Women with MBAs are using business to make the world a better place for the people they care about.
Jennifer Neundorfer, co-founder of January Ventures, says women make up 80% of her company's investment portfolio. "Great founders solve problems that they see in the world. Women bring a fresh perspective on what those problems are."
She says that women have always cared about the big problems but haven't always gotten paid to solve them.
"Look at our mothers and grandmothers — a lot of them were on the front lines of social impact issues through nonprofits and volunteer work. Today, women go out and build high-growth companies to solve those problems. It's an interesting shift."
You don't necessarily have to have an MBA to build an impactful business, says Neundorfer.
"But investors want entrepreneurs who can think about the whole system of a company." And an MBA — whether it's from an Ivy League business school or an online program — will teach you the systems thinking you need to succeed.
Is Getting an MBA Worth It?
of recruiters have a positive impression of business schools.
of recruiters agree that business school equips employees with relevant skills.
of employers agree that MBAs bring more benefits to an organization than non-MBAs.
of employers agree that MBAs are good problem-solvers.
Source: 2020 International MBA Survey
Just ask these three women, who all went back to school for their MBAs and are now launching big projects with big impact.
Claire Hunsaker | Founder and CEO of AskFlossie
Sporting a red "Believe Women" T-shirt and a grin, Claire Hunsaker hardly looks like the stereotype of a businesswoman.
"Like me, many of the women from my MBA cohort are now doing 'double-bottom-line' stuff: building businesses that return profits and also have a secondary impact."
Hunsaker works out of a small, brightly wallpapered storage room in the back of a cabin that she shares with her partner, her baby, and her pandemic puppy. It's a far cry from her corporate, Fortune 50 past.
A self-proclaimed achievement junkie, Hunsaker says she originally applied to Stanford's business school to prove to herself she had what it took. "I'm not sure that was a good reason. That's an expensive road to self-fulfillment."
It took a decade to decide what professional success really meant to her. "Like me, many of the women from my MBA cohort are now doing 'double-bottom-line' stuff: building businesses that return profits and also have a secondary impact."
Your Financial Wingwoman
Hunsaker is making an impact by empowering women financially. Her newest venture was inspired by her grandmother, Flossie. "Flossie was a firecracker of a woman who could do anything and make do with nothing."
But Hunsaker doesn't want women to just make do. She wants to help them get their due.
So she built AskFlossie, where women can access a community of mentors and expert advisors to navigate life's biggest financial decisions.
"There is a lot of shitty financial advice out there. And the space is dominated by men, so women feel they don't belong. But women aren't stupid. The data shows women are better savers, more conservative investors. They just need a wingwoman."
Hunsaker isn't worried about stepping into this passion project, even though starting a new business is risky.
Thanks to her MBA, she has awesome people she can lean on along the way. "The people in my network have substantially accelerated my career at every stage."
"Part of what you're paying for with an MBA program is access to a network. At our ten-year reunion, when all the men were trying to rub shoulders with the guest speaker, the women were crammed into a small rented room talking about how to invest in each other's businesses. Women stick together. Those connections are going to be crucial."
Research shows that having an intimate network of female contacts is an indicator of professional success for women in business.
Vanessa Motley Coleman | VP of Digital at Kinló
One of the women Hunsaker has kept in touch with is her classmate, Vanessa Motley Coleman.
Coleman went back for an MBA to transition from the entertainment industry into a role with a major media company or large corporate retailer. But when she graduated in 2009, the market had crashed.
"There were no jobs. Most large corporations had a hiring freeze. My plans were completely shaken up," says Coleman. So she partnered with some classmates to launch a new company, which kicked off her 15-year career as an operator in startups.
A Product with Purpose
Coleman's latest role at Kinló marries two things she cares about deeply: building a successful business and making life better for people of color. Kinló is a startup launched by tennis super star Naomi Osaka, who wanted to create a protective skincare line for people with melanated skin tones.
Coleman pointed out that many people with more melanated skin don't realize they should wear sunscreen. As a result, the skin cancer mortality rate of Black Americans is wildly higher than that of white Americans.
"The numbers are staggering. Changing that is really, really important to me, especially on the heels of a year that has been so challenging for the Black community. I want what I'm doing to have impact beyond profit.
"This is about more than just selling sunscreen. It's about more than disrupting retail with a new product category. It's about creating education and conversation around a major public health need."
