Impact Investing for a Greener UVM

This post was written by Peter Seltzer ’19, Andrew Oliveri ’19, Maura Kalil ’19, and Matt Iacobucci ’19

At the beginning of the academic year, Finance professor Dr. Chuck Schnitzlein introduced an opportunity for us all to spearhead the first Sustainable Innovation MBA impact investing project. The goal of the project was to show the University of Vermont Treasurer’s office how to build a short-duration fixed income impact portfolio that meets its fiduciary and financial constraints.

Given these parameters, our challenge was to build a portfolio comprised of socially and environmentally responsible fixed-income investments that would contribute to making a positive global impact in the areas of our choosing. A group of thirteen Sustainable Innovation MBA students* have been working collaboratively to come up with investment criteria to build out this potential portfolio of bonds for consideration. Through working closely with Chuck, the Sustainable and Responsible Investing Advisory Council (SRIAC), and the UVM Treasurer’s Office, we are now positioned to make our recommendations to the investment manager to implement this strategy.

*Andrew Mallory, Andrew Oliveri, Alyssa Schuetz, Alyssa Stankiewicz, Esteban Echeverria-Fernandez, Emily Klein, Keil Corey, Maura Kalil, Matt Iacobucci, Noelle Nyirenda, Peter Seltzer, Ryan Forman, Tor Dworshak (in no particular order — EDITOR)

Coming into The Sustainable Innovation MBA program, many of us were novices to the emerging field of impact investing. To build our knowledge and immerse ourselves in this new subject, we began organizing and attending weekly learning sessions. Our resources have included articles and research tools, but most significantly, the book The Impact Investor by Jed Emerson, a prominent leader in this field. These resources provided the foundation for our impact investing toolkit that has aided us in determining our impact objectives and screening criteria for the project. Next, we had to learn the tools that investors use to search for and make judgments on assets in real-time.

We trained ourselves to use the Bloomberg terminal, a powerful tool for investors in providing access to real-time financial data. Each member of the impact investing team completed the built-in Bloomberg Market Concepts digital learning tutorial, with particular attention focused on fixed income securities to build out our general investing toolkit. While identifying whether each bond under consideration held the financial metrics needed to fulfill the fiduciary obligations required of the portfolio for the University, we also used the ESG terminal function to help objectively measure the non-financial impact that each bond holds. The ESG function provides non-financial Environmental, Social, and Governance metrics for companies and bonds, which proved to be an invaluable tool for our research process.

While the whole impact investing team was expected to have a solid understanding the “impact” side of the equation, a subgroup of the team has been taking additional advanced finance classes with Chuck on fixed income investing and portfolio management to master the “investing” side. There, this subgroup has been learning key concepts to help the whole team take the next steps towards building a portfolio that is financially sound and well up to the University’s investing standards. This diversification within our team allows for an overall focus on portfolio impact, while the more specialized subgroup could also incorporate the principles of a financially successful portfolio that was consistent with the investment policy statement and integrated impacted criteria.

During our early coursework in The Sustainable Innovation MBA, we learned how many companies have been aligning their business models and sustainability initiatives with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Thus, we wanted to incorporate the concept of impact learned through the program’s curriculum to maximize our portfolio’s impact. As a group, we brainstormed SDGs that were not only important to us but those in which we saw the most potential for global impact. From that list, we selected three SDGs that we determined were best aligned with UVM’s mission and brand image: Clean Water & Sanitation, Affordable & Clean Energy, and Gender Equality.

The first SDG we focused on was ensuring the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. We looked to find issuers who not only decreased their water usage relative to competitors but also considered the ‘usage relative to revenue’, which was found to be a helpful feature of the Bloomberg terminal. Similarly, it was important for us to find issuers who not only were mitigating negative impacts but rather having a positive impact with regard to clean water stewardship efforts. With a number of UVM students intimately connected to Lake Champlain and its surrounding ecosystems, we realize clean water to be a paramount goal of our investment council.

