Women@Darden Initiative Adds to UVA Darden Drive Toward Inclusive Excellence

By Dave Hendrick

School Aims to Build on Momentum of Recent Record Number of Admitted Women

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business reported record measures of academic excellence and diversity in the Full-Time and Executive MBA Class of 2023 — including a record percentage of women in the student body. As part of Darden’s drive toward inclusive excellence, which includes sustained efforts in the areas of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging, the Women@Darden initiative aims to sustain and grow the momentum and to ultimately make Darden the graduate business school of choice for women leaders across the world.

“Business schools play a critical role in helping workers, companies and leaders adapt to meet the needs of the 21st-century workforce, and the Darden School is committed to its values for an inclusive community that enables its global and diverse members to collaborate and excel,” said Darden Dean Scott Beardsley. “This includes expanding opportunities and access for women to top business schools like Darden and an experience that prepares them for exciting careers as leaders.”

The Women@Darden initiative delivers positive impact across multiple dimensions through a focus on building connections and lasting relationships between Darden Admissions, students, faculty and alumnae. Initiatives include:

  • A broad focus on attracting more female applicants to all formats of the Darden MBA and supporting their development as leaders while at Darden and after graduation. Darden Admissions will host a number of female-focused events with professors and student leaders in the coming weeks and months, which will be open to all applicants and incoming students.
  • Innovations in the MBA experience, including diversity of protagonists within assigned cases, more opportunities for honest community conversations, the growth of allyship across the organization and more.
  • The launch of new scholarships from the University of Virginia Darden School Foundation for trailblazing women, including through the Impact Fellows and Breakthrough Scholars
  • A new Women@Darden web presence focused on forging connections between prospective and current students, faculty and alumni.
  • Ongoing thought leadership from the Darden faculty, and a stream of ideas flowing from new faculty members such as Allison Elias, Toni Irving, Carolyn Miles, Vivian Riefberg and Melissa Thomas-Hunt, who joined the School from organizations including Save the Children, McKinsey & Co. and Airbnb, among others. Cutting-edge insights will continue to be delivered through the Darden Ideas to Action collection on Women in Business.

Across key industries, women remain dramatically underrepresented in leadership roles, with roughly 6 percent of S&P 500 company CEO positions held by women. Business schools like Darden can be change agents, helping companies drive greater diversity and resulting in better business outcomes.

“Too often, women do not envision their path into business,” said Darden Senior Associate Dean for Professional Degree Programs Yael Grushka-Cockayne. “No matter your background, Darden is a phenomenal place to gain expertise in general management, deepen one’s understanding of business, and learn and grow into a leader. Women@Darden efforts aim to ensure women from around the world see a place for themselves in the business  community in general, and in the Darden community specifically: as a student, learner, or faculty and staff member.”

Connect With Darden Women at Upcoming Sessions

The Darden Class of 2023 included a record percentage of women in the Full-Time MBA and Executive MBA, at 40 percent and 46 percent, respectively.

Prospective students interested in learning more about the Darden School can join a number of upcoming sessions. Professor Allison Elias, who joined Darden ahead of the 2021–22 academic year and whose book, The Roots of Corporate Feminism: Women in the American Workplace Since 1960 (Columbia University Press), will soon be published, and Professor Toni Irving, who launched and led a social impact fund before Darden and who teaches the course “Getting in the Room Where It Happens: How to Successfully Navigate the Workplace and Get Things Done,” will headline events in early December.

Upcoming sessions include:

New Scholarships Aim to Attract Top Candidates  

The Darden School Foundation offers numerous merit-based scholarships to aspiring MBA students, including many available to women. New for the 2021–22 academic year, the Breakthrough Scholars and Impact Fellows programs offer scholarships and dedicated resources for women and underrepresented minorities.

  • The Breakthrough Scholars program intends to foster a new generation of diverse leadership in private equity, venture capital (VC), hedge funds and other areas of asset management.
  • The Impact Fellows, which launched with a group of 19 students in the Full-Time MBA Class of 2023, including 13 women, features an array of mentorship and leadership development opportunities.

Driven by a student-led initiative, there has also been renewed energy around showing the full range of female leadership through Darden cases. As the second-largest case publisher in the United States, Darden Business Publishing’s cases, technical notes and simulations are used in more than 130 countries around the world, providing an opportunity to show diverse leaders in action. Last year, roughly half of new Darden cases featured a female protagonist.

New Website Offers Resources for Prospective Students; Current Students Continue to Lead

The new Women@Darden website is a hub for connecting prospective students with activities that may be of particular interest to female applicants. It includes alumni, faculty and student profiles, and opportunities to engage with alumni and current Darden students. The site also includes news and information on student organizations and clubs.

The Graduate Women in Business (GWIB) and Network of Executive Women (NEW) are student organizations in the Full-Time MBA and Executive MBA programs, respectively, that have been instrumental in co-creating the student experience at Darden. Leaders from both organizations frequently host virtual chats for prospective students, offer mentoring and networking opportunities for prospective and admitted students, and more.

Full-Time MBA students recently hosted the 2021 Graduate Women in Business Leadership Conference, which featured sessions, workshops and keynotes with faculty, thought leaders and alumni. Programming highlights included sessions on mentorship and sponsorship, a female entrepreneur fair and workshops on charting a fulfilling career path, among other topics.

Similarly, the recent Darden Virtual Diversity Conference brought together hundreds of prospective students from around the world to engage in discussions about the road to a more diverse, equitable business world.

In 2021, in partnership with the Forte Foundation and GWIB, Darden students launched an Allies for Gender Equity group, which has hosted a conference and offered training for all First Year sections and faculty and staff.

Darden alumnae have also led grassroots efforts to create Women@Darden alumnae affinity groups, and there are now distinct Women@Darden groups in eight different U.S. cities.

Women@Darden faculty advisers, who are featured on the site, include Grushka-Cockayne, Miles (MBA ’88), the former CEO of Save the Children, and Riefberg, a former senior partner with McKinsey & Co. who has been named to the advisory council for the new Smithsonian American Women’s History Museum.

Darden expects to announce more initiatives related to Women@Darden in the coming months.

About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business prepares responsible global leaders through unparalleled transformational learning experiences. Darden’s graduate degree programs (MBA, MSBA and Ph.D.) and Executive Education & Lifelong Learning programs offered by the Darden School Foundation set the stage for a lifetime of career advancement and impact. Darden’s top-ranked faculty, renowned for teaching excellence, inspires and shapes modern business leadership worldwide through research, thought leadership and business publishing. Darden has Grounds in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the Washington, D.C., area and a global community that includes 18,000 alumni in 90 countries. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.


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Darden School of Business
University of Virginia