Coleman says her part in creating that conversation is only possible because of the training she got in business school. "Getting an MBA changed my life, one thousand percent."
"I would love to see more Black women in MBA programs. There are too few of us, and we have so much value to bring to the table.
"If you are a Black woman interested in business, I would recommend researching your options: Are you looking to advance within the company you're in? To get a certain role? To become an entrepreneur? How much time do you have? There are programs for all of it: full-time, part-time, executive, online. Find something that fits you and go for it."
Jamie Wright | Author, Speaker, and Founder of Jamie R. Wright, LLC
Perhaps it's no surprise that two women who graduated from Stanford Business School are finding professional success. But Jamie Wright would tell anyone to get an MBA from any school they have access to.
Without her MBA, Wright says she would still be living in a women's shelter in downtown Houston. Instead, she is making six figures and starting her own company to help other women.
"Statistically, I'm not supposed to have a master's degree. I had a traumatic childhood. I was pregnant at 13. I dropped out of junior high. By 19, I'd had five pregnancies and was raising my two surviving children in the projects. I struggle with depression. And, I'm a survivor of domestic violence."
For years, Wright's life felt like one resounding "no" after another.
After going back to vocational school, she landed a job at a bank, where she slowly worked her way up. But when she applied for a promotion, she was told: "Oh Jamie, no. You're cut out for backroom work."
"That's when I realized that I needed to find a way to make it harder for people to tell me 'no'."
A Way Out
Wright went back for her MBA at the University of Phoenix and then moved to Dallas to work for the Department of Defense. In 2020, she moved again, to Houston, where she married a wonderful man: a firefighter, retired soldier, and ordained minister.
"That was supposed to be my happy ending."
"The only thing that separated me from them was my ability to make money. My MBA. It gave me a way out."
But just a few months later, Wright found herself at the door of the Houston Women's Center, hurt and homeless, in the middle of a pandemic. "He had hit me in the face."
In that "sacred, humble space" where she ate the food she was given, got therapy, and saved money, Wright says she met "the most wonderful women, the most tenacious, kindhearted survivors." A lot of them are still there today.
"The only thing that separated me from them was my ability to make money. My MBA. It gave me a way out."
Today, Wright works as an auditor for the Department of Veterans Affairs, has published two books, and sits as a director on the board of that very same women's shelter. She also makes enough money to fund her latest passion project — her very own LLC.
A Career in Advocacy
At the end of 2020, Wright started Jamie R. Wright, LLC to provide "survivor-led, community-based awareness and education to communities of color impacted by domestic and intimate partner violence."
For now, Wright is focused on getting the word out: "I want to advocate for a different kind of conversation about domestic violence. I want to give people practical tips to heal. I want to eradicate violence from my community."
She expects her LLC to start making money by the third quarter of this year. "I believe this will become a viable business."
"Looking back, I didn't know what I hoped to get out of an MBA. I just knew I wanted out of poverty. And that's what I got: I went from making $4.75 an hour to making six figures. Now I make a difference in the lives of people I am uniquely equipped to help. So if you think you're not the sort of person who should get an MBA, think again."
For women like Wright, Coleman, and Hunsaker, good works are good business. That trend holds steady for many women with MBAs, who are more likely to go into fields that reflect their values and offer opportunities to make the world a better place.
"It's clear that the next generation of venture returns is going to be driven by a much more diverse set of founders," says Neundorfer. "The corporate world is waking up to the fact that the impact market is huge, the dollars are there, and these are problems that deserve to be solved."
Did You Know?
- Gender equity in MBA programs is rising steadily. In 2019, nearly 40% of enrollments were women.
- Female MBAs still take home only $0.76 to every $1.00 that male MBAs take home.
- Men continue to outnumber women in high paying fields like:
- Finance and economics
- General management
- Women outnumber men in fields like:
- Marketing and advertising
- Healthcare administration
- Consumer goods
- Women who get MBAs increase their salaries by 63% or more.
- Women of color who get MBAs increase their salaries by 70%.
- In 2018, 12.3 million businesses in the U.S. were owned by women, and 47.8% of those businesses were owned by women of color.
- Women are slightly more likely than men to start a business.
Meg Embry is a Colorado-based writer for TheBestSchools.org covering higher education. She is an award-winning journalist who has lived and worked in Canada, the Netherlands, and the United States.
Header Image Credit: Guido Mieth, Andriy Onufriyenko | Getty Images
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