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Empowering Women in Business at WHU

Catherine Botha on how the MBA Program is supporting the female leaders of the future.

The WHU MBA Program is dedicated to ensuring gender diversity in business, which includes joining forces with the UK-based 30% Club campaign and offering one 50% scholarship to a top female applicant each year. We caught up with Full-Time MBA and South African student Catherine Botha, the 2019 recipient of this prestigious scholarship to find out why she chose to study at WHU, her female role models, and her expectations for the future.

“I originally studied chemistry with a focus on textile science but I was unable to find a job in that industry, so I began working for a start-up that writes the scientific algorithm for wearable devices. I started at the very bottom and gradually made my way up through the ranks whether it was testing the devices, helping to collect data, technical support, and then quality control.

I finally started working in project management and by that point, I really knew the company inside and out as I had worked in almost every department. I have now been in project management for a year and a half running various integration projects, constantly on the lookout for project management courses to improve my skills. I really do love learning – I think it became a problem for the leaders of teams I was in because I simply couldn’t get my hands on enough knowledge! Every time I mastered a new skill I was eager for something new.”

What prompted you to pursue an MBA?

“Even though I was technically in quality control and a quality analyst, the role was very diverse. I often found myself debugging, running different departments, and helping with a variety of tasks. However, a job became available internally which piqued my interest, but required specific abilities and experience. I was eager to find out how I could acquire these skills and I discovered that one of my colleagues had recently completed a management course and was in a similar role, so we discussed various options about how I could expand my skillset.
At the same time, my sister-in-law was researching MBA schools in Europe. I happened to be working in Nice shortly after she started her MBA there and discussing her course work in the evenings was so intriguing to me that it sealed the deal - I also wanted to do an MBA.”

How did you discover the MBA Program at WHU?

“I was researching business schools in Europe as my husband speaks Afrikaans so Dutch universities were an option, but I was very much interested in Germany because I have family connections here. In fact, my grandma lives in Düsseldorf! My mother is also German so I can speak the language, but never had a formal education in it. One of the great things about WHU is the opportunity to take German language classes. I can move forward in my career with German skills for life and I may never have that opportunity again.

When the WHU MBA recruiting team reached out to me and we talked more, I appreciated and enjoyed what they had to say. Speaking to Carolin from the team was such a game-changer – she really made an impression on me. Researching WHU more deeply simply confirmed my decision that the WHU MBA Program was right for me.”

What are your expectations for the MBA?

“I knew from the beginning that it would be a challenging course and I needed to be ready to hit the ground running. It’s a little disorientating leaving full-time work to begin studying but also incredibly exciting: I have been waiting a long time for this day to come! To be here, at last, to be progressing and learning so much, is just so thrilling. It is simply amazing just how much you learn every day! The different cultures, personalities, and industries you are discovering daily- just being a part of this experience is educational.”

Who were important female role models in your professional development?

“While I was researching female leaders for the scholarship application, I found that many talked about being the ‘only woman in the room’. I.e. the higher they climbed the ladder in a company, the fewer women they found at the top. This was surprising to me, as I had not experienced this in South Africa within the start-up. I was actually lucky to have an incredibly strong woman as my first boss – within weeks of exposure to her, she became one of my major role models. My second boss also had these natural leadership skills and was a similarly strong woman, so I never had this negative experience as a woman. Both of these women had very young children and were able to manage their careers and lives with flair: I quickly realized I wanted to be like these women too.

Those two women along with my mother and my grandmother are the four pillars of my life concerning my growth as a woman and a leader. If I could receive such positive exposure, I want to enable other women to experience the same opportunities and exposure, as I had, to such powerful role models.”

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