By Nathaniel Luce
Two decades into the 21st century, the road to gender parity in corporate America remains a long one. Representation of women in senior management roles grew between 2015 and 2020, but, as McKinsey puts it in the company’s 2020 Women in the Workplace report, “women remained dramatically underrepresented – particularly women of color.” McKinsey found that women continue to earn manager-level promotions at a lower rate than men (for every 100 men promoted to manager in 2020, only 85 women were promoted). Pandemic-influenced attrition could exacerbate gender disparities: McKinsey researchers found that up to 2 million women are considering a departure from the workforce due to the pandemic. “The COVID-19 crisis could set women back half a decade,” the report states in a sobering headline.
For Vanderbilt MBAs Nora Sultan and Emily Brennan (both MBA’22), gender equality – in business and the world at large – requires a level of conversation many are unwilling to engage in. “One day, we were discussing our mutual frustrations about gender norms within business school but also in society at large,” said Sultan. “We realized that often times the conversation is cut short for fear of being ignorant, politically incorrect, or insensitive. We wanted to create a psychologically safe space where we could have a voice and welcome other voices into the conversation.”
A conversation over coffee early in their first year inspired Brennan, an avid podcast listener, to propose launching a podcast to have those conversations. Sultan agreed, and the MBA Ladies podcast was born. “I think it was the second time we ever hung out, so I am glad she agreed to start a podcast with a person she hardly knew!” said Brennan.
MBA Ladies has explored a variety of topics, from MBA-specific (admissions process, international student experience) to career-related (roles and responsibilities in the workforce, negotiation). Guests include fellow students and faculty members; the conversations are candid, open, and informed by personal narratives.
For the hosts, the podcast has been a learning experience in more ways than one. “I have really enjoyed diving more in-depth into different topics, listening to different people’s perspectives, and figuring out how to implement best practices into my own life,” said Brennan. “On top of the technical skills, I have also learned to trust my voice, which has been a rewarding process,” added Sultan.
Listeners can expect the conversation to expand in future episodes, featuring more guest spots from students and professors. “Unfortunately gender inequality is still a huge issue, which means there’s no shortage of topics to cover,” said Brennan. “We draw a lot of our topic ideas from the current events, things our friends and family suggest, and even our own lives.”
With 8 episodes to date, The MBA Ladies has been well received by women and men alike, if not for different reasons. “We have had women reach out to us and say, ‘Yes, me too!’ and men reach out to us to say, ‘I never thought about that!’ which is exactly what our podcast set out to do,” said Brennan.