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The obstacles women face in taking their EMBAs

Sladjana Jovanovic is a technology expert who works for Toronto-Dominion Bank and an avid proponent of equal career opportunities for women in Canada. She is also an executive MBA student at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management. This is her first blog for EMBA Diary.

When I started my executive MBA program at Rotman in fall of 2015, it struck me immediately that there were just 15 women in a class of 70. So I asked my female colleagues to share the roadblocks they had to overcome to get here, hoping that others would be encouraged to do the same.

An intense 13-month EMBA program is a serious time and money commitment and we worried about the impact that "putting ourselves first," as my classmate Shilpa put it, would have on our families, especially on our children. Shaily knew that she would have to rely on her husband to take on most of the responsibility for their one-year-old baby and home, as they have no relatives in Canada. Not being the mom, wife and employee she wanted to be made her choice difficult.

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We also had to face our insecurities. A businesswoman and entrepreneur since opening her own midwifery practice, Seventh Generation Midwives Toronto, classmate Sara knew all along that an MBA would be valuable, but she didn't believe in herself enough to follow through. The realization that the business skills, credentials and network she would gain would give her the tools to help improve the health and well-being in her indigenous community left her feeling a sense of responsibility to at least try. Similarly, for Maryam, the fear of not being qualified for the EMBA program was a roadblock for years.

Lata, a single mother of a four-year-old daughter, had to move countries to enrol. Financing the Rotman tuition, along with the relocation expenses, became the most important consideration for her.

Retired from a long and rewarding career in financial services marketing, Susan was concerned about the next stage in her life. She then decided that this was the perfect time to take a break and do something she had always wanted to do – get her MBA.

And for myself? The biggest roadblock for growing in my career was the lack of support I had from my ex-husband. Three years after my divorce, the thought of doing my MBA came to me seemingly out of nowhere. Within months, everything fell into place and I started the best professional year of my life.

The journey hasn't been easy for us. Sara, the midwife, told me she faced a number of trials: physically (there is only so much time in a day, managing kids, work and family), emotionally (a romantic relationship ended and there hasn't been much time to process it), mentally (a death in the family at the Christmas break made it difficult to focus), and spiritually (it's difficult to prioritize taking care of her spiritual side, leaving her somewhat out of balance). For Sonia, as for all of us, this year demanded that she uphold a delicate balance of work, school, home life and extracurriculars (coaching rugby, in her case), and has stirred up many important questions. What do I value? How should I spend my time? How can I make a meaningful impact on my piece of the world? But, as Georgiana says, everything has worked out in the end.

So, was it worth it? Unanimously, all 15 of us agree that it was.

One thing none of us anticipated is the deep friendship, respect and trust we developed with our classmates. We share the special experience of being part of a high-functioning team. Together, and as Susan adds, "at just the right time in our lives," we have accomplished something that seemed impossible not so long ago. And we will continue to support and learn from each other as we begin our separate journeys.

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However, the most significant award is the personal transformation. Lata says, "My family is pleasantly surprised and happy to see the change. I could never go back to being the old me!" Ghazaleh now handles challenges differently, knows what and how much to focus on, and values the importance of how we solve problems, not only that we solve them. Jyoti is motivated to go above her reach and better herself. And, as Faye says, "There is no obstacle that I cannot overcome. We are empowered that anything is possible and there is always room to do more." Hopefully this feeling will spread. In an encouraging development, the 2017 Rotman EMBA class has close to 40 per cent female students enrolled.

For me, the goal of becoming an inspirational leader with clear vision has greatly outweighed the stress of managing my work and school schedule. The roadblocks and hurdles have been many, but the other day I overheard my 10-year-old daughter proudly talk about her mom's MBA with her friends. That's the next generation, not only seeing what is possible, but also seeing the achievement of women of our generation with pride.

That in itself is a reward – a significant one.

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