Wharton Women in Business (WWIB) represents over 650 students and partners in the Wharton MBA program. Their mission is to further develop the voices of women as confident leaders. WWIB provides specialized resources to Wharton MBA women, fosters relationships with the alumni community, and organizes events like the Wharton Women’s Summit and the Female Founder Pitch Competition.
The group also holds WWIB Week annually during Women’s History Month. During WWIB week, women in business are celebrated with networking sessions, fireside chats, and an annual gala benefitting a local organization. The MBA Admissions team sat down with WWIB leaders during WWIB Week to discuss being a woman at Wharton.
MBA Admissions: How did you find your community at Wharton?
Madeline Donoghue: That’s an interesting one, because when I came to Wharton, I expected to find my close friends through the cohort system, and I was surprised when I didn’t immediately click with my cohort. I think one of Wharton’s biggest strengths is the community revolving around clubs, professionally and socially. So, I started looking toward those — whether it be the hockey team that I’m on or the professional clubs, I found those to be the most helpful way to meet a big and wide variety of people. Then naturally over time, I started to get closer to people within various organizations.
Krishna Shah: Wharton has a ton of ways to get involved, whether it’s professional clubs or affinity clubs. But the informal ways of meeting people through classes or catching up over coffee on breaks have also been valuable to me. I’ve really enjoyed not having any one community at Wharton. I have pockets of communities across different areas of our class, which has been really nice.
MBA Admissions: What are some ways WWIB starts to foster relationships and community at the beginning of a student’s Wharton experience?
KS: I think that’s something that we continue to rework and be mindful of. A significant change that we made last year was to only organize events that we thought brought value to the student body, especially during Pre-Term. We encouraged more informal ways for students to meet up at the beginning. We really wanted to establish a built-in network of other women to lean on during our time at Wharton. During Pre-Term we created informal touch points and then when we got back to school in September, we had a better sense of what people were really interested in. We wanted to create an opportunity to have deeper conversations.
We rolled out our subsidized workout classes and wellness events. People love health and wellness at Wharton, which I think has been a really refreshing part of the student experience. Giving women ways to do that in a way that also felt equitable was important to us. Workout classes can be expensive, so is constantly getting meals with people, so we leaned into free platforms. WWIB is fortunate to have a lot of financial support from the school and from sponsors, which makes it easy to give back in the form of free or reduced-price events. But I’d also say the admissions events that we’ve started running this year are a great way for students to meet one another before they even matriculate.
MD: We’ve tried to have as many touch points as possible while admits are trying to make their decision. The main event that we run is a Welcome to WWIB virtual session for everyone to get a sense for what WWIB is. We’re going to do more customized sessions for specific questions. We’re planning an office hour session for affinity groups in WWIB, so if people want to speak to women who are first generation college students, certain ethnic backgrounds, or just want to ask questions in a more informal setting they can do that.
During Welcome to Wharton (Wharton’s in-person admitted student weekend) we do individual one-on-one coffee chats with women. The final admissions event that we do is a careers panel to give women the space to learn about where we’re headed after Wharton and our pathways to get there. We’ve had a lot of interest in that panel so far and it’s given women a chance to really envision what Wharton can do for their career.
MBA Admissions: What does being a woman at Wharton mean to you?
MD: I think about this more as how the Wharton women’s community is perceived from the outside. To me, it’s really meant just growing into myself and having a lot more confidence than when I came in. There are so many great opportunities at Wharton, especially for many of us working in male dominated fields. There’s been a lot of learning, feeling comfortable, having a voice at the table, and continuing to get better at public speaking. When I think of a Wharton woman, it’s someone who exudes confidence. This doesn’t mean you have to be the most extroverted, but someone who speaks very well and is introspective, thoughtful but kind at the same time.
I’ve found it’s been really refreshing to meet other women in the business field. Personally, coming from the Midwest, all my home friends tended to go into other industries, and it was lonely not having women to talk with. At Wharton it’s been amazing to find a community of women in business and know that I have it going forward. When tough situations arise, I have someone to talk to.
KS: One piece for me that has defined being a woman at Wharton is the idea of meeting other women like me. I have always wondered if it’s ridiculous to think you could “have it all” in the way of having a demanding job but also a really fulfilling social life and time for hobbies and interests. I think I’ve always struggled with that because I’ve worked in a male dominated field where I didn’t have examples of what it meant to “have it all” or women role models. Being at Wharton, it’s just been nice to see that you can. We’ve all found our equilibrium at different points. Just knowing that you don’t have to be one way or the other; you can be this multifaceted woman and still have the respect and authority you’ve worked towards has been great.
It’s helped me fight imposter syndrome reminding myself that there’s a reason I’m here, I deserve to be here, and I should carry that forward when I’m back in my career. Learning not to doubt myself or doubt the reasons why I’m at the table has been an essential part of my Wharton experience.
MD: The fact of the matter is it’s been hard. We haven’t had as many role models as men may have in our careers yet. It’s been nice to know that going forward, I’ll always have my Wharton network of women to turn to.
MBA Admissions: What advice would you give to women navigating their career in business or thinking about pursuing an MBA?
KS: When you come to business school, do it because you want to do it for yourself, not because other people want you to or because you think you should. It’s easy to seek validation and happiness from other people and situations. Business school can be overwhelming, but when you get here you want to create the experience you want to have, not the one society thinks you should have.
It’s important to have a central compass when you’re applying to know why you’re doing it and how you see yourself here. You truly want to be spending these two years at Wharton with goals set for yourself. When you get here, hold yourself to that true north. I know I’ve wavered a bit my first year, but it’s always helped know that I have goals I really wanted to accomplish while I was here, because that’s why I chose to come to Wharton and how I want to inspire other women in business to do the same.
MD: Make sure you’re purposefully using your time for what you want to do. When I first came to Wharton, I found myself signing up for every club and event that I could, and found myself really burnt out and not present while I was there. I found myself enjoying my time so much more when I started being selective about where I invested myself because I knew I was going to have a meaningful experience for me and no one else.
MBA Admissions: How has Wharton prepared you to be a business leader?
MD: I think being able to speak well and comfortably in front of big groups is one of the best skills you can develop and something I felt less comfortable with before coming into Wharton. There are so many opportunities to develop poise and strength in communication and to me that’s what Wharton has helped me with the most by far.
KS: Having a network of women in all different industries and across the world. I think it’s hard to see the value in that while we’re still in school, but I do think just knowing I’ll have peers that I can call on to pick their brain or ask for help and the answer will always be a yes is super helpful. That network has already opened doors in more ways than one and I’m so grateful to have that going forward.
Connect with WWIB as a prospective student here.
— Abby Behrends
Posted: March 31, 2023