The Best Executive Training Programs for Women

Succeeding in the business world for women is a mixed bag, like it or not, there is still a glass ceiling that exists for female executives. Men are over-represented in leadership positions at the C-level, vice-president, and senior director level. Statistically, only 5.8% of women serve as CEOs, and only 25% of women serve in key executive roles. If women aren’t making it to the C-suite as frequently as men, the question is why despite the fact that women dominate as degree holders across all levels of higher education. 

Corporate hierarchies infer a ladder upon which women must compete with men which in itself creates inequality. This mythical ladder is very narrow and each rung can only hold one person at a time. It seems everyone has a place either below the rung or above the rung at any given point of time and the sad thing for women, it’s overcrowded with males.

Why are there are so many more men on a corporate ladder than women? 

Gender Inequality

Over the past 40 years, women have made great strides in the workplace yet gender inequality still exists. According to the US Census Bureau, women on average make 80% of what their male counterparts are paid. 

The top five issues that fuel gender inequality in the workplace are women are paid less than men in spite of the fact they are more educated. Secondly, women are still experiencing sexual harassment, which holds them back in their careers especially when their careers are dependent on the decision of the man causing the harassment. Women are promoted less than men often due to the lack of female role models but mostly because they are ones who take time out from their careers to raise a family. However one of the biggest issues facing gender inequality is that women are afraid to ask to be paid for what they are worth.

Women and Education

If many more men are making it to senior-level executive roles than women, could it have something to do with education? According to a Pew Research Center survey, “today’s young women are starting their careers better educated than their male counterparts.” That means there isn’t an issue with female achievement, women have more than caught up with men when it comes to education.

A study of Women in the Workplace conducted by McKinsey & Company reveals that stepping into a management role is the biggest obstacle women face on their path to leadership. Women account for 48% of entry-level hires and yet only 38% of them reach first-level manager roles. This early inequality in the corporate world is what has a long term impact in the managerial pipeline which means fewer women are in line to be promoted into higher levels of leadership.

Women in Leadership 

Harvard Business Review study shows that women overall score higher than men in most leadership skills. Yet this changes significantly with younger women because they are less likely to apply for higher-level positions due to a lack of confidence. Females believe they need 100% of the skills required to take on a more senior role whereas men take the attitude, “I am close enough I can learn the rest on the job.” Younger women tend to rate themselves lower than men, but this changes as females age — eventually superseding men. 

What holds many women back is not a lack of leadership skills, it’s a lack of confidence — which is why women tend to seek out executive education to advance their careers in an effort to bridge the gender gap.

Executive Training and Education

Regardless of gender, executive education and training are designed to take those in lower-level positions who aspire towards more senior leadership roles to prepare them in topics that are essential to succeed in executive roles such as leadership and innovation. It refers to academic programs at a graduate-level business school which is generally non-credit or non-degree-granting and sometimes leads to a certificate accepted by professional bodies and institutes. Executive training programs offer programs that vary in length and offer options so that participants can adjust times to work around their busy schedules.

Sometimes executive training programs are developed with a specific company in mind that is tailored to them to increase their internal capability by combining business science and performance management into specialized programs related to their particular business. These programs are designed to develop the knowledge skills and attitudes relevant to their individual organization.

For generic executive training and education, a well-balanced executive training program for women will offer the following common courses:


In any organization, leadership is about being focused on the future, and management is about focused on the present. Executives need to have a future plan for their organization and studying strategy teaches them to learn how to design, and implement future strategies that will maximize the strengths of the organization and minimize their vulnerabilities.

Finance and Accounting

If executives don’t keep an eye on an organization’s finances, the organization will fail to exist. While senior female executives may not be responsible for the day to day accounting of a business, they do need to know how to read financial statements and understand them. The higher up they go in an organization, they must be able to evaluate their overall financial well-being and ongoing cash flow as this pertains to liquidity and solvency.


Sales and marketing is a vital function of any organization because these functions drive revenue and growth. While an executive may not need to know the details of marketing in today’s digital world, they require an understanding of the industry and market they are in. They need to explore the fundamentals and principles of marketing and follow market trends in order to drive growth.

Other Leadership Skills

Some shorter executive training and education programs may also focus on improving specific leadership skills that might include negotiation, team building, and communication.

Corporate Training

Corporate training may or may not include university-level courses but are generally seen as professional development activities provided to educate employees on specific aspects of their roles. These programs are often designed to be delivered in-house either through contracts or relationships with educational institutes. The difference between corporate education and corporate training is that corporate training programs are competency-based and related to the essential skills a specific individual may need in the execution of their role to ensure they are able to operate a specific piece of equipment or perform a specific task related to their role.

Corporate education adds another dimension to training that is centered on generating new knowledge which then develops the capability of an individual and the capability within an organization for sustained competitive advantage.

Executive MBAs and Business Schools

When it comes to a formal qualification from an established business school, an MBA is widely regarded as a stepping stone for women to gain C-suite roles at larger corporations, it’s also a huge asset for budding female entrepreneurs. There is no question studying for an MBA develops the leadership skills in women that will last a lifetime plus they increase earning potential, and marketability. However, if women are planning to open a small business like a retail store, yoga studio, or online business, then a better return on investment would be executive education as opposed to enrolling in a full-time MBA program.

Kellogg School of Management

According to the Executive MBA Council (EMBAC), the percentage of women pursuing an executive MBA increased from 27.6% in 2015 to 31.2% in 2019. The best MBA programs for women include Harvard Business School along with the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. The Kellogg School of Management also offers executive education that includes courses in general managementfamily enterprise, operations, and technology along with corporate governance.

Harvard Business School

The Harvard Business School MBA is a two-year fulltime general management curriculum with a focus on real-world practice where students learn through renowned case study instruction. Harvard Business School also offers executive education for both individuals and organizations that help those women achieve their potential in executive leadership roles. Particularly interesting is a virtual course they offer in Strategic Agility for Turbulent Times. 

The Wharton Business School

The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania is also known as the Wharton Business School that is a private ivy league university offering both executive MBA programs and real-time virtual programs in Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Beijing. Their programs are highly selective designed specifically for senior executives looking to influence and drive change within their organization. Their advanced management program is a five-week experience preparing women to take on new responsibilities by covering subjects such as strategy, leadership, finance, marketing, and innovation. Their executive development program prepares rising female executives to greater levels of success and prepares them to take on roles with more responsibility.

Berkely University of California

Berkeley University of California located in the heart of the San Francisco Bay area and Silicon Valley offers both Berkeley Executive Education and a Women’s Executive Leadership program designed to embrace a woman’s unique strengths and perspectives that they bring to the table.

Other top-tier international business schools

Other top-tier international business schools on the East Coast of the US include the Tuck School of Business (Hanover, New Hampshire), Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business (Durham, North Carolina) and Georgetown McDonough School of Business (Washington DC).

Although we are now seeing a raft of research that supports the benefits of women in leadership roles, there remains that gender gap at senior executive levels in larger organizations. Women still face challenges and although there is an abundance of leadership courses that will help women close the gap, the real work remains in attitudes. 

On a final note, there’s no question that an engaged female workforce benefits businesses across the board and a crucial aspect of an organization’s success. Men don’t always accurately assess what women experience in the workplace and their dissatisfaction with inequality worsens for women as they advance their career. Siri Chilazi, a research fellow at the Harvard John F. Kennedy School of Government says, “If the trajectory doesn’t change, the gender pay gap won’t close for another 40 years, maybe 100 years. Women need to stand up for themselves, negotiate more, and negotiate harder. When they do, research tells us that they can compete with men with greater success.

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