Diversity in leadership starts here


By AGSM Aug 16, 2018 

Alejandro Escobar always wanted to work in environmental protection. After completing his Full-Time MBA in 2016 with the financial support of an AGSM Excellence Scholarship, he was awarded the Ariel Prize for his MBA performance – and then secured his dream role as a Program Engineer with WIFIA (Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act) in Washington DC.

He's now putting his MBA skills to good use, ensuring US$5.5 billion of infrastructure investment is well spent.

In its quest to attract world-class students and potential future leaders, the Australian Graduate School of Management (AGSM) offers a broad range of merit-based scholarships to future leaders like Alejandro. For many professionals weighing up whether they can afford to study full-time, it can make an enormous difference.

This year, AGSM redesigned its scholarship program to support and encourage an even more diverse pool of leadership talent.

"We want to level the field, and build a pipeline of outstanding role models in special interest  communities such as LGBTI, elite athletes and the military," explains Dr Michele Roberts, AGSM Acting Academic Director. "This is really important for future generations, as you can't be what you can't see."

She says high-achieving professionals may not always realise the MBA is the obvious next step in their career. "But if you see a scholarship that is designed for you, you're more likely to see the opportunity that's there."

For example, elite sport is a natural platform for seeding high-performing future leaders – even if young athletes don't realise it.

"I interviewed one young man with a few years missing on his resume," says Michele. "When I asked him about the gap, he said he'd been training with Australia's Olympic rowing team – but because they didn't win, he left it out."

Yet he'd received the best possible training and experience in building resilience and endurance.

"These are things that make great leaders, and we're potentially wasting that talent if we don't encourage it," says Michele, noting that sometimes elite athletes express doubts they'll be able to cope with MBA studies – and then often go on to be top of their class.

Recognising talent, wherever it's found

In addition to its existing scholarship program which includes Women in Leadership, Excellence and Emerging Female Leaders, AGSM has added new Excellence Scholarships for LGBTI, Military and Sport Leaders, and Accommodation Bursaries for interstate, regional and rural MBA students.

"We are building a leadership pipeline that embraces the diversity and cultural richness of our community, and helps more people achieve their full leadership potential," explains Michele.

"Our LGBTI Excellence Scholarship is the first in the region, and will expand the diversity of our student cohorts and alumni. We know that cognitive diversity is absolutely critical in an MBA classroom, and the  quality of decision making improves with diversity of background."

Michele says AGSM is also committed to supporting those who serve our country – whether they want to round out their leadership training during their military career, or prepare for transition into a civilian career.

"They are already used to decision-making under stress and building high performance teams, and leading with emotional resilience," she notes. "They have the characteristics for great leadership in spades."

Closing the gender gap

In 2017, 126 of Australia's biggest listed companies still did not have women in the line roles of their executive leadership teams. Michele believes the MBA is the missing piece in the puzzle for this gender imbalance. And that's why AGSM has also increased the number of Women In Leadership Scholarships this year.

"The MBA is the most common qualification our leaders possess – around 40% of executives hold an MBA. Yet right now, only 36% of MBAs are awarded to women. To me, that's relatively easy to fix."

According to GMAC's 2017 report, What Women Want: A Blueprint for Change in Business Education, globally women say the number one barrier to an MBA is financing the degree. In the United States, 30% of female applicants said obtaining funds is their biggest challenge – compared with just 9% of male applicants. "Clearly, financial support could help us close this gap – and help women invest in their future," notes Michele.

Looking further afield for future talent

The cost of living (and studying full-time) in Sydney isn't easy for domestic students facing a move from regional, rural or remote areas across Australia. So new Full-Time MBA Accommodation Bursaries are now available to eligible students, providing $25,000 as an annual living allowance (paid fortnightly), which covers the cost of living at a UNSW hall of residence.

"We want to encourage the best students to do their best work with us – so wherever you are in Australia, if you have leadership potential you aren't limited to a local or online degree," says Michele.

Unlike many other business school scholarships, AGSM's support is based on merit – not equity. Every student who makes it through the rigorous admissions process is eligible for financial support, and will not need to apply separately for a scholarship.

Instead, they will be notified, based on a combination of their academic results, and their leadership potential and rapid progression in their field – which is assessed during their interview. "We are also very interested in entrepreneurs – those who have already started something new that's showing strong growth," notes Michele.

To find out more about the diverse scholarship opportunities available, visit the AGSM website

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