Why women should apply for an EMBA – a participant’s perspective

posted in: Brain food, Reasons why | 0

Vanessa Marcie (EMBA 2016) discusses why more women should apply for the Cambridge EMBA, drawing from her own experience of the programme so far.

We are 19 strong, opinionated, experienced women in a class of 81 professionals studying at Cambridge. We are one of the largest groups of women to study for this programme.

We are all different people, coming from diverse walks of life, backgrounds, countries and cultures. Some of the women have families, most of them are married or in a relationship and some are single. But we have two things in common nevertheless: we work at a senior level in very demanding jobs, and we have enrolled as students at Cambridge Judge Business School.

Already one year into the programme, we recently met the new EMBA Class of 2017, and their own cohort of women.  What is noticeable to me now is how under-represented women are not only at CJBS, but across business schools in general.  Recently, we were contacted by the programme’s marketing team and asked why more women weren’t applying for EMBA programmes.  After thinking about it, the women of our class came up with a few points:

  • Women often suffer from impostor syndrome and self-doubt
  • Women with families don’t think they can achieve a work/life balance
  • Women’s salaries tend to be lower than their male counterparts, and could struggle to afford the cost of the programme.

To address those points, we are now involved in a new campaign that allows us to share our own experiences of the EMBA programme. We can demonstrate how – as women – we can combine our demanding careers, studies and, well, life itself.

Part of the School’s appeal is the diversity of its students, by both industry and gender. In the case of the Cambridge EMBA, the classes have a unique mix of experienced professionals from industries such as banking, engineering, medicine, law, entrepreneurship, science and – like me – marketing.

We can demonstrate how – as women – we can combine our demanding careers, studies and, well, life itself.

The impostor syndrome

Back in August 2016, the first article we had to read before starting the programme was about the ‘imposter syndrome’.  Even if I had never doubted my professionalism, or my place at the School, I realised that many of my classmates – both men and women – suffered from this syndrome too. They had expected to receive a call confirming their worst fear: Cambridge had made a mistake in accepting them.

It was a while before I began to suffer from ‘the fear’, when I realised just how high the calibre of my classmates was going to be.  I knew then that failing was not an option for me. However, when a feeling like that cripples me, I remember that even my more senior classmates have felt the same way. If Cambridge believes I can succeed, I must carry on and do so. This thought process has worked for me, and makes me realise that imposter syndrome is exactly that: a syndrome, not a reality.

Work/life balance

I’m not going to lie, achieving a work/life balance is tough. Juggling my job, EMBA homework, work travel and the commutes to Cambridge and my 80 new close friends isn’t easy. It is tough, but I tell myself that this is TEMPORARY – life will only be as busy as this for 20 months!

Of course, you won’t see your family/friends/children/partner as much as before during this time, as you have to prioritise the EMBA in what free time you have. Work is going to be hell as your boss is likely to ask you to do more, just to be sure you’re not studying whilst you’re at work!

But the EMBA is a 20-month investment in yourself and your future. As John Lennon once said, “There are no problems, only solutions.” Hopefully, your partner will be supportive, and your children will understand that the EMBA will have a positive ripple effect for their family’s future, in other words, enabling you to potentially have a better job at a higher salary. Real friends will be proud of your achievement and will work around your schedule during the duration of the programme. Your boss may or may not be supportive, but either way, you will have to make it work or rethink your career.

By reading this post, you may already feel as if you’ve outgrown your current job. The people in my class are entrepreneurial – even if they’re not entrepreneurs – and want to make their life and the world a better place. How? By creating value, and by becoming better leaders, either in their current company or one that they’ve created for themselves. An EMBA is a transformative experience, and soon you might feel as if your job is like a dress one size too small: it’s good, but you can’t breathe once you’re in. To study is a journey of self-discovery as much as it is professional training. Once you enrol, you might discover something more important than status and money: purpose.


Money doesn’t make you happy, but it can certainly make your life better. As a French citizen, I’ve had access to a free education and obtained my PhD without requiring a student loan. I’ve had to make a significant financial sacrifice to study at a world-renowned university based in the UK. This was a sacrifice that I was willing to make, so that I could invest in a premium education, top-level lecturers, a golden network of peers, a famous brand and the future opportunities it would prepare me for.  Though I haven’t been approached by the Big Four yet, I’ve certainly have acquired brand new skills and a strategic vision for business, receiving new opportunities in the form of teaching, mentoring, consulting, and even involvement in a start-up. I have no regrets, and I’m confident the EMBA will soon repay itself. Cambridge Judge Business School is a very supportive institution, offering scholarships to attract and retain talent. I’m honoured to be the first EMBA recipient of the Dean’s Scholarship, and I know that the School is always looking for ways to help brilliant minds access the programme.


Many of us have heard or read stories about women who don’t ask for a pay rise or don’t speak up, who think they need to tick all the boxes for a job before applying, or don’t think they deserve a promotion at all. We all recall a missed opportunity because we didn’t believe that we deserved it.

Within the EMBA class, we share stories, our ambitions, failures, our experiences of sexism and discrimination – we help each other in a spirit of sisterhood. We are each other’s coach, kicking each other’s asses if insecurities emerge. We operate in a safe environment, and this is exactly what we had hoped for from Day One on the programme.

The men of the cohort are very supportive as well, and I never felt like I didn’t belong in the group, or that I wasn’t smart enough. I’m more comfortable with words than with numbers and the first few months were a real challenge for me, diving into the unchartered waters of accounting and finance. But if a marketing communications specialist like me can do it, anyone can do it with hard work, motivation and a little help from the cohort. To pass the finance exams, I went to revision sessions voluntarily organised by classmates who specialised in these areas. I faced my fears and passed these exams, and whilst I might not become a CFO, I have now a better understanding of finance within my skillset.

There’s been no sugar-coating here. Pursuing the EMBA is challenging but doable, and if you want to apply, you should not hesitate. We are having the time of our lives, meeting extraordinary people, learning from the best lecturers in the world and learning about ourselves in the process, experiencing new career paths and making friends for life. I wish you the same, if you apply for the programme.

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