Five years on: Reflecting on the MBA Women in Leadership scholarship

We sat down with Elizabeth Garber, our Women in Leadership scholarship 2017 winner, to hear about her experiences of applying for the competition and studying for an MBA at Henley. Read on to find out how she juggled family life with the challenges of study and how the MBA has helped her in her career, five years on from winning.

What inspired you to apply for the Women in Leadership scholarship?

I applied for the Women in Leadership scholarship because the question lit me up and got all my neurons firing. “Would more women at the top in tech create social good?”

I’d been working in tech; I’d been a part of major project teams, led major technical change. I’d also founded a community for women, partnering with one focusing specifically on tech. I’d recently written a paper about the psychology of identity and influence. And at the time I was filling my brain with podcasts about all this stuff on a really long commute.

Everything seemed to come together in that question and I could see that it was a great big “no” and a great big “yes” at the same time. I knew I wanted the puzzle of building a nuanced answer in 1000 words (and I knew I wanted an MBA within 5 years), so I sat down and did it.

How did you find slipping back into an academic setting and how did Henley support you in that?

My biggest challenge was not slipping back into academia, but rather slipping academia into an increasingly complicated life. I was working full time; I was a new mum – my daughter was under 1 when I applied. Henley helped in a few ways and it was important for me to help myself in others. The flexibility of the program itself helped. I chose the longer course, knowing that I was going to need to pace myself. I found the professors very willing to work with me when life circumstances genuinely necessitated flexibility. My peers became an incredible support system throughout and to this day – I remember being struck by how quickly the first Henley workshop helped us to build a strong, supportive team dynamic. All of this became essential for me when the pandemic hit during the final stage of my program.

I want to reassure any parents of small children that it really is possible to do this. The important ways I helped myself were:

  1. It helps that I enjoy the process of learning and academia in general
  2. I had to learn to ask for help – from Henley peers, colleagues at work, my incredible family, and then a lot of different people during the final management research challenge
  3. I had to learn to let go of perfection

Did you find out anything about yourself that surprised you?

My MBA journey taught me that I have so much more capacity to adapt and change and learn than I had ever thought possible. At the beginning, I had a baby. Part-way through, I moved across the ocean. By the time the Management Research Challenge rolled around, I was pregnant, home-schooling a kindergartener at the beginning of the pandemic – and I was working around the clock with a team delivering small business relief as part of the US’s economic response. Honestly, I could not tell you how I got through that time other than to say that I learned how much you can achieve when you stop panicking about how you’re going to do it and, instead, realize you ARE doing it and focus on the next right thing.

On a professional level, have you found the course has impacted your career?

The course has absolutely impacted my career. I was able to pivot into a new role and a new industry. I have seen significant income growth over the 5 years since I started. More importantly, the MBA has influenced the way that I work, the way that I interact with colleagues, and the way that I think. Specifically, it has given me the tools to think broadly about any given challenge, the insight to empathise more with colleagues and appreciate them for their unique talents, and the confidence to take on much bigger things.

It has expanded my capacity for collaboration and contribution in ways that will continue to reveal themselves over the course of the next 30 years (all being well). It is that self-assuredness – which I’m still working on – that I value most of all… because I have big ideas in mind.

How do you think your MBA journey might have differed if you had not been involved in the scholarship?

Simple: it would not have happened yet. I did not have the money and I did not have an employer who would have covered it.

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