Studying an MBA Significantly Improves Women’s Purpose, Confidence, Self-efficacy and Identity, New Research Finds

1st November 2022

Posted In: International Focus

Henley Business School released new research recently from Dr Elizabeth Houldsworth (pictured) that shows women who took part in an MBA programme improved in all three areas of career capital, but most significantly in their work purpose, motivational energy, confidence, self-efficacy and identity.

The research demonstrates how the MBA might serve as an important step towards gender equality by supporting women in the development of careers in business and management.

The research paper examines the impact of the MBA on the three dimensions of career capital (the qualities, knowledge and connections an individual possesses to progress at work) – knowing why, knowing how and knowing whom.

Findings reveal women reported increases in all three dimensions of career capital, with statistically significant gains in the ‘knowing why’ aspect. The ‘knowing why’ dimension of career capital describes the work purpose, motivational energy, confidence, self-efficacy and identity that an individual has in their career.

The other two dimensions of career capital, ‘knowing how’ (the skills, experience, qualifications and knowledge needed for progression and success) and ‘knowing whom’ (the beneficial connections and networks), also saw gains over the course of the MBA.  Given that women are typically seen to be disadvantaged in terms of access to beneficial networks, it was particularly interesting that there was no difference between men and women in terms of their ‘knowing-whom’ increase, lending credence to the view that MBA programmes can help support gender equality.

Dr Elizabeth Houldsworth, Associate Professor of Leadership, Organisations and Behaviour at Henley Business School and co-author of the research paper, said: “We are excited about the results from this study which indicate how the completion of an MBA can support women to develop their career capital before transitioning on to deploy these career competencies in the broader domain of business and management.”

The paper ‘Career capital and the MBA: how gender capital supports career capital development has been published in the International Journal, ‘Studies in Higher Education’. It contributes to career capital theory by considering how gender capital, drawn from feminist Bourdieusian scholarship, interacts with theories of social capital. Lessons from the pedagogy and learning design of the MBA can be applied to other programmes.

The paper is written with Dr Karen Jones (Associate Professor of Educational Leadership & Management at the Institute of Education, University of Reading), Dr Richard McBain (formerly MBA Programme Director and External Tutor at Henley Business School) and Professor Chris Brewster (Professor of International Human Resources Management) at Henley Business School.

Findings of the research come from a survey of 129 female and 482 male MBA alumni.