PEOPLE: Building a business school for women, by women

The culture, structure, and communities of business schools have altogether contributed to why women are still the minority among students. However, with significant improvements in each of these areas among many business schools internationally, the numbers are improving with 39% of students who enrolled in the top MBA programs being women according to a 2019 journal. Women highlighted the positive impact of a supportive and like-minded community, and changes from networking activities that were male-dominated to inviting and retaining women into these programs.

And this is good news for business leaders. With more female business graduates, there are greater chances of women joining or progressing within organisations to higher ranks, and businesses led by female CEOs and with female leadership present on boards demonstrate stronger business outcomes.

Peace Mitchell is an entrepreneur and business leader who recognised the opportunities presented by empowering more women, and also recognised the importance of continuing to invest in developing more accessible business school programs for women in order to truly reach gender equality and equity in corporate leadership.

  • Why did you start The Women’s Business School? Have your ambitions for the organisation changed over time? Why or why not?

My sister Katy and I have been in business since 2009. Our first business was AusMumpreneur, a community for Australian women with children running businesses from home.

We started the Women’s Business School in 2016 after recognising a need for dedicated business education for women. So many of the other programs out there were time consuming and inflexible and after listening to what women were looking for from a business program we created our own.

Our vision has always been the same, at its heart we believe when women are happy and well they’re better equipped to care for everyone around them and this includes their immediate family, their extended family and the wider community as well. Our delivery of this vision has evolved over time and has incorporated 4 key elements – community, education, celebration and investment.

  • How does your program differ to others?

Our program is unique in that is specifically designed for women. So many times when you hear about business, it’s stories told from a male perspective, books written by men, examples of successful men in business, photos of men in boardrooms wearing business suits.

Where are the women? What are their stories? What are their experiences? How do women do business? Where are the books about business written by women? How have the women who came before us navigated the world of business? What does success look like for women?

There really aren’t a lot of people talking about this and so we wanted to be pioneers in this space, highlighting examples of women leaders, business books written by women, and providing a diverse range of women mentors.

It can be intimidating for women to speak up in online spaces which are dominated by men so a learning environment where women felt safe to share, discuss and process their ideas, challenges and thoughts is important.

In addition to this the women we spoke to wanted to be part of traditional Accelerator programs but simply couldn’t commit to the 40 hours/week expectation to be in a coworking space, the research backs this up showing that women are less likely to enrol in postgraduate programs like MBA’s because of the demands on after hours time for group work and in person lectures. The universities know this and yet fail to address this.

That’s where our programs are different. We’ve created a time efficient and flexible program so that women can access them wherever they are and they can fit them into their busy lives.

  • What are some examples of how you’ve changed or adjusted the program in response to feedback from women?

When we started out most of our sessions were pre-recorded and available as transcripts, video or audio files but the feedback showed that they preferred regular live calls instead of precorded and we now do weekly live calls which has really developed a strong sense of community and collaboration.

Another aspect that has been really popular is one on one mentoring. We introduced this in 2019 and it has been really successful in providing a sounding board and deeper conversations around strategy and direction for the students’ businesses.

  • What are some of the most common challenges you worked with female entrepreneurs to overcome when you started out in 2016? Are they different to the challenges female entrepreneurs are facing today?

The most common challenge we see is self doubt. So many brilliant women are held back by that voice in their head telling them that they’re not ready, not pretty enough, not smart enough, not qualified enough, that no one will buy what they have. This voice makes them questions themselves and their ability and think, “Who am I to do this work?”

Because of this our program focuses on balancing both business acumen and personal development, providing a safe and supportive space for women to step out of their comfort zone and develop their confidence and self belief.

  • What’s your advice to female entrepreneurs who have been sitting on an idea, but are hesitant to act on it due to the current uncertainty in the market due to COVID-19?

My advice is always to listen to that voice in your heart that tells you to go for it, give yourself permission to indulge in the dreaming stage for a weekend and then go for it, take that first step, test it out on a small scale and see what happens. Don’t let fear stop you from following your calling.

About the expert

Peace Mitchell is a keynote speaker, author, CEO and co-founder of The Women’s Business School & AusMumpreneur, host of Women will change the World TV and Australian Ambassador of Women in Tech. Peace is passionate about supporting women to reach their full potential and create the life they want to live. She has helped thousands of women achieve their dream of running a successful and profitable business and believes that investing in women is the best way to change the world.

Peace Mitchell co-founded AusMumpreneur in 2009, creating Australia’s #1 community for mothers in business and co-founded the Women’s Business School in 2016 to provide entrepreneurial education for women globally. Today, her commitment is stronger than ever, to invest in the power of women to change the world.