Women Still Need Executive Education: Here’s How to Get Started

You would think a bachelor’s degree in business is enough for women to climb through the ranks into senior management. You would also consider a master’s degree in business is enough for women to promote into executive and C-Suite roles. If qualifications like this seem to be enough to move into a higher-level position for men, then why is there a need for women to attend executive management courses?

The higher you move up the corporate ladder, the less important your technical skills become, and the more critical your strategic thinking and leadership skills become. As you move into more senior-level positions, you will be tasked with managing people outside your knowledge base and level of expertise. For instance, as a marketer, you may not know the intricacies of corporate finance or information technology, or organizational change. You need to understand how these disciplines fit into an overarching business strategy and business goals and objectives.

There comes a time in a woman’s career where if they are in line for a promotion, a greater understanding of corporate management and strategy is essential to landing the role. No matter how many degrees you have under your belt or how seasoned you are as a manager, developing these skills is essential. 

You often find that highly successful female executives are great communicators who effectively communicate upline, downline, and across business functions. They also need to be good at dealing with the board. These skills aren’t necessarily taught in most bachelor’s and master’s degree programs, which is a key reason why leading business schools offer executive education.

What is an Executive Education?

Executive education is usually non-degree-granting and typically offered at business schools in addition to their degree programs. They consist of short-term classes or programs either delivered online or in-person that leads to a certificate. These programs vary in length and cover various business topics such as entrepreneurship, business operations, finance, and globalization. Depending on the business school, courses can also be very specific such as those in health care or executive development programs.

The Value of Executive Education

With leadership comes responsibility and the best way to prepare yourself is through executive education. 

Apart from an MBA, most undergraduate and post-graduate degrees offer a specialist degree such as marketing, information technology, human resources, or finance. However, specialist degrees don’t prepare women for higher-level positions where they need insights from other disciplines such as strategy, economics, and the behavioral fields to give them a step up the corporate ladder. With the fast-changing world of technological advances and artificial intelligence, we find digital transformation is quickly disrupting traditional business models. For emerging female leaders, it is essential to understand new trends shaping the industry and to incorporate this thinking into their overall business strategy. 

To meet the changing needs of a business, women more than ever need to keep pace. Training these future executives in the present is a great way to convert strategy into action. 

While women learn new skills through executive education, they can use what they learn to develop an organization’s strategic plan as a project on the job, a huge benefit to the organization. Women leaders must learn to anticipate the challenges in a competitive ever-increasing global market and see the opportunities that lie beyond the immediate horizon, making executive education so valuable.

If you consider the most outstanding leaders you’ve ever worked for, chances are they all share similar qualities. They were patient, understanding, empathetic, and above all, were able to motivate people to work together collaboratively to achieve shared goals and objectives. Many of these qualities are inherent in women. Leadership is not something that comes automatically with a title; it’s about helping others grow and prosper, skills that can be learned and nurtured through ongoing executive education.

Business schools are often a preferred provider of executive education as they carry more credibility supported by world-class researchers and professors. Not only do these schools offer executive education for individuals, but they also provide customized education programs for corporate customers. What is encouraging are the online executive education programs that are offered exclusively for women.

Types of Courses Being Offered 

Recent Training Industry Research found that while leadership training is often delivered through instructor-led training and on-the-job training, this has its limitations. Training is different from education. Training implies the act of imparting skills or behaviors at an operational level. Training doesn’t teach people how to think; it trains them on how to do.  On the job training is usually offered to all employees irrespective of their level on the corporate ladder. Executive education delivered through a recognized institute develops a sense of judgment and reasoning in emerging leaders. 

Many business schools have had to adapt to the new reality that virtual learning is now at the forefront of executive education because of the coronavirus pandemic. They’ve moved many of their in-person programs online for health and safety concerns. They’ve discovered that there are many benefits of offering virtual programs now that many have mastered the art of video conferencing and are more comfortable with e-learning and virtual platforms. This seems to be a trend that will continue in the future as online learning is cheaper to support and deliver. For participants, it negates the need for travel and accommodation costs. Employers benefit because it doesn’t take their people away from a busy working environment.  

How Much Does Executive Education Cost?

This is an open-ended question because it depends on the school, the duration, the delivery modality, and the topic. You see short programs that might start at $999 a week. In contrast, others range up to $85,000 in the case of the Harvard Business School Advanced Management program aimed at senior executives in the C-suite central to the companies succession plans.

