Maureen Dowdle, a career and leadership coach at Chicago Booth, sat down with three EMBA alumnae to discuss career advice for ambitious women. Read below for four key takeaways from their discussion.

1. Actively negotiate to get what you want

A key piece of advice echoed by all during the conversation was that successful women need to understand how to negotiate for what matters to them. Dowdle recommended finding a negotiation style that feels comfortable so that you come across as confident and credible. She also stressed that it’s important for women to know when they may be heading into a negotiation situation and be prepared for it.

The career and leadership coaches at Chicago Booth work with students to develop the art of negotiation. “I love role-playing negotiation scenarios with our students and alumni. It allows us to explore the different ways a discussion may go,” said Dowdle. This coaching tactic helps individuals develop their confidence so that no matter what someone may throw at them, they will be well prepared.

Angel Chia, ’22, spoke about the lessons she learned in the Negotiations class taught by Linda Ginzel, clinical professor of managerial psychology. “Looking back at my career, there were several factors that held me back from negotiating. I felt I needed to conform with cultural expectations of being humble, and I often experienced feelings of imposter syndrome, which impacted my confidence.” The class pushed Chia to be bold and unafraid of pushing back in scenarios involving negotiation. “As Professor Ginzel used to say, ‘You never get what you don’t ask for!’” she recalled.

2. Identify skills to help you through tough times

Dowdle described leadership as a continuous journey of self-reflection and development. “It’s important to start with a frank appraisal of yourself so that when you’re faced with a leadership challenge such as an economic downturn or world-changing pandemic, you understand your strengths and limitations.”

All EMBA students take part in a required class called LEAD, a hands-on experiential course designed to identify your strengths and opportunities as a leader and integrate these insights into ongoing leadership development. “Students are asked to take stock of themselves. It’s one of the things they do in their very first LEAD session,” said Dowdle.

Chia offered that professionals shouldn’t be afraid to take a few steps back in order to move forward in their career. Her career success involved retracing her steps, rebranding herself, and pivoting into a new role while leveraging the experience she had built up along the way. “It actually helped enlarge my area of expertise over time, and I’ve now successfully moved into buy-side investment management. It took seven years but I finally made it.”

Self-reflection, adaptability, and resilience are all areas EMBA students will develop during the course of their program. It might seem like a soft place to start, but these important skills will see leaders through tough times.

3. Find focus but think about the trade-offs

Dowdle believes it’s important to have a holistic approach when thinking about career goals. She advises EMBA students to analyze how reaching a particular goal will influence other areas of their lives.

“Students who are not sure of what they want to do next will walk into my office and say, ‘I’m willing to try anything and work anywhere,’ and so I’ll say, ‘Great, how about North Dakota?’—which is a lovely state in the US but also very cold—and they’ll instantly start laughing at me,” she commented. “From that we establish that they are not as flexible as they thought, which is actually a good thing.”

Dowdle said it’s important to have guidelines around who you are and what you’re willing to compromise on, whether it’s because a company isn’t the right cultural fit or because you need to downsize your house to live closer to work.

4. Practice the art of networking

Networking is a word you will get used to hearing at business school and is vital if you want to get ahead in your career. As well as opening doors to new opportunities, having a diverse network of talented professionals is a great sounding board for decision-making. During the discussion, alumnae reflected on how important their networks had been throughout their careers.

“Through my network I’ve been able to land opportunities and clients,” said Shannon Morfin, ’20. “Let’s be honest; there is no way I would be on calls with the Minister of Health in various countries throughout South America if it wasn't for the network that I have spent time cultivating.”

Cynthia Pongweni, ’17, provided a specific example of how her global network helps her make business decisions. “My organization received an offer on one of our companies from an Asian-based investor that we knew nothing about,” she recalled. “I reached out to my classmates in Hong Kong and was able to get background on the company, which was very useful to me and the organization that I work for.”

One of the unique things about the Chicago Booth Executive MBA Program is that students in the global class represent a variety of industries, job functions, and nationalities. Booth graduates gain a lifelong network of talented people who share a pay-it-forward mentality.

While networking is important, Dowdle was keen to emphasize that it’s not as straightforward as you may think. There is an art to networking, and it should not be seen as a transactional process as relationships take time to establish.

“Anytime I hear the word ‘network,’ I think ‘make a friend,’ and the best time to make a friend is before you need a friend,” said Dowdle. “Getting to know people and making friends is the mindset you want to bring to networking. See it as extending a hand of friendship to someone who you have something in common with and invest time in getting to know a person before making an ask.”

About the Speakers

Maureen Dowdle
Executive Coach & Senior Associate Director, Global Career & Leadership Development at Chicago Booth

Cynthia Pongweni, MBA ’17
CFO at Mineworkers Investment Company, Johannesburg
Shannon Morfin, MBA ’20
Life Science Chief Strategy Officer, VP, RTG, Chicago

Angel Chia, MBA ’21
CEO of SingAlliance (Hong Kong) Limited, Hong Kong

Nadia Ahrazem

Associate Director, Recruitment and Admissions, London

Nadia joined Chicago Booth in October 2018. As an Associate Director of Recruitment and Admissions for the Executive MBA Program in London, Nadia is responsible for the recruitment of students across Europe, Middle East and Africa. In addition to cultivating relationships with corporate sponsors of students on the Executive MBA Program, Nadia also manages a variety of women’s-focused Executive MBA recruitment initiatives. Prior to joining Booth she worked for London Business School’s full time MBA Program in a variety of roles. Nadia earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in European Studies and German from London Metropolitan University.

Nadia Ahrazem