see business schools do more of when it comes to attracting and developing female MBA students?
Regarding the Faculty:
- Recruit and retain more female professors to level the playing field of our learning environment
- Host formal trainings with professors on creating an inclusive learning environment
- Intentionally use cases with more female protagonists
- Evaluate professors in formal course evaluations on their ability to lead an inclusive classroom
Regarding the Administration:
- Provide financial support to student-led initiatives focused on diversity & inclusion at school
- Continue to prioritize diversity (of all kinds) during the admissions process
- Include diversity-focused curriculum (trainings, genuine dialogue, etc.) that builds from pre-term to graduation
MBASchooled: Do you have any advice for women who are thinking about business school?
Ashley: I’ve written several posts with my insights on the MBA admissions process featured on Forte’s blog if they are of interest, however my general advice is to aim really high. Set your goal high for the GMAT, and work for it. Set the bar high for the schools you apply to, and give it your all to get into your “reach” schools. We often hold ourselves back more than any other force; don’t hedge against yourself by telling yourself you don’t want it because you aren’t sure that you can get in. You can and you will end up at a top program if you work for it.
If you don’t believe me, read Carol Dweck’s Mindset, said by many CEOs to be the most influential book of their life, which teaches you how to view all challenges positively through a Growth Mindset that embraces hard work in order to achieve success. This is a highly recommended book to motivate you throughout the application process!
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