The second SDG we focused on was ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. We determined that impact within this goal can be derived from companies producing sources of clean, affordable and renewable energy, as well as companies sourcing their energy from renewable providers. Companies that our investment council considers for investing need to be making investments in clean technology and energy efficiency, or investments in affordable energy storage technology. In addition, a company meets our criteria if they have a large green power purchase agreement, or is in a contract to source a majority of their energy from a clean, renewable energy source.

The third and final SDG we focused on was achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls. This SDG was particularly important to our group as many of our group members are part of The Sustainable Innovation MBA Women For Change group on campus. The team developed the following three objective criteria that the corporations offering the bonds should meet for portfolio consideration: female representation in senior management (at least 33%), proven efforts to create equal opportunity for female employee advancement, and women in leadership (CEO, Founder, Chair of the Board).

The thirteen of us have learned much through the process of working on this project, and we are grateful for Chuck, SRIAC, and the UVM Treasurer’s Office for the opportunity. This was a completely voluntarily effort outside of the regular class schedule and curriculum of our academic program. We are fortunate to acknowledge that the dedication of time and effort towards this project has rewarded the members of our team with a new degree of fluency in the field of impact investing and perhaps even more rewarding, a feeling of accomplishment for having the potential to make an impact in alignment with the SDGs and UVM.

We look forward to taking the next steps with this project and seeing how the recommendations of our team might be utilized by the University and beyond. As we have with this project, we are excited to continue finding new ways to incorporate our learning from each and every subject we are exposed to here in The Sustainable Innovation MBA program, building out our sustainable innovation toolkit even further as we progress into the new year.

Onward!

Sustainability 3.0

This post was written by Meryl Schneider ’19. The Sustainable Innovation MBA features various Innovators-in-Residence over the academic year.

According to Innovator-in-Residence Dave Stangis, Chief Sustainability Officer at Campbell Soup Company, organizations go through phases when implementing sustainable practices which he called “Sustainability 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0.” Beginning his career at Intel as an Environmental, Health and Safety External Affairs Manager, Stangis’s initial role transformed into Director of Corporate Sustainability where he spearheaded corporate social responsibility and sustainability strategies in response to growing societal concerns of Intel’s environmental, social and economic impact. From there, Stangis’s growing passion for business and sustainability landed him a job at Campbell’s, where he has developed and led the firm’s widely known CSR, ESG and sustainability strategies.

Stangis explained the three evolutions of sustainability, beginning with phase one, where most companies find themselves today. In this initial phase, companies focus on reducing costs through eco-efficiencies, risk reduction, and strive to do less harm via environmental stewardship. In phase two, sustainable corporate strategy is respected but can be siloed from the strategy team. Organizations adopt triple bottom line (financial, social, environmental) considerations when evaluating their performance to create greater business value. Phase three sounded like the “ah hah” moment where firms make strategic sustainable business decisions that are imbedded in business strategy and anticipate sustainability challenges instead of reacting to them. Businesses strive to challenge their model in 3.0 with objectives to solve complex social, economic and environmental problems as a product of the business itself.

How does Sustainability 3.0 impact Campbell’s and the food industry? For Stangis and Campbell’s, he is undoubtedly striving to be a Sustainability 3.0 company as a major player in the food industry. Stangis argued that ethical and environmental considerations no longer “just” feed into the Campbell’s strategy but are becoming the company’s strategy. As he put it, the potential challenges the food industry is facing are daunting. Climate change is affecting global food systems while the world population is growing at an accelerated rate. Stangis painted the picture for the future of food and how Campbell’s will ultimately predict, adapt, and strategize their business model into evolving into a 3.0 firm. He explained that by utilizing technology, finding long-term resiliency in regenerative agriculture, and by aligning business objectives with the United Nations Sustainable development goals, a company like Campbells will continue to evolve and innovate as the competition for resources intensifies. Stangis embraces the unknown and ultimately understands that disruptive forces are looming. It is how companies choose to react and grow sustainably from the disruption that will count.

Leadership: A Module Two Course, a Seminar-Series, and Some Preconceived Notions

This post was written by Danielle Davis ’19

Leadership has always been a topic that intrigued me; its definition different for each person that encounters it. In module two we had a formal course titled Leading for Sustainable Innovation with Kenneth De Roeck, Ph.D. as well as a seminar series that stretches across all 4 modules with Joe Fusco, accomplished business leader and The Sustainable Innovation MBA Program Director.

