International experience drives progression for women

80% cited “international network” as main reason for studying in Europe


Women, now more than ever, are graduating with MBA degrees and many are choosing to study for them in Europe because of the international network, according to new research commissioned by London Business School.

The project, led by the Forté Foundation, a U.S.-based non-profit that works to advance women in business, interviewed a selection of North American women enrolled at the top five European MBA programs to gather qualitative insight and form a hypothesis as to what their profiles were. This was followed by an online survey of North American women enrolled at those five schools to verify and refine the hypothesis through the collection of quantitative data.  

An overwhelming majority (80%) of North American women say the reason they chose to study for an MBA in Europe was for the international network. Additionally, 91% of those surveyed said that it was the diversity of their student classmates that attracted them to their European MBA programme.

“If you want to get noticed by CEOs of organizations, you need to have two things:  international experience, which speaks to your network and your ability to operate globally, and P&L experience,” said Wendy Alexander, a former Member of the Scottish Parliament, who now serves as the Associate Dean at London Business School for Degree Programmes and Career Services.  

“Women who have realized this will go the farthest in their careers, because they will have the X factor for the future: experience, expertise and cultural awareness. Moreover they will be highly qualified for global roles where they can shine early by delivering growth in new markets.”

As of November 2012, there were 141 North American women enrolled in MBA programmes at five of the leading European business schools: London Business School (45%), HEC Paris (11%), INSEAD (33%), IE Business School (7%) and SDA Bocconi (10%).  65 women responded to the online survey.

The research identified three distinct profile types within the pool of North American applicants:  The Dual Background, the Traveller and the Candid American, which represent, respectively, 40%, 35% and 25% of North American women who choose to pursue an MBA abroad.  

Elissa Ellis Sangster, Executive Director of the Forté Foundation, said:  “This research study helped us to build a comprehensive profile of North American women who have an interest not only in studying for an MBA, but doing so at one of our European partner schools.  It’s an important step in building the pipeline of women business leaders and reaching them as early as possible with solid information about business education.”

“I had never lived abroad when I decided to apply to a European business school,” said Sarah Peden, a 2010 London Business School MBA graduate, who fits the profile of a Candid American in the research.  “It was a risk for me, but I needed to get out of my comfort zone.  Studying abroad not only expanded my global network but prepared me for making the switch to a new career.  It was a worthwhile investment and opened up my career options.”