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In conversation with our Dean: Boosting diversity through the Online MBA

“You don’t see many female Deans,” says Professor Marion Debruyne, Dean of Vlerick Business School. “I think in the top 20 European business schools there are only two female Deans, although I do see more being appointed.”

As one of only a handful of female academics to head up a leading international business school, Marion is no stranger to breaking convention. At just 42 years old Marion was appointed Dean in 2015 and she has already guided Vlerick towards new horizons, including the launch of our 100% Online MBA.

Here, Marion explains how a desire to level the educational playing field contributed to the creation of the programme, and why she believes online learning is key to achieving better diversity in business.

Empowering women to seize professional opportunity

Despite the progress made in terms of female autonomy in recent decades, there’s still a tendency for women to take on more of a domestic role, even when they have a career to think about. Family and/or career commitments prevent many women in business from finding the time for postgraduate study.

“For women, juggling family, work and an MBA is especially hard,” says Marion. “It’s hard for men as well but, maybe because of society’s expectations, it can be even harder for women and demands to be on-campus have been even harder.

“That was one of the motivations to launch an Online MBA - for people to fit the MBA into their lives and not fitting their life around the MBA.”

Containing everything participants need to succeed on the programme, our Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) makes the Online MBA ready when they are. The platform enables participants – including working parents - to attend live video lectures, participate in group projects and discussions with peers, connect with faculty and submit assignments. All that’s needed is an internet connection, an enabled device and two hours every other Saturday to attend a live discussion session with peers and faculty.

Designed to open up fresh opportunities for ambitious professionals to achieve their career aspirations, our Online MBA is delivered by the same expert professors resulting in the same world-class qualification as our campus-based MBA, without the need to attend in person. We even offer a choice of Online MBA durations, from just over a year to up to five years to ensure that participants have the flexibility they require to undertake their studies.

Futhermore, it’s working as Marion hoped it would – one in three participants on our online programme is female. “It’s early days, but we see there’s a slightly higher percentage of female participants in the Online MBA, and one of their motivations is that it’s flexible.”

Celebrating individual talents and combined strengths

Marion’s career path is inspirational for anyone with a desire to further their own professional development, whatever their gender. Although justifiably proud of what she has achieved in a predominantly male vocation, she doesn’t believe that gender should be seen as a defining factor in the way she leads.

“You don’t get up in the morning and think ‘what will I do today as a young female Dean?’” she says. “My focus is on the job and to ask ‘where do we want to go with the school? How can we deliver our mission even better to create entrepreneurial leaders?”

“As a female Dean I think one of the questions you face is will I use my gender as a key platform? And maybe male Deans face this to a lesser extent, but I don’t think a male Dean thinks ‘will I choose my gender as a platform?’”

For Marion, standing out as a leader is more about playing to personal abilities than over-emphasising gender; something that our Online MBA encourages each of our participants to do.

Alongside core courses, such as Entrepreneurship and Doing Business in a Global World, the Online MBA includes a horizontal programme-long Leadership Development track, designed to help participants develop their own ever-evolving style of leadership.

“You show that diversity simply by being who you are,” explains Marion. “You show a different face of leadership than the standard and that’s definitely one way to contribute.”

Creating new flexible routes to business education for all

Enabling more women to attain career-boosting business skills is undoubtedly a cause close to Marion’s heart, but she’s keen to emphasise that the true aim of the Online MBA is to champion diversity in all its forms.

“Showing diversity includes women in business, but it can also include many different types of people. That’s one of the things we have sought out to do”, she says.

The online format makes this possible by giving participants the control over their own learning. Our Online MBA has already attracted an international cohort, with accomplished and ambitious professionals coming together to study from around the world.

This global diversity of talent creates a vibrant online ‘classroom’ through which participants can share knowledge, network with their peers and develop their leadership capabilities to fulfil their professional potential.

“It’s all about inspiring people to be lifelong students and lifelong entrepreneurs,” says Marion. “To be able to contribute to that mission, I find it very worthwhile and inspiring.”

Wherever your own professional journey has taken you so far, our Online MBA could be the start of a new and exciting chapter. To find out more about what this programme could do for you, complete our .

Accreditations & rankings

  • EQUIS
  • Association of MBAs
  • The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)
  • Financial Times