The path to being a successful business executive, a la Satya Nadella, Mary Barra, or Jamie Dimon, usually includes a pit stop at a prestigious MBA program. After all, MBA programs are where young, talented professionals are taught how to be strategic thinkers and leaders.
When I decided to embark on that pursuit myself and pursue my MBA at Chicago Booth, I was saddened, but not surprised that there are not many people who look like me in CEO roles, senior level leadership positions, or at top MBA programs around the world. In 2018, Catalyst, a nonprofit research firm, found that just “1.3 percent of executives and senior level managers in S&P 500 companies are black women…[however] almost five percent are women of color, and nearly 22 percent are white women.”
Simply existing as a Black woman in a business setting has made me extremely passionate about intersectionality and increasing the representation of Black women in leadership roles in corporate America. Black women are often underestimated and stereotyped and it’s easier for that behavior to be perpetrated when our numbers and our visibility in these spaces are low. That’s why while I’ve been at Booth, I’ve intentionally made decisions, like running as a representative for our Graduate Business Council or working with the African American MBA Association (AAMBAA) and the Admissions team to increase the number of Black female applicants to the Full-Time Program. It’s my small way of trying to address the systemic issues that exist in corporate settings. And I’m proud that the Booth community is one that is thoughtful, compassionate, open minded, and as committed to bringing about change as I am. However, our experiences, like our personhood, aren’t monolithic and so I’ve asked these women to share what it means to them to be a Black woman at Booth.
Being a Black woman at Booth means that I am a part of a small sisterhood, constantly mindful of how my place here will impact the next class. I’ve challenged myself to take on leadership roles and interact with people from all walks of life, in hopes of making our organizations and our larger community more inclusive and robust for the next Black woman. We are a small but mighty group here at Booth.Chanel Walker, Class of 2022
For me, being a Black woman at Booth means claiming my rightful place in a world that often seeks to exclude us. Black women are literally superheroes, yet we are often overlooked, under-supported or silenced in spaces that we have rightfully earned the opportunity to be a part of. The community of Black women at Booth is small, but it is so wonderfully mighty. And I feel honored to have the opportunity to demonstrate to my peers at Booth, the broader MBA community, and the world that contrary to the obstacles we face on a daily basis, Black women are powerful beyond measure. It feels wonderful to get to do that with a community of supportive, powerful, and magical Black women at Booth who inspire me every single day.Brittany Essiaw, Class of 2021
Being a Black woman at Booth is an honor, because every single day I have an opportunity to sprinkle a little black girl magic on every person that I interact with. I take great pride in who I am, where I come from, and use every platform I can to show my classmates all of the amazing things that we Black people do. I do this in hopes that when someone that looks like me applies for a job or walks in the door to interview, that my non-Black peers are that much more empathetic and likely to give them a chance because they see a bit of me or my Black peers in them. I take this charge very seriously, and sincerely hope that I have left my mark on our community and that I continue to do so for many years to come.Morgan Franklin, Class of 2021
As a Black woman at Booth I am part of a small, underrepresented yet supportive community that I rely on to find confidence in navigating my business school journey as we collectively seek to break the concrete ceiling that Black women face in Corporate America. From finding where to get my braids done to consulting interview prep, finding a Microeconomics tutor to debating an episode of Real Housewives, I can rely on a sisterhood that takes Booth’s pay-it-forward culture to heart. I am inspired by my peers and the women before me and passionate about utilizing AAMBAA’s platform to motivate women after me to pursue MBAs and navigate their business school experiences successfully.Jen Juma, Class of 2022
Booth has given me a new perspective on being a Black woman in the world of business. My Black women peers inspire me each day as I see them perform, achieve, and succeed in myriad ways and industries. The Black women at Booth are a force to be reckoned with. They’re finding their way into new spaces, breaking down barriers along the way, and providing access for those who will come behind them. In the past, I’ve struggled to see myself fitting into the prototypical “business” type. At Booth, however,, I have been introduced to so many Black women who have helped me see myself in the world of business–no prototype needed. The Black women at Booth are leaders, entrepreneurs, visionaries, managers–you name it! After nearly two years of my MBA program, I now see myself in these ways, too.Kyra Atekwana, Class of 2021
What does it mean to be a Black woman at Booth? Like many things, it depends. At times, the thought doesn’t cross my mind. I attend the same classes, events, etc., as everyone else and live my life to the fullest. However, when race-related incidents occur, I am quickly reminded that I am one of few Black women who attends Booth. I feel an obligation to ensure that I positively represent all of the aspiring Black leaders in this country and help enlighten my classmates on the Black experience in this country when needed. Sometimes it isn’t about me, it’s about those who will come after me.Gwen Jenkins, Class of 2021
Being a Black woman at Booth means that any room I step into I am hyper-aware of my presence and my responsibility to perform. All students at Booth are high performers, but being a Black woman, traditionally very underrepresented in business, I feel the expectation of my ancestors to make the most out of what they didn’t have access to. This pressure is great and also terrifying. In some ways it feels like nothing is enough, but in other ways I think that pressure has inspired me to do more than I would’ve attempted otherwise.Shelby Cain, Class of 2022
It’s safe to say that being a Black woman is a unique and magical experience and our bond is truly a sisterhood, which naturally extends to the community of Black women at Booth.