We can do it!

Young women from the latest generation of business majors want to be executives, entrepreneurs, CEOs and moms, too

September, 2017

They may be young, but the women graduating from business schools these days already know what they want and they’re shooting for the stars.


They’re passionate, assertive, organized, ambitious, altruistic and well-trained – often with many sets of business skills. They can manage, analyze, work with complex data, design public relations campaigns and schmooze clients. They also care about their communities, know how to raise money and, yes, along the way they want to have children – by mastering the tricky tightrope of work and family. They understand that gender inequities remain, but they expect those injustices to continue falling in the coming decades.

“The women who come into the program are pretty driven,” says Shidler College of Business graduate advisor Lee Higa-Okamoto. “They come in knowing it’s going to be tough and demanding, and is going to help them in their career. But they make it happen.

“I’ve been here since 2013 and for every class I’ve been a part of, we’ve had at least one baby born. It’s amazing they are able to balance a full-time school schedule and give birth, or in some cases they’re even working part-time. I’ve had MBAs that have taken just two weeks off (after giving birth) and then they’re back in the classroom.”
One long-time business professor is particularly proud of how her students are tech-savvy, inquisitive and goal-driven.

“Based on my 29 years of teaching experience, female students can aim high and achieve their goals if given a nurturing and encouraging environment,” says Hawai‘i Pacific University associate professor Wendy Lam, co-chair of Hospitality & Tourism Management in HPU’s College of Business, in an email. “In general, women business students are willing to take initiative and lead if they are being mentored and encouraged.”

Nikki Oka

“I’m very fortunate to have grown up in a world post the women’s rights movement.”

More and more women are enrolling in undergraduate and graduate business programs – sometimes equaling or surpassing the number of men. They’re moving into traditional male fields and expect to be executives with solid paychecks, even though big money is rarely a major objective.

“My goal is to find an information systems position with a company where I can grow and take on new challenges, where I can learn and build a career,” says Elizabeth Quach, a Shidler student in finance and management information systems who will graduate in the spring of 2018. “Ultimately I’d like to assume more management responsibilities and maybe end up as CEO.”
Quach and her classmates understand they stand on the shoulders of women who broke barriers and cracked the glass ceiling.

“I’m very fortunate to have grown up in a world post the women’s rights movement,” she says. “I have the career choices even my mother didn’t have growing up. Now there are more and more women CEOs who do have families. It’s very doable.”

Quach, just 20, plans to build her career and figures it won’t be until her 30s that she’ll begin thinking of a family. The CEO part can come later, she says.

“A lot of my friends, we all want to start in an industry first. A lot talk about starting their own businesses. A lot do strive to be at the top or in top management. Everyone has a goal of being a CFO or a CEO. A lot of my friends are really driven.”

“(For now) I’m planning to focus on world experience.”

Nikki Oka has big goals. The 22-year-old Shidler graduate has five- and 10-year plans for her future, and re-evaluates and retools every six months to ensure her career is on track. This graduate with a major in international business focusing on Asia is currently working at HONOLULU, one of Hawaii Business’ sister publications. But she starts soon on a series of internships ranging from Vietnam to Eastern Europe.

“For the next six months – and then the next year – I’m planning to focus on world experience,” says Oka. “I’m leaving for a long time of travel and volunteering abroad. I plan to start in Hanoi – Shidler has connections there, as well as an executive MBA program in Vietnam – and I would like to meet people there and find out about their experiences.”

From Vietnam she plans to go on to Thailand, Myanmar, the Philippines, India and Nepal, and then work her way across Eastern Europe. She hopes to spend time interning with the American Chamber of Commerce, perhaps either in Malaysia or Japan.

“I want to do a lot of volunteering in smaller places that really need help,” says Oka. “I found some organizations I’d really like to help out, such as schools for special needs children in India.”

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By Beverly Creamer | photography by David Croxford