Leading with Kenneth was a formal 2-credit course with two exams, some reflection papers, hundreds of slides and a daily-Stromae video. The material, although intuitive, proved to be difficult to memorize. We discussed leaders in the field of organizational leadership, their theories and some student testimonials that fleshed out the concepts learned in class considerably.

The seminar series with Joe is an ongoing two-hour session with Joe, reviewing higher-level concepts with real-life examples from an expert in the field. My desire to learn more about leadership stems from a curiosity to figure people out, find out what motivates them, and learn how to help them become the most productive member of a team that they can be. To me, it was and still is about leading by example, and as an introvert I thought at times doing so silently would suffice.

MBA 302.04: Leading for Sustainable Innovation with Kenneth

Initially the concepts presented in class seemed intuitively foreign – does that even make any sense?! Until stepping into this course, leadership has been woven into various summer jobs and internships, my previous job in the “account leadership” department at an advertising agency, and throughout various sports endeavors. Until this moment, though, I had yet to see leadership concepts formatted in a PowerPoint or scribbled on a whiteboard. It felt counterintuitive initially. My preconceived notions about leadership were that it was a skill learned through experience, and that’s how you made personal improvements. I was skeptical that this was something that could be learned through a text book. Going in, I was more so thinking this would be equivalent to reading a self-help book. I was excited to see how it would go nonetheless.

Leading for Sustainable Innovation ended up being one of my favorite classes. Seeing a familiar concept fleshed out, explained in depth, proved (through student testimonials, personal reflections and long-standing industry theories) to then understand it on a deeper level and be able to apply it in the world around me. It was great. There were several few high-level takeaways from this course, but I keep the following flashcard(s) in my backpack while the others have made their way into the recycling bin.

The 7 qualities of an effective/exemplary leader as told by Kenneth and his collection of theorists:

  • Stress tolerance (being comfortable with uncertainty, proactively cope with stress)
  • Self-confidence (having high self-efficacy about ability to lead others + achieve objectives)
  • General cognitive ability (above average cognitive ability, can process a lot of information + analyze scenarios + opportunities)
  • Energetic-ness (ability to work long hours, passionate, + always “on”)
  • Emotional intelligence ability* (self/other awareness: strong interpersonal skills (e.g., conflict management, empathy))
  • Integrity* (an aspect of trustworthiness, aspect of ethical leadership)
  • Drive (based on purpose and passion, inner motivation to pursue goals + encourage others to pursue their goals, high need for achievement)

*Integrity and Emotional Intelligence being the most important aspects of effective leadership

The Leadership Seminar with Joe

The leading seminar with Joe includes lessons learned through business. It’s a personal testament to the intricacies of leadership from the perspective of someone with a high level of experience. The dos, do-nots, and the as told by Joe Fusco, someone with decades of experience being and dealing with leaders of all kinds. Joe emphasizes the importance of self-reflection in a leadership role. He uses the “Head, Heart, Hands” model to ask the leader to look within. Check in with yourself cognitively (head): have you learned anything, are you frustrated about something? with your body (hands): have you been sleeping well, getting enough exercise? and emotionally (heart): how are you, do you miss someone or is there any conflict on your mind? Until you are secure with these three facets of yourself, it will be difficult to lead others.

Thus far, the optional sessions have included 2-3 broad topics expounded upon throughout our morning together. Joe speaks of his personal experience with good and bad leaders, his experiences as a good leader, and some moments of personal improvement. Substantial takeaways included:

  • Asking others to reflect on strengths and weaknesses
    • Crave feedback and receive it gracefully + with gratitude
  • Impact vs. Intention
  • Head, Heart, Hands

We learned that your intention is less than half the battle. Even if you have the best intentions, it’s likely your impact on others through your words or actions are not exactly how you intended them to be. Check in with your peers early and often. Ask for feedback. Crave feedback. Receive feedback gracefully and with gratitude.

