Transformational Leadership for Women in STEM: An EMBA Story

Over the years, women with a background in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields have contributed to a richer, more diverse, and equitable learning environment at HEC Paris. Like their classmates from other domains, the EMBA’s women and alumnae in STEM lend their experience, expertise, and diverse perspectives to build on the strengths of their classmates.

Like all HEC Paris EMBA students entering the program looking to leverage its transformative leadership development potential, women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) sport impressive resumes long before beginning the program.

But for HEC Paris students and alumnae in STEM, the simple act of pursuing and accomplishing their goals sets a positive example for a crucially underrepresented cohort of the world population.

The World Economic Forum estimates that only 30% of the world’s researchers are women. In the UK and the EU, roughly 35% of STEM university graduates are women. In the United States, men outnumber women in the total STEM workforce by a factor of more than 3 to 1.

Though these numbers are, in most cases, shifting upwards, there is still ample room for significant gain. To wit: the European Commission estimates that by adding one million women to STEM jobs by 2050, it could improve the bloc’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by an additional 820 billion euros, bringing its accumulated GDP per capita to 3%.

HEC Paris EMBA alumna Mona Levacher, EMBA 18

Indeed, UN Secretary-General António Guterres underlined the importance of “[Unleashing] our world’s enormous untapped talent…starting with filling classrooms, laboratories, and boardrooms with women scientists.”

Simply in pursuing their own goals and aspiration to the best of their abilities, HEC Paris EMBA students and alumnae do their part on a daily basis to shape the future of opportunities and leadership roles for women around the globe.

Engineering growth and driving leadership

Despite burgeoning representation in other STEM occupations, women comprise of only 16.5% of the world’s engineers.

One of them, automotive engineer and HEC Paris alumna Mona Levacher, EMBA ‘16, does her part by taking a purposeful approach to leadership.

“As a leader, you are responsible for company culture,” says the veteran of nearly two decades across the automotive industry.

As a leader, she says, “you can make a difference in terms of empowering other women… the best way to empower a woman is really to believe in her and give her the opportunity.”

She says the EMBA helped her do so by bolstering her incredible technical skills with clarity in managerial domains more difficult to quantify.

“I learned about my strengths and weaknesses, focused on where I need to improve, and which strong points I needed to leverage in order to thrive in the corporate world.”

Fellow automotive engineer, corporate leader, and HEC Paris alumna Roberta Guatelli, EMBA ‘22, echoes Mona’s emphasis on how the EMBA helped imbue her leadership style with a healthy dose of confidence.

“Leadership is a state of mind. It’s the ability to do your work well, and to foster the growth of people around you, and to help them change and evolve.”

“Before HEC Paris, I never actually thought about my leadership style or the importance of being a leader,” she said.

The EMBA helped add to the seasoned F1 engineer’s leadership toolkit, in part, by helping her structure her philosophy of what it means to be a leader.

“I discovered that anyone can be one,” she says.

“Leadership is a state of mind. It’s the ability to do your work well, and to foster the growth of people around you, and to help them change and evolve.”

HEC Paris EMBA women in STEM: successful leadership amid constant change

Among other things, an EMBA can equip leaders with the ability to offer clear guidance in navigating a changing business landscape.

Few are better positioned to speak to the value of that ability than Dr. Bogdana Coudsy, EMBA ‘22, Global Head of Medical for Vaccines at Sanofi: she was on the front lines as the COVID pandemic unfurled in 2020.

“Changes happen so fast that you can’t just think about the next step – you have to think about the step after, too,” she says.

Dr. Coudsy evokes a metaphor from Professor Jeremy Ghez’s Business Environment module— one she counts as among the EMBA’s most valuable— to explain.

“No matter how successful an organization is, it’s imperative to keep moving forward to survive,” she says.

“You need a unique and extensive toolbox to adapt to different situations in this complex and continuously moving business environment. HEC’s motto [‘The more you know, the more you dare’] is valid especially as a woman, because having knowledge is so important in helping you achieve those goals.”

HEC Paris EMBA alumna Dr. Bogdana Coudsy

Onward and upward, the EMBA way

While some EMBA students and alumni from STEM disciplines have their sights set on closing the skills gap in professional gray areas they can no longer ignore, others— like venture capital (VC) investor and Cambridge-trained biophysicist Dr. Karolina Zapadka, EMBA ‘23— zero in on the black-and-white impact potential of the program’s academics, as well as its final deliverable.

“I invest in early-stage biotech,” she says, explaining the difference between roles she had held before and the one she was about to begin.“A totally different scope from, for example, the process of going through an IPO.”

I heard about the HEC Paris EMBA’s Capstone Project, which offered me the opportunity to carry out an in-depth project that would be consequential for my job as part of the degree.”

For Karolina, the EMBA and its Capstone Project represent an opportunity to add metaphorical rocket boosters to a career initially sent aloft by virtue of technical skill.

The same is true for Dr. Donatella Ponziani, EMBA ‘18,  though rockets also happen to have been a literal feature in the career of the longtime veteran of the European Space Agency (ESA).

A seasoned rocket scientist— among other things, she was a key stakeholder in the development of Ariane 5— Donatella capitalized on the transformative potential of the HEC Paris EMBA through the Capstone Project.

HEC Paris EMBA alumna Donatella Ponziani used her capstone project to launch a new business unit.

HEC Paris EMBA alumna Donatella Ponziani used her capstone project to launch a new business unit.

Her project, an ambitious institutional reshuffle to help streamline the ESA for future-friendly private investment opportunities, formed the basis of what is today an entirely separate business unit at the agency: the ESA Commercialisation Gateway.

From the drawing board in the HEC Paris classroom to the boardroom at ESA, Dr. Ponziani is still at its head.

“The real game-changer of the EMBA is the attitude you gain with respect to the external world. I’ve worked with a lot of highly qualified people who think they are doing many beautiful things – and they are. But I learned to change the way I considered people’s opinions from outside my professional domain, and I learned how to adapt to them.”

EMBA: transformative potential for female STEM leaders

Leadership comes in many forms. The EMBA— with its ability to bring diverse backgrounds and experiences together, and to equip students with the tools to bridge the gaps between them— is an invaluable leadership asset to add to the arsenal of any STEM-savvy female change-maker.

Beyond their most obvious common denominator, perhaps the most striking feature of Mona, Roberta, Bogdana, Karolina and Donatella, and the women of the HEC Paris EMBA is a common resolve to lead by example.

Whether that is by empowering other women, adding structure to a leadership philosophy, or reshaping companies, each alumna is challenges the precepts of conventional wisdom.

The transformative effect the EMBA had on these women in STEM isn’t just a point of pride— but a catalyst for bold ideas, daring actions, and an unstoppable momentum towards progress.

More CEOs of Fortune Global 500 companies have graduated from HEC Paris than any other university in Europe. Nearly 4,000 graduates are currently CEOs, CFOs, or have founded their own companies. The Executive MBA at HEC Paris perennially ranks among the best in the world; click here to learn more.

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