There is a range of factors that keep women out of the workforce. Social norms place the onus of care work on women, for which they lack adequate support or infrastructure. To add to that, most work environments are based on this gendered division of labour, with the long hours and the lack of flexible or remote work options. All of these pose challenges specific to women, yet our higher education system treats men and women the same and thus fails to prepare women for the unique environment they will have to navigate. This is especially true for management education, which is fast becoming a requisite for corporate success. A conventional business school may teach women how to get jobs, but not how to keep them. To exacerbate this, women often self-select out of the competitive business school rat race. According to the Association of MBAs, only 19% of students who applied for and enrolled in Indian business schools are women – the lowest ratio in the world.
How can we reimagine management education for women? This is where Vedica steps in.
The inception of Vedica
The Vedica Scholars Programme was established in 2015 as India’s first women’s-only management and leadership programme. It was founded by Anuradha Das Mathur, who was inspired by her time at the Fortune-U.S. Department of State Global Women’s Mentoring Partnership, and Pramath Raj Sinha, the force behind world-class Indian institutions like Ashoka University and Indian School of Business. Rooted in the belief that dignity and dependence cannot go hand-in-hand, the programme emphasises the importance of career-led financial independence for women.
“Vedica’s genesis lies in a conversation around women’s dignity – and the stark realisation that ‘dignity and dependence don’t go hand in hand’. And if we wanted women to live with dignity – they needed to be independent enough to reject anything lesser. Intellectual, emotional, physical and financial independence. And then the next realisation – that financial independence makes the other three a tiny bit easier. We needed a programme that helped women achieve financial independence – build and sustain their careers. Make sure that these young women ‘don’t quit’,” says Anuradha, the institute’s Dean.
Our founders envisioned Vedica as an alternative to a traditional MBA that can create a cadre of successful women professionals for India. In the 7 years since its inception, Vedica has grown from a cohort size of 30 to almost 120, graduating almost 400 students to date.
In India, admissions to traditional MBA programmes are based on a combination of standardised test scores and previous academic and professional performance. Such metrics offer a narrow view of the candidate’s calibre, and factors like exposure and language are often based on existing privilege. Instead, Vedica’s admissions process prioritises potential and aspiration, giving a diverse set of young women from across geographies and social strata access to management education.
Academics at Vedica differ from that at a typical management programme in two ways. Firstly, in addition to a core management studies track, the curriculum also offers courses from three other areas – communications, personal growth, and liberal arts – for a well-rounded programme that prepares Scholars for the professional world. Moreover, our Personal Growth track is tailored to women, with modules likeUnderstanding the Self, Building Resilience, Navigating Leadership Success, and Negotiation, to build the competencies that women need to overcome the challenges they face at the workplace.
But it takes more than skills for women to thrive at the workplace. Another critical factor is the presence of role models – successful women in positions of leadership who prove that women too, can make it to the top. Vedica’s Shadow a Women Leader module gives Scholars the opportunity to work with a senior woman professional for 8 weeks, exposing them to a wide range of female role models, each with their own skills and traits. The impact of this experience goes far beyond professional skills – be it dealing with bias, balancing work and home, and developing their own style of leadership – the module shows Scholars how the women before them did it ‘all’.
Rumani Agnihotri, who shadowed Aditi Shrivastava from the media company Pocket Aces says, “Shadowing (her) has been one of the most inspiring experiences for me. She is a fireball. We often hear how women need to be more assertive at the workplace – Aditi’s communication and leadership style is exemplary – it’s assertive and highly effective. I have learnt from her the art of getting things done while enjoying the process.” Post Vedica, Rumani joined Pocket Aces as an Associate Manager and Creative Producer.
As important as the institution’s academics are, ultimately a successful, sustained career requires a strong start, especially in a skill-based job market that prioritises experience over other factors. Vedica assures a befitting placement to every Scholar that allow them to support themselves financially and thus become independent.
Because of its unconventional approach, Vedica’s programme lacks accreditation from the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), the governing body for higher education in India. This sometimes limits Vedica’s reach, as Indian parents – who have a big say in their children’s higher education – still look for degree programmes rather than certificate courses.
But this perception is changing with every successful Scholar who joins the world of work. “For me, accreditation didn’t matter because I wanted to be in a space that gives me academic rigour and the opportunity to learn from really smart peers and faculty. Even when I was applying for jobs, no one really questioned the programme’s accreditation because bringing the right skills to the table is all that matters in the workplace. In fact, the network that I got from Vedica was really resourceful – all of my roles so far have somehow come from the network I built here – be it faculty or someone else on campus,” says Deepika Sodhi, Programme Implementation Manager at Coursera and a Vedica alumna.
Additionally, due to social norms about men’s and women’s careers, parents with limited resources are also a lot more likely to invest in their son’s education rather than their daughter’s. Despite the lack of funding, the programme is offered at half the fee of the average postgraduate management course at a top-tier Indian college, and we have awarded need-based scholarships to 150+ women.
We want to take Vedica’s opportunity to more and more deserving women across India. Be it through academic partnerships with Indian and international universities, executive education and corporate training programmes, or even Vedica-style personal growth modules for undergraduate college students, we want to empower India’s women to reclaim their agency and spark change. But while we will always strive to take Vedica to the world, we have realised that to affect change, we must also attempt to shape the world that we send our Scholars into. Thus, as Vedica slowly approaches its 10-year anniversary, our aim is to work with policymakers and industry to advocate for a better, more equal ecosystem for women. And of course, Vedica will continue to use education as a tool to create a new gender narrative in India and the world.
World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2006. https://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GenderGap_Report_2006.pdf
World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2021. https://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GGGR_2021.pdf
Association of MBAs (2020). Application and Enrolment Report. https://www.associationofmbas.com/app/uploads/2020/12/AMBA-app-enrol-report-2020-Final.pdf