Preconceived Notions Through Work and Athletics

Thus far I’d done some internalizing – who are my favorite leaders and why? What did they do, and why did I work hard for them? This geared my focus to checking in outside of work, making the work and our relationship personal so they would find themselves more willing to work hard for me. I wanted to be someone that they can count on within the bounds of the court, but more importantly off.

At the end of the day, it’s the people that matter. The work and the wins are important, but if your employees don’t want to be there – how high quality can your team’s performance really be?

In the minimal management experience that I do have, I’ve found that my sport experiences came into play perhaps more than anticipated. My leadership style in short:

  • Lead by example
  • Challenge your peers – are they working to their potential? Why/why not
  • Make it personal – establish a relationship, find out what their goals/aspirations are within the work and outside of it
    • Be honest, transparent and loyal

Before starting the program, my impact on others was not truly a consideration, feedback not craved, unintended consequences not whole heartedly acknowledged. A silent, lead-by-example leader may be appropriate in some scenarios, but a takeaway from the previous 2 months in this program has taught me that I can’t rely on this entirely. As learned through feedback inquiries, seminars and course materials my intention will not always be clear with this style and it’s going to be an uncomfortable rise into my potential as a leader. Challenge accepted! 

As the leaders of tomorrow, the next generation of business leaders, disruptors, innovators, and visionary entrepreneur or intrapreneurs, I’m very grateful that leadership has been so intricately intertwined into the SI- MBA program. Reflecting on my time in this program thus far, I realize although we have these formal leadership allotments in our schedules, these concepts are woven into each course seamlessly.

With bigger things on our mind, from climate change, to inclusive hiring, we need to be wary of our impact but more importantly to be proactive and not miss out what can make our break a business venture of any sort: being an effective leader. A leader is constantly learning and iterating to make themselves the most dependable, effective team member. Mastery of this may be unachievable, but there are endless things we can do to improve and iterate on our abilities as leaders.

Photo by mehul dave on Unsplash

Photo by Hudson Hintze on Unsplash

“Hunter is disruptive…”

This post was written by Henry Vogt ’19

“Hunter is disruptive” is the phrase we first saw as we walked into our second guest lecturer of the semester.

Earlier this Fall we had the pleasure of hosting guest speaker Hunter Lovins. Suffice it to say, she knocked our socks off. I had heard Hunter’s name before, but wasn’t very familiar with her work or legacy. It became apparent right away that we were in for a unique and inspiring experience.

Hunter’s body of work in sustainability and climate justice is prolific: from starting numerous influential non-profits, creating successful sustainable MBA programs from scratch, authoring best selling books, founding impact investing firms, and consulting with some of the largest corporations in the world including Unilever and Walmart, Hunter’s influence is extensive. This is augmented by her down-to-earth, Colorado ranch-style demeanor. She tells it like it is, passionately, in an inspirational way. She’s the type of person that understands that solving world problems is best facilitated over a whiskey, face-to-face. Hunter also owns a beautiful ranch in Colorado, where she easily could spend all of her time but instead chooses to be on the move, committed to her mission.

I asked Hunter how she envisions American capitalism evolving and whether she believes it has the capacity to solve the massive challenges facing our planet under current frameworks. She answered by giving a prediction from economist Tony Sebens: “Within 10 years, economics will dictate that the world will be 100 percent renewable. For this to happen, the world’s economy will be disrupted. This will be the ‘Mother of all disruptions.’ In other words, to save the climate we have to crash the global economy.”

If this is, in fact, the case, then the next decade will be tumultuous to say the least. This led our class session to focus on the question of what’s next and how do we collectively begin to prepare for this disruption. While this notion and idea can admittedly be not very uplifting, it was encouraging to hear suggestions from many of my classmates on how we may leverage our global economy and invest in Base of the Pyramid projects to find solutions and begin to strategize on how we may “soften the landing” from major global disruption.

Overall, having Hunter present to us was inspiring and eye-opening. While there are massive challenges ahead, having individuals like Hunter who are disruptive, driven, and committed to finding solutions to these challenges provides hope for the future.

