Wharton EMBA Professor Discusses Work/Life Integration and the Value of an MBA for Women

Wharton EMBA Professor Stew Friedman is renowned for his research on issues related to work-life balance and leadership. His award-winning book, Total Leadership: Be a Better Leader, Have a Richer Life, describes the Total Leadership course he teaches, which is designed to increase participants’ leadership capacity and performance in all parts of their lives by better integrating them. The course is part of Prof. Friedman’s Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, which he founded over 20 years ago to produce knowledge for action on the relationship between work and the rest of life.

Q. What is new in the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project?

A. When I founded the project, we started surveying Wharton students as they graduated about their various life interests. As we approached our 20-year anniversary, we thought it was a good time to go back and talk to those graduates as well as the graduates in the Class of 2012 and ask them the same questions. That study is completed and I’m now writing up the results for a Wharton Digital Press book, tentatively titled Baby Bust, due out this fall. One of the interesting things we found is that plans for having children have changed a lot. When we asked graduates if they planned to have children in 1992, 79% of men and women said yes. In 2012, that percentage dropped to 42%. The book explains why that is and what it implies for our careers and our family lives.

Q. Many students have described your Total Leadership course as life changing. How do you make that class so impactful for students?

A. There’s a lot of reflection and conversation about what really matters, who really matters, and what you can do to better align your values and actions.  But the secret sauce in the course’s recipe is peer-to-peer coaching. Students create a community of mutual support and help each other work through their real-world challenges in strengthening their capacities as leaders in all parts of their lives. The course helps students make real changes as they come to see how to weave the different pieces together in ways that work. I’ve been teaching this class in Wharton’s East and West Coast EMBA programs for 10 years. Right now we’ve got 50 great students in San Francisco who are doing remarkable work on what it means to be real, that is, what matters to them; what it means to be whole, that is, managing the different parts of life and how they affect each other; and what it means to be innovative, that is how to experiment intelligently with different ways to get things done. They are learning how to pursue what I call “four-way wins” – better performance at work, home, community and self.

Q. A recent blog in the Huffington Post pointed out that while there is gender equity in pursuing undergraduate, law and medical degrees in the U.S., only about one-third of MBA students are women. A notable exception, according to the article, is Wharton, which is closer to 45% women. Why is it important for more women to pursue MBA degrees?

A. It’s crucial for us to have an equal number of men and women in MBA programs because the need for gender parity in the work environment is important to everyone – heads of companies as well as government and policymakers. Business schools have a significant role to play in achieving that goal. Men and women need to learn how to be successful in an environment in which there are an equal number of men and women so they should learn about business in that same type of environment.

Q. What is the value of an MBA for women?

A. It’s the same for women as for men in terms of the advances you make with new knowledge of the business world and modern management methods as well as a rich network of professional contacts that enable you to grow and cultivate your own path. It’s not that there is a different value for men and women; it’s of great value for both.

Q. That article suggests that a good time to pursue an MBA is before children, but students in EMBA programs tend to be further along in their careers and many are already parents. Are there advantages for parents with an executive MBA format?

A. Yes, in Wharton’s EMBA program you have a group of supportive peers as well as some flexibility about how you can meet the demands of the program. There is no doubt that it’s challenging for mothers and fathers, and you need a network of support to succeed in all worlds: school, professional and home. A key factor is making sure that people in your support network see how your advanced education will benefit them – this will help generate and sustain that support.

Click here to read a related blog on Prof. Friedman’s Total Leadership course.