The Importance of Executive Education

“Less than 35% of African Americans who begin college go on to earn their degrees.”

So said Suzanne Walsh, deputy director of Postsecondary Education at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in her introductory remarks at this morning’s BE Smart panel discussion, “Best in Class: Using Executive Education to Make Your Next Move.”

Although nearly everyone in the room had earned at least one degree, Walsh stressed the need to “not stop there,” and described the phenomenon of successful, mid-career women (and men) who continue their education through certificate programs and master’s degrees as a means of accomplishing their career goals.

Sponsored by the Gates Foundation, the panel comprised Marilyn Batchelor, chief brand officer and head of Global Marketing at Hidden Beach Experiences; Janet Bashen, founder and CEO of Bashen Corp.; and Pamela Mitchell, founder and CEO of the Reinvention Institute. The panel was expertly moderated by Sheryl Hilliard Tucker, director of Development and Marketing at AFS Intercultural Programs.

Hilliard Tucker described her own career move from journalism to philanthropy, and how additional education helped to “reset her mindset.”

“I already had a master’s in journalism, but now I needed to think in terms of ‘mission streams’ and not just revenue streams.”

One recurring theme was the need to set yourself apart. As Batchelor noted, completing the Harvard Executive Education program “put her in a separate class.”

Mitchell said, “We manage our careers today by building a constellation of skills that no one else possesses. This is a very powerful career strategy that helps you to stand out.”

Mitchell also advised avoiding the thinking that you need to complete an Ivy League program. “Set yourself apart by choosing a program that does best what you want to do. Harvard opens doors, but you can put together a package that will open doors for you.”

Bashen emphasized the need to develop soft skills, especially as a woman of color. “When I sit down at the negotiating table, the person on the other side has a certain perception of me, so lifelong learning, including learning soft skills, is critical for women of color.”

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