Getting to Know the Class of 2019: Keil Corey

Originally from Bristol, Vermont, Keil studied Government and  Environmental Studies at Skidmore College. He comes to us from work at the Vermont Natural Resources Council and, most recently, Smith & McClain as their Solar Sales and Marketing Consultant. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

Why did you choose to attend The Sustainable Innovation MBA program?

I wanted to continue working in a field that made a positive impact in our communities and on the world in general and felt the the private sector was the right place to move into, but I wanted — and needed — to expand my professional toolkit first.

What has been your favorite part of the program thus far?

Exposure to and interaction with some of the leading thinkers and doers in the business world who are solving some of our major societal challenges. Also, developing competencies in business management and applying these foundations to developing the new sustainable business paradigm has provided me with a newfound sense of agency and purpose. It’s been an incredibly inspiring learning environment so far.

What are three things someone considering the program should be aware of?

Squeezing two years into one is no joke. Be prepared for a full-time commitment to this program. Also, if you’re looking to better know yourself, face hard truths, and grow personally and professionally, this program may be for you. Lastly, be prepared to question your thinking and live in ambiguity a lot — essential skills for business leaders in my opinion.

How has The Sustainable Innovation MBA program benefitted you so far?

I feel I have already developed a solid foundation on the fundamentals I wanted to learn: finance, microeconomics, and business strategy, among others. I’ve also benefitted from professors and the student cohort that are especially gifted at taking big picture challenges and bringing them into a context that can be manageable and inspirational.

Anything else?

The future is here, it’s good, and it’s The Sustainable Innovation MBA.

From the Lab to the Marketplace: Using Sustainable Innovation MBA Classes to Advance UVM Tech Development

This post was written by Steven Micetic ‘19

From solar power to vitamin D fortification, universities are a fundamental source of innovation that advances humanity’s ability to live healthy, sustainable lives. And yet research funding, though it often translates into exciting, new intellectual property, typically doesn’t result in innovations that make it to market and drive impact.

Many of UVM’s 13 colleges and schools are at the forefront in their respective fields of research. In 2016, UVM received $138m in outside research funding alone. Much of this funding goes to efforts that align with the ethos of the Grossman School’s Sustainable Innovation MBA program: mitigate agricultural runoff, improve the efficiency of renewable energy generation, and advance access to care and treatment of chronic diseases.

It is within this context that The Sustainable Innovation MBA offers a unique opportunity to young professionals seeking to translate innovation into impact. In the initial weeks of our classes, I reached out to Associate Professor and Steven Grossman Endowed Chair in Entrepreneurship Erik Monsen because I wanted to learn more about the technologies under development at UVM. Within days, Erik and I were meeting with Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Dr. Appala Raju Badireddy. Dr. Badireddy and his team are developing a filter technology that can extract elements from wastewater previously thought impossible or cost-prohibitive to extract.

Initial conversations with Dr. Badireddy led to a group of Sustainable Innovation MBA students addressing one of the key questions in the technology’s underlying business model. Integrating this work into the Entrepreneurial Business Model class, the team spent eight weeks evaluating markets for captured phosphorous. Beyond making for a rich classroom experience, our work may have real-world application as Dr. Badireddy takes this work from the university to the marketplace.

As we move into the latter half of the program and acquire new skills through the our courses, the prospect of continuing to support the success of green technologies like Dr. Badireddy’s filter technology is an exciting one. Perhaps the next great green technology may come from the laboratories of UVM, and perhaps its success may be supported by one of my fellow students.

Photo by Louis Reed on Unsplash

In The News: Our Class in Entrepreneurial Business Models

“Across the Fence,” a long-running news program on WCAX here in Vermont, recently profiled The Sustainable Innovation MBA program.

The focus was on Professor Erik Monsen’s “Crafting the Entrepreneurial Business Model” course, the highlight of which is a business trade show featuring the students’ ideas for new, disruptive business models.

Getting to Know the Class of 2019: Elissa Eggers

Elissa is a Connecticut native who received her undergraduate degree in Art History and Dance from Washington University in St. Louis. After graduating, Elissa attended the Ailey School in NYC before embarking on her professional dance career. Elissa comes to The Sustainable Innovation MBA from Lululemon where she channeled her natural curiosity and knack for visual storytelling into management and visual merchandising roles. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

Why did you choose to attend The Sustainable Innovation MBA program?

