Mother’s Day 2017 was the best day of Divinity Matovu’s life. She graduated with an MBA from Wharton with her five-year-old daughter Nyah clutching her hand.
Mother and daughter went up on stage to shake hands with the dean and collect her certificate. Divinity felt they had earned the MBA together.
When they sat down again, Nyah grabbed Divinity’s face with her two little hands, looked her in the eyes and said: ‘Mommy, I am so proud of you’. Divinity dissolved in happy tears.
“It put in her mind that education is important—that’s something I didn’t have. I think it was foundational for her.”
Single mom Divinity says getting an MBA with a child is difficult but not impossible. “It’s a completely different experience but that’s OK. I brought a different layer of diversity. Less than 1% of my class were moms.”
Supporting MBA mothers
In 2015 Divinity and Nicole Pontón, from Duke Fuqua School of Business, launched MBAmama.com after seeing so few images of, or resources for ,women with children in MBA programs.
Divinity remembers how she didn’t see any examples of mothers in the promotional material of business schools. When she asked business schools to put her in touch with parents, they could only provide the details of fathers, with stay-at-home wives. Mbamama.com is now a thriving community of MBA moms from across the globe.
“‘Most business schools are happy to say they have a third women [in the class], but that is not a good stat,” Divinity continues. “They have a very narrow definition of what a female MBA student looks like. They should expand the scope of this profile.”
So, what can schools do to create inclusive spaces for women and men with children? One answer is recognizing that parents can add value to the diversity of the program and should not have to hide their children away.
Groups like Mothers at Booth—at Chicago Booth—provide visible and centralized information for mothers considering business school, embodying the message that women with children can excel in business school.
Adapting promotional materials and creating materials to guide parents through the process is also helpful. “Show mothers on panels and websites—you can’t be what you can’t see,” says Divinity.
Breastfeeding at business school
Wharton was supportive, but Divinity often had to take the initiative and find resources on her own. She saw there were no lactation rooms in the business school for women to pump or breastfeed with dignity. Even though she was no longer breastfeeding, she raised the issue with the school. The school stepped up and funded a lactation suite of four rooms.
Stanford GSB is one school making an effort to offer resources to parents. As part of the broader university, it provides on-campus resources for all students with families by offering family housing options, childcare centers, and access to public schools in Palo Alto.
Mike Hochleutner, director of the MSx Program, the one-year master’s program for mid-career professionals at Stanford says: “Although mothers are not treated differently in the admissions process, we recognize and value the perspective that mothers can bring to classroom discussions.
“Our programs support growth and transformation of the whole student. Just because someone shows up in a classroom does not mean they leave their life and family behind. Time at the GSB is a life-enriching experience for the entire family. And with these resources, parents can integrate academics and real life for even greater personal impact.”
Georgetown McDonough has created a Mother’s room for nursing mothers and has a range of family friendly events including their annual Sippy Cup, an event that brings together faculty, staff, and students with children.
Kerry Pace, associate dean of MBA programs, is a mother to a young child herself.
“I’ve seen caretakers bring young babies to their mom at McDonough to feed while in class. I also have participated in baby showers thrown for an expectant mother or father by their cohort. Never once have I heard another student complain that they had to accommodate a new parent’s schedule,” she says.
“Just last week, a student shared with me that she is expecting a child due around mid-terms next fall. As she said, while it is definitely challenging to have children while in school, the flexibility and support she has experienced here makes parenthood manageable.”