MoMBAs: a rising force in the economy

This Mother’s Day, we celebrate the many mother and mother figures with Henley MBAs who are making an impact building and bettering African economies.

Raising a family is hard enough. Raising a family while also getting an MBA - some might say that’s impossible! 

Globally, the number of women enrolling in MBAs is inching up – now at around 41 percent by some measures. Inevitably, the number of successful MBAs who are also mothers with children is therefore also rising. Some of them are high profile, like Melinda Gates, who got her MBA from Duke's Fuqua School of Business, and Isidingo star and activist Hlubi Mboya-Arnold, who is doing an international MBA at Henley Business School Africa while raising a two-year old and “trying to maintain a consistent workout regime.” But the vast majority of MBA moms are entrepreneurs and senior leaders in business, government and civil society. And while you might not have heard of them – yet – they are hard at work changing the face of the economy. 

More women MBAs leads to more women in leadership positions, and gender equality boosts economic growth and stability says Gita Gopinath, First Deputy Managing Director of the IMF because it improves private and public sector performance, and reduces income inequality. Meantime, McKinsey research has shown that having women in the C-suite is increasingly correlated with being in the top quartile for financial outperformance. 

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Gender balance benefits everyone, write Sam Stephens and Leo Cremonezi in the Financial Times, and business schools must play their part in driving this. 

Jon Foster-Pedley, Dean and Director of Henley Business School Africa, agrees.

“We want to produce leaders who are human, relatable as well as inspiring. At Henley Business School Africa, most of our MBA students have families with children – be they mothers or fathers – but even just maintaining a relationship while studying can be challenging. It's irresponsible and unintelligent for MBA programmes to be designed in such a way that they damage relationships, families and children. Good educators can do better.”

Henley tries to do better by creating programmes that are family-friendly and flexible, he explains. Family-friendly means including family from the start, with, for example, a briefing on MBA stress points, exposure to alumni families who have successfully navigated the MBA and assistance in building support networks. Flexible on the other hand means that ‘when life happens’ students can take extensions or put their studies on hold for a while as they work through these challenges. 

At Henley, deadlines and extensions can be negotiated when pressures get too intense, and the school provides free support workshops for students and their partners, with children’s entertainment provided on site at family-friendly events to allow students to really focus on what they are learning,” says Phillipine Mtikitiki, VP for Coca-Cola South Africa and mother of two young children, including a one-year old. 

“Studying full-time in an old-school model was never going to work for me,” she says. 

It was this focus that also attracted Malegola Mohlala, a senior professional sales representative with Oncology Biomarkers & Companion Diagnostics (CDs), to Henley when she decided to embark on the MBA.

“The information session I attended was inclusive, as partners and families were also invited. It felt like a family event... your loved ones are a part of your MBA journey too and they need to be acknowledged for their role and support.” 

Her MBA, Mohlala says, allowed her to pivot and take up a new role in a multinational biopharmaceutical. It also opened her eyes to how business can be done differently and today she is doing impactful work across the continent company optimising the patient selection process for oncology treatment. 

Girly Letsipa, Head of Health and Safety at Lafarge South Africa, a major construction material business solutions provider also settled on Henley, not just because of its international credentials, but because friends and colleagues had told her that the school’s focus on flexibility would allow her to manage a busy life while studying. 

“As a single mom raising two young boys, I was definitely busy,” she laughs. “I really needed the room to balance my personal and professional life, while setting myself up for global success.” 

Now Letsipa is bringing self-awareness, honed during her MBA, to improve health and safety in the complex industry that is mining. Empathy – the ability to understand and share the feelings of another – must underpin all health and safety measures and is more important than ever these days, she says. 

Mamodise Mailula, who heads up Henley’s alumni body, says that the school is constantly awed by its graduates and is delighted to see the growing number of women and women with children successfully passing through its programmes and going on to make an impact on business and society. 

“While we still have a long way to go to make our board rooms, and executive leadership teams more equitable, we are hopeful that this generation of business graduates will help to tip the scales,” she says. Henley Africa’s MBA class is now more than 55% female, which is among the most diverse student profiles of any business school in the world, she adds, so the school can take satisfaction in knowing that it is doing its bit to reshape gender balances in the economy. 

“Business schools can create the spaces that will grow the women who will lead us into the future,” she says. “An MBA needs to be seen as an investment not just into just one person, but into the entire family unit, as its benefits will be felt by all – in the long term.” 

Or, as Hlubi Mboya-Arnold, puts it, it’s about “leaving a legacy” of your own that you know you’ve built for your kids. “I feel that the MBA is catapulting that vision and the manifestation thereof,” she says.

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Photo caption: MBA graduate 'KG' Mangwale flanked by proud mom and her three sons, celebrates her graduation from Henley Business School Africa's flexible and famil-friendly MBA. 

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