I chose this program for its welcoming, collaborative environment and because I wanted learn the questions to ask and tools to use to make business better. I also love knowing that I will be back out in the world in less than a year, better equipped to make a difference!

What has been your favorite part of the program thus far?

So far my favorite element of the program has been the quality and array of guest speakers. There is an incredible network of sustainability and business professionals around this program, and being able to connect with them has been extremely valuable to all of us.

What are three things someone considering the program should be aware of?

1) This program fosters an intimate and collaborative environment to learn and work in

2) Days fill up quickly and there are numerous opportunities to take advantage of outside of the classroom so you need to prioritize what you are most interested in and curious about

3) This program is situated in an amazing city so no matter how much work you have, make sure to make time to get out of the classroom and explore!

How has The Sustainable Innovation MBA program benefitted you so far?

I feel so fortunate to be surrounded by my amazing cohort everyday. I know the relationships I am building will be lasting and I cannot wait to see what we all get up to after the program.

Staying the Course: Coping with MBA Program Bandwidth Overload

This post was written by Chris Bortree ’19

Just about anyone can relate to how complex the human brain is. With nearly 8 billion people on the planet, it is easy to see how the human brain contributes to different values, beliefs, emotions, and actions. The adult human brain weighs somewhere around three pounds, has around 100 billion neurons, and contains roughly 100,000 miles of blood vessels.

Despite these amazing numbers, almost everyone has experienced a time when our brain seems small; incapable of remembering simple things, and incapable of performing simple tasks. This happens to almost everyone, including the brilliant minds of UVM’s Sustainable Innovation MBA students.

On a surface level, what is happening is actually quite simple. Think of the term bandwidth. Most people associate this with internet and computer power. It is the transmission capacity of a computer network or other telecommunication system. During the Holiday season this year, most of my family and my wife’s family were all staying in the same house for a few days. Of course, our internet seemingly quit on us, allowing only very slow connections and usage. In simple terms, the bandwidth capacity was not great enough to serve the needs of everyone’s devices and the tasks they wished to perform online.

It turns out, the brain works in a very similar way. The human brain has a “bandwidth”; a total capacity being used to deal with different situations. As one needs to remember more and more things, the available bandwidth shrinks, until there is little left to work with. To The Sustainable Innovation MBA cohort, this is known as “the end of module 2”, or the few weeks leading up to winter break.

Students are close to completing over a dozen classes since the end of August, and are trying to tie everything together for final exams, presentations, and papers. This is when abnormal things start happening at home, like putting potato chips in the fridge, forgetting to register your car, and forgetting to set up a dog walker (yes, I did all of that…).

Much like the internet, as my brain was stuffed with more and more it began give less bandwidth to each item to make room. As finals grew nearer, I struggled to remember simple but important things. It is not a new phenomenon, but a fascinating one. Getting caught up in this cycle is easy, but getting back out takes real concentration and effort. Writing down everything you need to do in a calendar, immediately as it comes to mind, is a great start. However, this can still lead to procrastination and bandwidth overload. It had been months since I had last practiced mediation on a regular basis. As I thought about the importance of getting back to meditating, something came to mind that served to be extremely valuable. Our mind is built to think, and that is what it does naturally. This is of course a good thing, until it becomes overwhelming. One of the keys to breathing meditation is to honor the exact moment when you realize your mind is wandering. Anyone who has tried a little breathing meditation will know just how hard it is to purely concentrate on breathing, and not let you mind think about anything else. The most important thing to remember is keeping your concentration on your breath is the goal, but forcing your mind to do it will result in failure. What will help you reach the goal is training yourself to catch your mind wandering, and reward yourself for coming to that realization. In this way, you will train your mind to become conscious of the moment when it begins to wander in direction that is not intended or useful. This practice alone greatly enhanced my ability to stay concentrated on important issues, and allow my mind to realize the moment when it is becoming overwhelmed.

