Creating an Executive MBA just for women

Dr. Juli Clay, AVP of Executive Programs at Brenau University and Communications Department Chair - Executive MBA just for women

An Executive MBA just for women?

[Update: meet our MBAchic Fellows, receiving $10,000 toward their studies at Brenau!]

Have you ever considered an Executive MBA? An EMBA is a great option for someone who is a seasoned professional, who might have a few more years of experience under her belt. It might sound like a new class of programs or offerings, but the main difference between an MBA and an executive MBA is delivery. It offers the same demanding business curriculum, often delivered in a more flexibly-designed form: at the end of the day, you’ll still walk away with a Master’s of Business Administration from the institution you attend. What if there were a program that focused not only on providing the flexibility of an EMBA, but also on catering an MBA experience to busy female professionals across the country, offering support and building community? Would you be interested in an Executive MBA just for women?

Recently, we had the chance to speak with Dr. Juli Clay, Assistant Vice President for Executive Programs and Communications Department Chair at Brenau University. When she described the program Brenau is launching in January 2020, I knew we at MBAchic needed to find out more. What you should know is that this isn’t just a majority female cohort with occasional programming geared towards women. What they’re building at Brenau is a comprehensive program, complete with online coursework, book series and speaker series featuring female leaders and authors, three on-location residencies (including one in Asia), and a supportive environment for academic and professional development. I’m definitely hoping to get more involved and understand more about the program – check out our dynamic discussion with Juli below and shoot over your questions as they come up!

MBAchic and Brenau’s Dr. Juli Clay
Dr. Juli Clay, AVP of Executive Programs at Brenau University and Communications Department Chair - Executive MBA just for women
Dr. Juli Clay, Brenau University

MBAchic:  We connected recently while watching Leonie’s #MBAchicTakeover with the Wharton Women in Business, and both bumped on the stat presented at the Forte Summit, that pointed out how in upper management there exists a gender gap that would be closed by 70,000 women getting their MBAs. Tell us about the premise of the Brenau Women’s Executive MBA. Why an Executive MBA just for women? Why now? What is the vision for the program?

Dr. Juli Clay:  With a more than 140-year legacy of educating and empowering women, nearly 50 years offering an MBA, and nearly 30 of offering online education, The Women’s College of Brenau University is the perfect institution to launch the first Executive Women’s MBA.  When I was researching where the gender gap in executive-level professionals began, it was clear that it was at the MBA level.  The balance is really maintained (if not even tilted slightly in favor of women) through the bachelor degree.  However, at the MBA level, we are just now over 35% participation by women, and the statistics go down from there at every level of advancement in a women’s professional life.  The most difficult statistic to read is that female representation at the CEO level is actually declining and currently sits at only 5%.  We wanted to attack the problem at the root, and that was at the MBA.  We also wanted to create a program that met the needs of busy women and created an environment that was open for conversations and concerns that went beyond the classroom.

MBAchic:  Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?

JC:  My name is Juli Clay.  I have a Bachelor of Arts in Public Relations, a Master of Arts in Communication, and a Doctor of Business Administration in Leadership.  I have three amazing children, and try to balance work, being a mom, sitting on a number of boards for nonprofit and civic organizations, running ultra-marathons, and trying to have fun in the process.  I truly say and mean “try to balance”.  I completed my dissertation defense in the carpool line to pick up my daughters from elementary school.  It is a juggling act.  I am passionate about educating and empowering women, and currently am the Assistant Vice President for Executive Programs at a 141-year old Women’s College, Brenau University, which is in Northeast Georgia.

Building the ideal inaugural class

MBAchic:  Who would be your ideal student? Who are you looking to bring in as you shape your inaugural class?

JC:  We know that executive women have both shared and unique experiences, and we want the women in this program to be able to learn from and with one another.  Women in this program will all have a minimum of five years’ experience at middle or upper management and will share a desire to advance to the C-suite.  We expect the women in this program to bring their passion, knowledge, and experience to the table.

MBAchic:  How will you create community in this Executive MBA just for women and bring students opportunities for networking and recruitment?

JC:  To meet the needs of professional women’s busy schedules, all of the coursework is online.  Knowing that “the good stuff” happens in both formal and informal settings, we have created a number of other opportunities and experiences to provide time and space for the women in the program to connect, network, and form lasting communities.  So, in addition to the ten courses, the women in the program will be involved in a book and speaker series, with webcasts bringing them together for shared experiences, meaningful discussions around current, relevant topics, and networking both with the other members of their cohort and industry leaders.  We are thrilled to be working with amazing female entrepreneurs and authors like Kristen Hadeed (“Permission to Screw Up”) to bring a variety of perspectives to the conversations.  Since the women in this program will be diverse in terms of industry and geography, there will be wonderful opportunities to professional networking and recruitment as well.

Pioneers in building a new experience

MBAchic:  What sort of extracurricular activities will there be, if any? How big are the classes?

JC:  Possibly the most exciting avenue for interaction among the women in this program will be the three residency experiences, a defining component of the Executive Women’s MBA.  These extended weekend trips are times of intensive personal, professional, and academic development designed to provide students with information, foster meaningful interactions among the cohort, faculty, and other professional women, and to prepare women for advancement in their careers through hands-on workshops and seminars.  At each of the residencies (New York, Shanghai, and Atlanta), women in the program will have dedicated time with their faculty to assist them in problem-solving, critical thinking, and application of course material. 

Additionally, the women will have the opportunity to be immersed in team performance groups to work on their program projects, engage in simulations, and discuss key issues they are facing in their organizations.  Each residency will focus on a unique aspect of business that will complement the coursework, helping women to accelerate and deepen their learning experience.  In addition to the academic focus, each residency will also provide an opportunity for intentional relationship building with the other members of their cohort, providing women a space to address and challenge the unique issues women face as they advance in their careers.  Since residencies are away from home and work, they truly provide a time for women to be fully present and to focus on their personal and professional development – to focus on themselves.

Each cohort is limited to 20 women.  We want to ensure that the class sizes are large enough to provide a diversity of ideas and experiences, but small enough to allow for intentional and meaningful interaction.  Our goal is for every woman to leave the program with a network of women they know deeply and can consider part of their tribe moving forward.

Challenges and opportunities

MBAchic:  What are the challenges you’ve faced in creating an Executive MBA just for women? What kind of support are you getting? What has surprised you in this process?

JC:  We have been blown away by the positive reaction and support we have gotten since announcing this program.  We are members of academic organizations that are thrilled someone is trying to tighten the gender gap in graduate studies.  We are working with other non-profit organizations whose mission and focus is in the area of gender equity.  We have spoken with so many organizations that are trying to begin gender and inclusion initiatives but don’t know how.  Our goal is to partner with organizations so they can focus on their business and allow us to come alongside them with opportunities to prepare the women who will be tomorrow’s CEOs.  This is an issue that affects all areas of society, and we are working with other sectors as a small piece of the plan to move forward.

Brenau University in Gainesville, Georgia
Since 1878, private, not-for-profit Brenau University has expanded its tradition of providing prestigious higher education from its campus environment (pictured) in Gainesville, Ga., to global reach through additional campuses and online programs.

Thank you so much to Juli for sharing your insights and the vision for this program. You can learn more about the Brenau EWMBA on their website, and we certainly will be getting more involved – applications are open, so definitely check it out!

Would you apply to an Executive MBA just for women? How might a program like this support you as a student and professional? Would love to hear your thoughts!

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