The cost of executive education programs is often sponsored by the organization itself, which is relatively inexpensive for the employee to get exposure to the latest trends, research, and business thinking that has a multiplier effect when transferring their learnings back into the workplace. Educating those employees with high-level potential is a relatively small investment that potentially delivers exponential results.

If you are considering executive education as part of your research, in addition to cost, It’s important to ask the following questions:

  • Can you sign up anytime, or do these programs have a fixed start and end date?
  • How many hours a week will you need to dedicate to the online component and any associated follow-up activity.
  • Are the programs delivered live, and do they have replays if you miss the live session?
  • Are the programs self-paced, or do they have a specific time frame in which they need to be completed? 
  • What technology is required for you to access these online courses?
  • What resources and support will the school provide?
  • Will you gain instant access to their resources immediately upon registration?

Answers to all of these questions will help determine what business schools and programs are right for you.

Where to Find Online Executive Courses

If you are looking for a prestigious business school, the first place to start is with the Ivy League top-tiered schools.

Harvard Business School

Harvard Business School offers a range of Executive Education virtual programs for both individuals and organizations. Their courses range from $45,500 to $85,000 depending on the program. 

The HBS Executive Education virtual program is an experience that allows you to become fully immersed in the virtual learning experience. You will be able to connect with world-class professors and other executives. They also offer a Women in Leadership: Online Programs for Emerging Leaders from only $1,690.

Stanford Business School

Stanford Business School offers a range of online programs full-time and part-time, including courses on-demand and with same-day access. Their pricing starts from $1,500 for on-demand courses, and to enroll in their online business program; the fee is $19,000 requiring a 5-10 hours a week commitment for 12 months. 

Gaining access to the latest thinking on leadership, the Stanford Business Leadership Series also offers live sessions online besides viewing recorded sessions to watch in your own time starting at $995 for each one-week module or $3,500 to access all five modules.


At MIT Sloan, you can attend their courses virtually anywhere, having expanded their online and distance learning opportunities. Most of their upcoming on-campus courses have been converted to live online (real-time/synchronous) programs. Their live online classes are credited as an “in-person” program for an Executive Certificate and the Advanced Certificate for Executives.

MIT offers a range of self-paced asynchronous programs that cover Management and Leadership, Strategy and Innovation, Technology, Operations, and Value Chain Management. Their online programs start at $2,800 up to around $4,800, depending on the course.

Yale School of Management

Like many other universities, Yale School of Management has moved many of its executive courses online. 

Yale School of Management offers specific executive programs tailored to women. For instance, the Women’s Leadership Program Live and Online program fee is $4,950 and runs for six weeks. This virtual format allows women to easily engage in learning while still leading busy lives and will enable them to connect with other like-minded women. 

Notre Dame

Notre Dame offers a very affordable 4-week online Women in Leadership executive program for just $1,200. Their program covers Building Strategic Leadership Skills, Cultivating Resilience and Living a Fully Integrated Life, Negotiations, and Conflict Resolution for Women along with Levering Network, and Building Strong Relationships. Interactive content is delivered in a virtual classroom with 24/7 access, and what’s more, Notre Dame is ranked in thetop 5% of best colleges in the nation.

Cornell University

Cornell University offers a Women in Leadership Certificate Program, which emphasizes the issues women face in leadership positions. Women come away from this program with a greater understanding of gender disparity and learn strategies for dealing with these issues. This course aims at women with 3-10 years of experience aspiring to move into leadership roles and women who are-middle-to-senior level managers.

How to Choose The Right Program

A good executive education program will blend formal and informal learning opportunities with opportunities to transfer these learnings onto real-life on-the-job scenarios.

Everyone has their own motivation for attending an executive education program, whether it’s preparing for a new role, staying abreast of innovations, or improving leadership skills. If you’re still early in your leadership journey, it would be wise to test the waters with smaller providers at a level you can afford. If you are further along in your career and aiming for high-level leadership roles, it’s wise to look for programs that provide excellent insight into strategy.

Suppose you aspire to land yourself a role in the C-Suite, in that case, certainly, executive education programs from well-known and prestigious business schools will carry more weight and perhaps sway an employer’s decision to hire you. If you aspire to become a better leader and sit your career out in middle management, tapping into an online resource like Coursera will give you a range of programs more suited to your goals.

The executive program and institution you choose to study will be based on your career aspirations and funding. Before making that decision, check out if your organization has a corporate education budget where they are prepared to invest in your continuing growth. 

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