As our program Director Joe Fusco mentions in regard to flying an airplane, the best course of action is small corrections early on. I believe the same is true for our minds. Catching yourself early on will allow you to maintain a better course, and land safely. Otherwise, you may end up realizing you have one week of class left with three papers, three presentations, two exams, and a household to run, without having prepared for any of it. At this point, it’s almost too late, and chances are a rough landing.

I highly recommend the book The Mind Illuminated, by John Yates. Even if meditation is not your style, it will bring forth some valuable skills to help cope with brain bandwidth overload. If nothing else, it may help you keep from having to eat cold, stale potato chips.

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Gender Diversity in MBA Programs: Ahead of the Curve

This post was written by Julie Keck ’19

As part of the 2018-2019 cohort of University of Vermont’s Sustainable Innovation MBA program, I’m proud to sit in a classroom that has an abundance of women. Since its inception, the program has been ahead of the curve in this area. In Years 1- 3, the program busted through the revered 50-50 gender barrier in MBA programs. As the program has grown, the percentage of women in the program has decreased: last year’s graduating class had 47% female attendance, and as I mentioned before, my cohort has 41%.

Percent of Women in The Sustainable Innovation MBA Cohorts

2015 –  55%

2016 – 56%

2017 – 52%

2018 –  47%

2019 – 41%

Important Note: I do not have information on what gender identities alumni and my current co-hort self-report: my numbers are based on my visual identification of candidates based on their pictures on The Sustainable Innovation MBA website. My apologies to anyone I have misidentified.

Although the overall percentage of female candidates has decreased, The Sustainable Innovation MBA program is still over the national average for MBA programs. As reported in Financial Times earlier this year, the Graduate Management Admission Council found in 2016 that only 37% of applications to full-time two-year MBA programs were submitted by women globally. The number is better in the US (42%) than in Europe (36%) and Asia (32%.) The primary barrier to accepting MBA school offers reported by women globally was financial concerns; for men, the primary barrier reported was that they were waiting for other offers. (Financial Times, 2018).

If you take a look at who’s actually attending MBA programs currently, things are looking up, and The Sustainable Innovation MBA is definitely ahead of the curve. As of 2018, no MBA programs report achieving gender parity, but all of the top 10 schools they surveyed had at least 40% female attendance, with only four schools in the top 25 ranked schools dropping below 30% (Poets & Quants, 2018)

While the presence of women in an MBA program is a good start, whether or not they’re being given all of the tools they need to succeed after graduation is another thing. Research shows (The Wall Street Journal, 2018) that women in the workplace are judged more harshly for their mistakes than men, and they often have to choose between being liked and being respected, and business culture shifts in response to the #MeToo movement (Bloomberg, 2018) may make it even more difficult for business women to get the mentors and opportunities afforded to their male counterparts.

In order to adequately serve female students, forward-thinking MBA programs should include not only instruction and mentorship for female students to help them when they encounter bias and misogyny in the workplace, but make a concentrated effort to move away from male-majority teaching staffs and leadership. Also helpful: having open and honest in-class conversations about what it’s like to be a woman in the workplace; this isn’t only beneficial for women: it’s also useful for the men in the program looking to become great leaders to all they work with.

In order to better support each other and supplement ongoing conversations about gender and leadership, the women in the current Sustainable Innovation MBA cohort have banded together to share experience and resources during extracurricular meetings. They’ve also found support from female alumni, female Advisory Board Members, and female members of the program’s leadership. While we have had several female professors in the first semester, none are currently on the schedule for the second. Seeing reflections of yourself in the mentors you are exposed to is important in the development of ourselves as people and professionals – hopefully as the program grows, so will the numbers of its non-male professors and leaders.

One final note: gender diversity is far from the the only metric of diversity, and I would hope that all forward-thinking, sustainably-minded program are looking for ways to make their programs more accessible to and welcoming of students of color, queer students, non-binary, trans and other gender nonconforming students, students with differing abilities, and other effective minorities, especially since embracing diversity boosts performance (Forbes, 2018.) Here’s to the future cohorts of The Sustainable Innovation MBA that more accurately reflect the world that we live in and seek to lead.

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