It’s only by setting an example that we’ll change things for the next generation of women.
How did you come to enrol on the GEMBA?
I’m lucky to work for a public-sector organisation that’s trying to innovate in a digitalising world. It was Eurocontrol that recognised it needs people with different skills and opened up a pilot programme to work with INSEAD. The air traffic control (ATC) business suits me in terms of technical skills. I applied for the GEMBA to complement them with business skills. I was one of the three people from Eurocontrol accepted in the programme. ATC is addictive, international and dynamic. People often compare it to financial trading. So an Executive MBA makes sense.
Did your employer support you through the programme too?
Yes, they helped with the two-thirds of the fees. They also contributed transport and accommodation costs. But, much more important than money, Eurocontrol treated the modules as time spent at work.
What kind of family support did you receive?
My husband also works for Eurocontrol. It was he who forwarded me the staff email and encouraged me to apply. Even though our kids are both in school and he works part-time, my absence for 70 days was still a challenge for us as a family. So my husband took extra time off – two months’ parental leave – while I was doing the programme.
An Executive MBA is a big commitment: something the whole family has to believe in.
Why do you think there are fewer women than men on the programme?
I grew up under communism in Bulgaria. Both my parents worked full time. So it seemed normal to focus on my career while my husband focuses on his. I also work in a business where quick decision-making is essential. I’ve learned that my best has to be good enough. But I’m very aware, especially since living in Western Europe, that many men and women don’t have this mindset. Self-doubt about skills and knowledge seems to be a big issue among women.
Has the investment you made in the programme paid off?
Halfway through the programme I was asked to become the leader of a cultural change project. I couldn’t have considered that without doing the GEMBA. It’s also enabled me to pass on some of the INSEAD learning to my team. I can’t believe what we already managed to achieve last year!
What are your long-term ambitions?
I’d like to bring good practices from the corporate world into the public sector – and vice versa. It’s not the same thing but there are lessons we can learn from each other, especially now that companies are becoming more concerned with their social responsibilities. I also think that other industries can learn a lot from the “no-blame” culture of aviation.
What were the main surprises of the programme?
The interaction with other participants and faculty members was extremely humbling. There are so many points of view out there.
If there’s one thing you learn at INSEAD, it’s that there are many other “normals”! The other big surprise was that I can manage with only four to five hours’ sleep. My mind was so busy that it wouldn’t stop asking questions and my brain cells kept working on full power. I called it my “INSEAD insomnia”. Learning at INSEAD was like drinking water from a firefighter’s hose.
Are you planning to go back to attend the elective courses?
I didn’t take my kids to campus during the programme, because I knew I wouldn’t have time for them during the programme. But I’d like to take them back to the electives now that I'm an alumna. It’s only by setting an example that we’ll change things for the next generation of women. One of my proudest moments was when my seven-year-old son told me he plans to stay at home and look after his children while his wife goes to university.
What final advice would you give future participants?
Be prepared to get more than you bargained for! Enrolling on the GEMBA is a bit like becoming a parent. You can read about it as much as you like, but you’ll only really understand it when you get there. And the more you put in, the more you’ll get back.
Milena is also featured in our article "Dare to be bold" showcasing a variety of GEMBA Alumnae.