It’s safe to say that studying at Oxford wasn’t my plan originally. In fact, the thought hadn’t occurred to me. I was planning on travelling to Canada to study for an Executive MBA. That was until a friend of mine mentioned that they had studied the Oxford Executive Diploma in Strategy and Innovation a few years ago and recommended it.
After speaking to them about the programme, it was clear that having the University of Oxford on your CV, benefitting from the knowledge of Oxford faculty, and being connected to the wider ecosystem of the School and University, including initiatives such as the Creative Destruction Lab, meant that you gained such a greater, wider value. You weren’t just attending a study programme, the whole experience was a nurturing opportunity, both personally and professionally.
As this new path of possibility began to unfold before me, I found myself grappling with three important questions:
1. Am I Oxford material?
Of course, I began by questioning whether I was Oxford material or not. I’m sure I’m not alone here; I think it’s very common for women to question whether they are good enough, if they are doing enough and whether they are of Oxford calibre. It’s easy for the tradition, heritage, and prestige of the University to make you feel a bit intimidated at the prospect of applying.
Knowing what I do now, I didn’t need to worry. Everyone I have met through the diploma programme has been so encouraging – in my experience it’s not an elitist institution at all. The friendly staff and faculty made me realise who I could be and what I could achieve through the diploma and offered me the support and encouragement to make these ambitions a reality. Part of that is down to the people you meet on the programme, the other is due to the structure of the diploma itself – it’s designed to place a real emphasis on community, networking, and connection, which is exactly how I like to do business.
To address any female readers directly who might be struggling with this question: the Oxford Executive Diplomas encourage you to become who you really are and to break your shell. Surrounded by all the amazing people in your cohort and all the different backgrounds they come from, it’s really easy to see your way forward and the actions you need to take to push yourself further, both professionally and personally.
The Oxford experience is about breaking down walls and boundaries and the in-person format is really crucial to achieving this. You can have your authentic voice. You will be appreciated. You will be supported, encouraged, and inspired. It’s a foot in the door to push forward and achieve greater things. That’s how the programme has inspired me.
2. Will there be other people like me?
As a sole female business founder from Turkey with a creative and social impact background, I wondered how I would fit in. I initially had this preconceived idea that studying at a top business school would involve a lot of people in blazers and suits making critical corporate decisions and that the learning experience would be very formal and less dynamic.
I think it’s quite common to think that it would be only people from corporate or financial backgrounds on a business school programme, but that couldn’t be further from the truth here. My classmates are the most amazing, lively, fun, and talented group of people from so many different backgrounds and walks of life. When you arrive in Oxford for the first time you suddenly realise: there is no norm!
The diversity of backgrounds and perspectives represented in your cohort makes for a great opportunity to expand your network and forge new friendships. Considering ideas and challenges through other people’s eyes and experiences shifts your viewpoint and has helped to reshape how I see business or approach a certain topic. That mixture of experiences and different lenses has been incredibly interesting.
The Executive Diploma in Strategy and Innovation itself is also very forward-thinking and stitches together different perspectives and approaches in a way that appeals and applies to any background. The readings, learnings and case studies range from the 70s through to today, and after studying these and attending the sessions, you often find yourself thinking ‘I had never thought of that in that way.’
Over the course of the modules, you start piecing the puzzle together, then you add the faculty and cohort visions in, and you feel like you have ‘arrived’. You have completed the puzzle. It’s this learning approach that really enhances your view of the world, expands your perspective, and broadens your horizons.
Equally, the School works hard to support individual action, weave in the different experiences of the class and to ensure that everyone is included, which makes for a very motivating experience.
3. What will I gain from the programme?
For me, I knew the diploma was going to feel like a big learning curve as I’ve been away from the corporate world for some time. However, I did have some objectives that I wanted to accomplish. I joined the programme wanting to boost my creativity and advance my strategic toolkit so I could bring new approaches and innovative solutions to my clients.
Looking back, the return on investment has been both professional and personal. It has been a great opportunity to consider how the corporate world has expanded over the past decade and how that has informed what I do as an entrepreneur and female business owner. The structured approaches and practical frameworks we have learnt have also helped me to bridge the gaps that I felt existed before, seek the answers I was looking for, and have given me fresh ideas for how I can integrate them both into my personal life and business.
On a personal level, the Executive Diploma in Strategy and Innovation has inspired me to keep speaking up for others and to help change the narrative around causes that I feel passionate about. I feel so free to speak up and share my ideas here at Oxford Saïd.
In the past, people couldn’t see my wider vision. At times, it was almost like I was crazy to have the ambitious goals that I have. But when I arrived in Oxford, I found that I wasn’t alone. People don’t think I’m crazy here. They encourage me and spur me on.