This International Women’s Day we meet the three leaders choosing to challenge as they head up the Wo+Men’s Special Interest Group for the MBA Class of 2020/21.
Hawi Abbajobir, Sarah Sketchley and Hanna Lil-Malone all bring something different to the table, as they stood up to lead and steer the Wo+Men’s SIG during their MBA year.
Why did you feel an MBA was part of your career plan?
Sarah: I have spent the last seven years working at marketing agencies in London, working closely with B2B tech clients to deliver brand solutions and creative campaigns. While I loved my job, I felt like I wanted to address business challenges on a larger scale, beyond marketing, which is why I chose to pursue an MBA. I felt that I’d really benefit from the broader perspective, and from working closely with students from diverse professional and personal backgrounds.
Hanna: I worked in corporate communications, most recently in an agency in London. I had an amazing experience working across a broad range of industries from Big Pharma to Asset Management – but most of my work was in media relations and internal communications, and I wanted the opportunity to get exposure to a broader range of strategic issues facing firms. I did my undergraduate degree in History and Politics, so I felt like I could benefit from more core business knowledge to help to make that career switch happen.
Hawi: I have gained really good operations experience at small Fintech startups, but my short term goal is to pivot into more product-focused roles in Big Tech and to become an entrepreneur in the long term. The Cambridge MBA allows me to build skills in specific areas like marketing and corporate strategy, it allows me to gain a more holistic perspective of the challenges and opportunities faced by global organisations, it equips me with the tools I will need to make good decisions as a manager.
Why did you choose Cambridge for your MBA?
Sarah: I didn’t want to take a two-year career break so I was only focused on one-year programmes. As soon as I visited Cambridge for the interview day, I was sold. It’s such a beautiful city, and the University is steeped in history. Walking around, I feel very lucky to be here! I also love the fact we get to combine learning with hands-on experience through the Cambridge Venture Project, the Global Consulting Project and summer internships.
Hanna: I visited a friend who did the Cambridge MBA programme in 2019, and became convinced that it was the programme for me. It was close to London, so I could stay tapped into my network there, it also catered for a smaller cohort, and the emphasis on entrepreneurship was really interesting. The history of the University, and the opportunity to be part of a College was also really attractive.
Hawi: Unlike most business schools, Cambridge Judge is embedded in the greater university through the college system, which allows students to take advantage of the breadth of knowledge across different disciplines. I also found it particularly appealing that CJBS offers a lot of support to aspiring entrepreneurs, and that it places great emphasis on Tech.
Why did you decide to lead the Wo+Men’s SIG as part of your MBA year?
Sarah: I have been part of diversity initiatives at work and have always had an interest in how to drive change in the workplace. The Wo+Men’s SIG is one of the biggest groups in the cohort, which I think reflects the appetite for these kinds of discussions among this group of students. I wanted to get involved with this group to share ideas and experiences, and ultimately to come up with solutions that we can all bring back into our next jobs. We’re also collaborating with other Women in Business clubs at business schools around the world, including LBS, Said, INSEAD, Harvard and Wharton, which has been an amazing experience so far.
Hanna: I came into the MBA Programme with some ideas about how I could use my experience in communications and event management to help support other women in our cohort. I care deeply about issues facing women in the workplace, and I wanted to find a way to help support other women, while also learning more about their experiences – so that I was better prepared to tackle diversity and inclusion problems when I moved back into the working world. Though this year has thrown up a number of challenges, it’s also lead to some really interesting opportunities – from the Women in Business club to the creation of a Student Diversity Coalition with other SIG affinity groups (Military, LGBTQ+) – we’ve come together in different ways to make sure that diversity and inclusion stays part of the conversation
Hawi: I felt compelled to lead the Wo+Men’s SIG, because I care about diversity, equity and inclusion issues, and particularly the intersection between gender and race. As a woman of colour, I have personally experienced different types of biases, and I want to provide a safe space for other women to discuss these issues and help connect us to recruiters and CJBS alumni who are committed to equality. I also strongly believe that men have to be a part of the fight for equality, so one of my goals is to engage them more in the activities of the SIG, such as discussions and workshops around how male employees and managers can recognise their unconscious biases and take steps to support and promote female colleagues.
Where do you wish to take your career forward ?
Sarah: Ideally, I would like to be in big tech working in a strategy role; I have spent a lot of time at agencies of up to 200 employees so I’d like to see how I can apply my learnings to a much bigger organisation. In terms of location, I’m looking at Europe – London or Amsterdam.
Hanna: I hope to move into a strategy role in a tech or fintech company in Dublin or London after the MBA short term, and longer term I hope to use some of the skills I learn on my Cambridge MBA to have an impact in an early stage start-up or become an entrepreneur.
Hawi: My short term plan is to stay in Europe and gain experience building consumer products at a large tech company. Long term, I hope to take my skills and creativity to venture out on my own – I have a few different ideas I would like to explore further.
What MBA learnings on leadership will you be taking into your future career?
Sarah: One that has stuck in my head is the fact that there’s not one solution to any problem; there are multiple routes to solve a problem (I think our professor called this equifinality) so it’s important to step back and let the ideas flow at the beginning of a project .
Hanna: We’ve learnt so much on leadership over the past six months that it’s difficult to pick just one lesson! One thing that comes to mind is something a Professor talked about yesterday – that people are socialised by the stories we tell and retell, because it subtly signals what gets rewarded and punished. It’s a simple lesson, but it reinforces the ideas that as a leader you need to be cognizant of how others are perceiving you and the impact this has on your organisation.
Hawi: We’ve spent a lot of time evaluating different leadership styles, but what I found most insightful is the notion that there is no one perfect leadership style – instead, there is a time and place for each and the trick is having the ability to adapt quickly to different situations. The important lesson I have gleaned from being surrounded by so many great people, who each are leaders in their own space, is that leadership is not about me or what I do, but about enabling others to be and do their very best.
What Wo+Men’s SIG plans have you got for the MBA year ahead?
We held a really insightful fireside discussion last term on the under-representation of women in leadership roles due to unconscious bias. Recently, we held a women in entrepreneurship panel to discuss the challenges facing female founders, from both the founder and the investor perspective.
We’re now working with the Cambridge Judge Wo+Men’s Leadership Centre to organise a Women’s Leadership Conference in the summer and planning some more fireside chats with female alumnae from different industries.
And of course, we’re planning a few social events for our members as well, ranging from yoga sessions to poetry nights.