How MBA education has transformed to reflect a more progressive world

How MBA education has transformed to reflect a more progressive world

Applications are now open to join the University of Sydney’s No. 1 ranked MBA in 2020. Find out more.

It’s little surprise that men outnumber women when it comes to undertaking and completing MBAs. This reflects a persistent social expectation that women commit to caregiving roles, while men pursue big careers.

But slowly we’re seeing a shift in this norm, with more women than ever exploring further education and opportunities to up-skill.

Universities at the forefront of progressive change are also working hard to ensure diversity targets and quotas are met and that playing fields are levelled between men and women when it comes to career success.

Guy Ford, MBA Program Director at the University of Sydney Business School concedes this can be a challenge when the volume of female applicants still tends to be lower than that of their male counterparts. He believes this is in part attributable to barriers in confidence for some women.

“We do realise that men will go for job promotions when they think they’re ready and that might be when they are 60 or 70 per cent of the way there, whereas with women, they often think they shouldn’t apply until they are 90 or 100 per cent of the way there,” he explains.

To counter this, the University of Sydney introduced a 50/50 target on gender to guarantee diversity in its MBA’s cohort. It also joined forces with UN Women Australia in 2014 to create a full MBA scholarship aimed at promoting gender equity at the most senior levels of the nation’s public, corporate and not-for-profit sectors.

It’s these decisions which have fundamentally changed the dynamics of MBA education at the university.

Emma Brown says she may never have considered applying if she hadn’t stumbled across an advertisement for the UN Women Australia MBA Scholarship. At the time, work was taking up much of her time and she was planning to start a family of her own. The prospect of further education seemed like a pipeline dream.

“My learnings from the MBA have assisted me every step of the way.”

“I had always assumed that I would not have time or wouldn’t be able to justify the expense,” she says. “Without the scholarship I wouldn’t have undertaken the MBA, as I wasn’t comfortable investing the time in myself, alongside all my other commitments.”

Emma Brown, UN Women Australia MBA recipient


Brown is currently the Finance Director at MedicalDirector, but when she began her MBA, she held a role as the Finance Manager at the Cerebral Palsy Alliance. She now has her sights set on becoming a CFO and then CEO of similar organisations in the future.

“My learnings from the MBA have assisted me every step of the way,” she says.

Perhaps most critically, undertaking an MBA proved to Emma that investing in her education wasn’t selfish.

“Amongst all the other sacrifices you make when you first become a parent, the MBA has remained the one thing that I do for myself,” she says. “I am incredibly proud of the example this is setting for my son and for other parents considering taking on further education.”

“As well as the fantastic financial incentive of the scholarship, it has also given me a wonderful network of like-minded and talented women. I like the high degree of teamwork involved in each module as this greatly enhanced my ability to work across diverse teams, trust others and operate in a flat structure with no hierarchy,” she adds.

“Amongst all the other sacrifices you make when you first become a parent, the MBA has remained the one thing that I do for myself.”

This was similarly true for Claire Coulton – another recipient of the UN Women Australia MBA scholarship – who says the networking component of the program was a major drawcard. After previously completing a master’s degree by correspondence, she realised her learning style was more suited to classroom interaction.

The MBA provided the perfect combination of face-to-face classes and online group assignments; flexibility which worked well for Claire, who was pregnant when she first began the program.

When she became a first-time mum, Claire was able to commit to just one subject a semester. In her cohort, 6 or 7 babies were born over the MBA’s duration, and for most people, working flexibly online and even over the phone for group assignments was the norm.

“The best thing about doing the group assignments is that everyone was flexible,” she says. “The University of Sydney is great at helping us figure out how to work efficiently and effectively.”

Claire Coulton
Claire Coulton, UN Women Australia MBA recipient


Like Emma, Claire’s confidence skyrocketed through undertaking further study.

Despite her diverse career background in education, government, campaigning and the not-for-profit sector, she says the MBA has given her the self-belief to sit in a boardroom and say, “I’m confident this is the strategy we should follow.”

She also felt the qualification would help her continued work in a leadership position in the not-for-profit sector, where every dollar is precious.

For two years, Claire has worked as head of government relations for a large charity that supports vulnerable children and families across regional Australia.

“In a way, I think the not-for-profit sector is more important than in any other environment to be financially savvy because you’re receiving donations and people’s hard-earned money,” she says. “I want to make sure I can contribute to that as much as I can.”

Guy Ford believes the University of Sydney’s MBA reflects the world we live in, where people are more regularly seeking purpose rather than the fattest paycheque.

“More and more we’re hearing people say, ‘I want to make a mark on the world and make a positive contribution,” he says.

In fact, what makes Ford most proud is watching the way an MBA can reshape and, in some cases, transform the mindsets of its candidates.

“More and more we’re hearing people say, ‘I want to make a mark on the world.”

“Watching people change the way they view things and pivot, is exceptionally rewarding. I’m fortunate to witness that or hear news of that almost every single day,” he says.

“There’s an impression that the MBA is about killer instinct alpha males who want to take on the world and make million-dollar salaries. But that’s really changed.”

Stay Smart! Get Savvy!

Get Women's Agenda in your inbox