Kristin Kearney WG20 didn’t realize her water broke in the middle of an entrepreneurship presentation, but she knew something was amiss when her classmates started calmly packing her stuff and summoning an Uber. “One of them was like, ‘let’s go by the hospital to check it out,’” she recalls. “Sure enough, it was not my bladder.”
After Kearney’s son Kyler was born premature at 32 weeks, she jumped right back into her Wharton Executive MBA coursework, even taking calls from the hospital. “Obviously, I could have deferred,” she says. “But I needed something to do other than worry.” Kearney would drive her family from Los Angeles to Wharton’s San Francisco campus, where faculty secured a conference room for Kearney’s husband so that he could tend to the baby during her classes.
WEMBA is designed for executives in the middle of their careers, which can be a fragile time. It’s inevitable that major life shifts will take place at the same age when work responsibilities are accelerating. The coursework is tough for everyone, but it’s especially hard for moms with infants or young kids. Recent WEMBA alumni say that support from the program and classmates made the impossible achievable. Devika Varsani WG23, a new mom in the Philadelphia program, was particularly impressed with the understanding nature of the faculty. When she reached out to management professor Samir Nurmohamed to let him know she would be late to class because of her five-week-old baby at home, he talked to the WEMBA office to get her access to the lactation room at Huntsman Hall.
“These professors have viewed us not just as students, but as individuals,” says Varsani, who encourages Wharton moms to ask for advice when they need it. “We want to normalize these things. It takes a lot to overcome that initial shyness, but once you do it, it makes it so much easier.”The nature of the Executive MBA program is demanding, as students juggle a full workload on top of coursework and time with family. WEMBA moms say it was their tight-knit cohorts that kept them going. Students start and finish with the same 120 classmates, whom they connect with both online during weekday evenings and in person every other weekend.
On a Zoom call in the beginning of her program, Nina Butler WG23 was relieved to see a classmate with a baby. When Butler mentioned that she was pregnant, others on her Learning Team shared that they had kids; one even had a three-month-old. “It was absolutely incredible to have that support system,” she says. But the heavy workload combined with new demands on her family life didn’t end up being as much of a challenge as she feared. Butler’s background in retail at brands such as Valentino and Tory Burch reminded her that packed schedules often increase efficiency. “Because you have a limited amount of time,” she says, “you’re forced to time manage.”
Min Haeberle WG20 also found herself strategizing on how to spend her time wisely. She entered the program as a Manager of Technology Strategy & Analytics at TE Connectivity, looking to find new ways to integrate technology with business. She found out she was pregnant with her first child during term two. “After having a baby — every new mom will experience this — you pretty much have no time to sleep,” says Haeberle. “It’s a 24-hour job.”
Implementing an 80/20 rule (with a maximum of 80 percent spent at work) has helped Haeberle manage her time at work and throughout the WEMBA program. Being on a hybrid schedule is also making a difference. “You just don’t have the luxury of spending unlimited time on the job compared to before having the baby,” she says. “That’s some major mindset shifting.”
The long hours and juggling paid off for these moms at the end of the program: Haeberle is now Director of Strategy at Sila Nanotechnologies, and Kearney recently accepted a new role as the Chief Marketing Officer at Mobile Health Diagnostics, which was founded by fellow WEMBA alumni. Varsani, who graduates this month and works as Global Strategic Marketing & Growth Leader at DuPont, says that succeeding in one area of life often leads to success in the others: “Being a better leader at work makes me a better mom, too.”
Fellow new graduate Butler, who is now co-founder and managing partner of Flatiron Project Management, echoes the sentiment that WEMBA impacted her both professionally and personally: “You can be a student again and you can be yourself, because becoming a mom really changes your whole entire life.”