Every time someone questions me about diversity or representation for women, I always emphasize upon one point – “It’s one thing to be given a seat at the table and another to feel that you belong there”.
Prior to LBS, my career was divided between sports and consulting. As a kid, when I had little understanding of the words “gender bias” and “stereotype”, I would seldom be questioned why I chose to pursue a male dominated sport like rifle shooting.
With time the creativity of these questions grew, and the location shifted from the firing point to sitting in a client meeting with a room full of men. It was a journey of understanding why these gender-specific questions were directed my way to becoming completely immune to them and being comfortable in my own skin for whatever career or life decisions I made.
But when I was applying to business school, for some reason I had immense clarity that wherever I choose to spend the next two (transformational) years of my life, I wanted to make sure that I am surrounded with other likeminded women whom I can bond with while on this amazing journey.
So when I was zeroing down on my top school choices, I had to obviously look at all the options with a gender lens and evaluate how invested each school was in supporting its women succeed – a critical non-negotiable KPI (Key Performance Indicator) the consultant in me had set.
Now that you are reading this blog on the LBS website, you very well know what decision I made. But taking a step back and reflecting on the entire process, one of my first inspirations of applying to LBS came after watching the trailblazer series hosted by the Women in Business Club in which they interviewed Indra Nooyi.
A little research and multiple coffee chats later with current MBA candidates, I knew the school ticked most of the KPI’s I had set in stone and I finally hit the (much dreaded) “Submit Application” button during the second round of applications.
Very ironically a few months later when I was leaving for LBS, one of my friends gave me Indra Nooyi’s book as a farewell gift which I only started reading on my flight to London. I remembered being inspired by her remarkable career journey and looking up the LBS website to now finally gearing up to land in London in the next 9 hours.
After an inspirational start to my business school journey, when I was still setting things up in London, I happened to look up on LinkedIn a few other women who would be joining the program and if there is one word that could accurately describe how I felt – it would be INTIMIDATED.
But the first day at school totally changed this perspective. It was a humbling experience seeing the same women I was in absolute awe of for their crazy achievements, speak about their hobbies outside of work and travel bucket lists over the next 2 years over other career related MBA stuff. It kind of burst the “cut-throat competition” bubble at the very beginning.
As time flew by, I could see the profound impact all these interactions had on me. Confidence is INFECTIOUS and when you’re constantly surrounded by women who do not shy away from being their authentic and independent selves, it brushes off on you in magical ways! I realized business school was less about competing and more about inspiring each other in meaningful ways.
My best takeaway would be – “Never underestimate how game changing a simple coffee chat with another woman colleague can be!”. Sometimes you find in someone you randomly meet – a friend, a cheerleader, an interview prep partner, a travel buddy or sometimes all of them in one person! On some of my toughest days, I found my confidence in a few classmates who reassuringly always reminded me – “I got your back girl”.
LBS also has a very strong culture of empowering women through its different initiatives. This is evident not only from the class statistics, but also through the visibility and exposure you get from different opportunities available on campus. The Women in Business club and the Women’s Touch Rugby Club are solid examples of this and are true to the saying that “Strong Women Lift Each Other Up”.
In the past few months, I have got the chance to meet innumerable women leaders through networking and guest speaker sessions which are hosted by different clubs all year (trust me, your MBA calendar can never accommodate them all), which has instilled my belief in why having more women role models you can look up to is so important.
I am lucky to be the recipient of 2 scholarships – the Laidlaw Women Leadership Fund and the Forte Foundation scholarship, both exclusively available only for women candidates. The second month into the MBA, I was already leading the Laidlaw Women in Business Society consisting of scholars from US and UK business schools and holding a position in the executive committee of 4 clubs on campus, working together with some of my male peers who are strong allies.
It’s just been 6 months into the MBA, but I can already see how the LBS ecosystem has acted as a catalyst in my personal and professional growth and pushed me to be a better version of myself each day! One of the most important lessons I have learnt is – don’t hesitate to ask for help. Just because you can fight the battle alone, doesn’t mean you have to. Reaching out for help does not make you look weak.
At this stage of my career and life, I am glad I took the decision to go back to school to give myself a chance to explore the different career opportunities – something which is still considered a privilege for a lot of women even today. I think it’s safe to say now that I have a seat at the table, and I also feel I belong here. Beyond this – The world’s my oyster!
For further information about Women at LBS, please follow this link.
By Priyal Keni, MBA2024