By Arial Starks
Vanderbilt MBA candidates Emily Brennan and Nora Sultan (both MBA’22) have made it their mission to bring awareness to the disparities women face in the working world. Through their podcast “The MBA Ladies” Brennan and Sultan have created a safe space for dialogue surrounding these difficult and sometimes controversial topics. Featuring more than 20 episodes, subjects range from feminism to the lack of women in senior leadership positions.
While McKinsey and Company’s annual ‘Women in the Workplace’ report suggests women are narrowing the gap of
representation in the C-Suite, it also notes the burnout women are experiencing in the workplace due to them stepping up in areas of diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts with little to no recognition.
“Compared with men at the same level, women are doing more to support their teams and advance diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts,” the report states. “They are also more likely to be allies to women of color. Yet this critical work is going unrecognized and unrewarded by most companies, and that has concerning implications,” it continues.
In a recent episode of the MBA Ladies podcast, Sultan and Brennan discuss the numbers behind the disparity and suggest root causes. Citing a recent article by Anne Styche with The Business Journals, they note that even with a jump in women occupying C-suite-level positions over the past couple years, women are still the least represented in CEO roles, holding just 25 percent of these executive roles. Brennan and Sultan note that women are often not considered for CEO positions due to lack of C-suite-level experience, a problem without a solution if companies aren’t willing to hire women into the C-suite to begin with.
“It’s the ultimate cycle of needing work experience but having to apply to and work a job to get experience,” says Brennan. “How do you get your foot in the door if no one will hire you so you can get experience in the first place?”
The ladies also touch on the perceptions women in the C-suite face versus their male counterparts in the same roles. Brennan points to the way women in power can be perceived as difficult to work with and/or emotional by their peers when they need to show assertiveness at work, whereas men are oftentimes labeled as strong leaders for showing the same behavior in the office.
“That’s just another systematic thing that just sets women up for failure for those later leadership positions or even leading an entire company,” says Brennan. Sultan chimed in, “I fall victim to that, where I feel like if I even slightly become more assertive (at work), I am worried I’ll be seen as mean or too aggressive so I’ll back down. It’s really just a stereotype that is pigeon-holing women into feeling like they have to be this nice person, and they can’t come across as assertive for fear of not being liked and then not getting the position.”
As the MBA Ladies continue to tackle these tough issues, they are most grateful for the podcast helping them to find their voices and be confident while speaking on issues they are passionate about.
You can listen to the latest episodes of The MBA Ladies here.