08 Sep 2015 20:43 IST

Vedica hopes to make a mark with management course for women

The Vedica campus in New Delhi

Offers space where women can work on their strengths before entering the workforce

In a mini auditorium-like set-up, where classes are held, situated inside the lush campus of the New Delhi-based Sri Aurobindo Centre for Arts and Communication (SACAC), around 38 women students sit in rapt attention. They are attending a class in economics by Amit Bubna, a visiting assistant professor of finance at the University of Maryland, College Park. And they form the founding class of the newly-launched 18-month full-time residential Vedica Scholars Programme for Women.

The students hail from various parts of India, including smaller cities such as Patna and Coimbatore. The average age of a student is 25. And half of them come with work experience. At the end of the course, they will be awarded a post-graduate certificate in management from the Vedica Foundation and SACAC.

A graduating batch of 38 women holds promise for the corporate world, which has for long been seeking quality talent and diversity at the workplace.

The gender gap

MBA programmes are often considered to be a microcosm of the corporate or global business world. So, when we find that women are in a minority in leadership positions or even in corporate work-forces across the world, we realise the gender skew at B-schools mirrors this trend. Hence, improving gender diversity at B-schools is increasingly becoming one of the most widely discussed issues the world over.

In India, B-schools such as the IIMs, XLRI and ISB have for long consciously tried to take in more women students. They have also launched outreach programmes to attract women applicants. Corporates too are recognising the importance of having women in their workforce and in leadership roles. For, only if a large number of women make it to the workforce can one hope that managers and leaders emerge from the pool.

However, while some believe that improving diversity in classrooms is key to this, there are others who think single-sex MBA programmes, particularly those tailored to women are the need of the hour. The Vedica Scholars Programme for Women is perhaps one such effort.

Its founding team comprises Anuradha Das Mathur of 9.9 Media and founder of The Foundation for Working Women; Pramath Raj Sinha, founding dean of the Indian School of Business (ISB), and founder of Young India Fellowship (YIF) and Ashoka University; and Daljeet Singh, founding director of the SACAC.

Aside from being exclusively for women, the programme aims at holistic development, and intends to impart the necessary skills required of an MBA, including courses in communication and the liberal arts. Through such courses, the programme hopes to tackle another lacuna in the B-school curriculum: diversity.

Why they chose it

Prior to the class, a clutch of students explained why they chose this programme and how they think it is different.

Most of them heard about the programme through the Young India Fellowship, run by Ashoka University, but Vedica’s extensive social media campaign, which featured testimonials from those associated with it, as well as the names of those on the board of advisors and faculty, was a huge draw. The programme’s Governing Council is chaired by Madeleine Albright, former US Secretary of State, and includes others such as Vinita Bali, Irena Vittal, Barkha Dutt and Joanna Barsh.

The faculty, which come from an array of fields ranging from journalism, to business to international relations, boasts names such as former Chief Statistician of India and economist Pronab Sen, Stanford Fellow Pete Mohanty, educationist Meenakshi Gopinath and journalist Siddhartha Dubey.

“There are also no hard and fast rules and prerequisites such as writing a competitive exam like CAT and having work experience,” adds a student.

Pooja Kulkarni, a graduate of Environmental Science from Fergusson College, Pune, thinks the course effectively merges ‘hard’ subjects such as management principles with softer ones such as personal development. “On our first day here we took a course on understanding the self,” she adds. Apart from this, there is the ‘Shadow A Woman CEO’ programme’, “which will help us gain useful exposure to work life before we join the workforce,” adds another student.

Why women only?

But B-school lessons are supposed to prepare students for real life. Women need to know how to deal with men and vice-versa, so that they can successfully navigate the workplace. So won't not having any men in the mix be a drawback? Also, gender diversity in B-school programmes and in the corporate world is a big concern. When new institutions are looking to promote it, isn’t launching a programme only for women digressing from this mission?

“Women have enough opportunities for such socialising outside of their education. What we offer is space where women can recognise and work on their strengths and gain confidence before getting into the workforce,” says Anuradha Das Mathur, founding Dean of the programme.

Vedica takes the women’s perspective into account as the regular curriculum doesn’t, she adds. Women have valuable skills such as empathy and a nurturing spirit, and the present curriculum doesn’t harness this competitive advantage, she adds.

“Women are often at a disadvantage and not given the right tools to help themselves.” Another focus is to make sure that women are committed to their careers. “Women often drop out of good jobs five years down the line due to other commitments such as a family. And the current education system is not teaching them how to keep and regain jobs,” she says.

Women need not wait till they’re 35 to join women-only executive learning programmes when they realise men and women face different challenges in the corporate world. We can equip them much earlier in their career through this programme, says Mathur.

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