My experience as a business leader in a male-dominated industry | Top Universities

My experience as a business leader in a male-dominated industry

By Aisha Khan

Updated July 5, 2023 Updated July 5, 2023

Before embarking on an MBA at Asia School of Business (ASB) in Kuala Lumpur, Amanda Montagner spent several years working in logistics in her native country of Brazil.  

Although she progressed to a supervisor position, she was keen to work on big solutions and find international career opportunities.  

Created in collaboration with the Central Bank of Malaysia and MIT Sloan School of Management (MIT is ranked as the best university in the world according to the QS World University Rankings 2024), ASB is one of the most selective and prestigious business schools in Malaysia.  

Students are taught the same rigorous curriculum as the MBA programme at MIT and benefit from exposure to the Asian business environment. 

Here’s what Amanda had to say about her MBA experience and the impact on her career. 

Understanding cultural differences 


According to Amanda, one of the biggest benefits in studying an MBA is learning to work with colleagues from different cultures.  

“The practical learning element of the MBA, including networking and exposure to different companies, means that you’re learning how to deal with people from different backgrounds. 

“I once had a disagreement with a former classmate of mine during a group project. We were both from engineering backgrounds, but he was adamant that he knew what the best solution was.  

“He was very direct in the way he spoke which I first thought came across as rude, but I realised that he had a different communication style which I wasn’t used to. We were eventually able to find middle ground and understand our cultural differences. Our project ended up with one of the highest scores.” 

When dealing with conflict in a work environment, Amanda recommends trying to see things from the other colleague’s perspective.  

“Whenever conflict crops up, I take a step back and observe the situation without any bias I may have of a particular culture. I try to see the good in everyone without assuming that my colleagues have bad intentions. 

“We had a professor that was particularly harsh at times but after we graduated, she told us she acted that way purposefully in order to help us grow faster. I think in those scenarios, removing that bias is useful as you realise people are not mistreating you.” 

Amanda also recommends immersing yourself in different cultures, especially if you’re studying in a new country or have classmates from around the world. “I tried food from various types of cuisines during my studies. It sounds simple but it’s about being open minded towards other cultures.” 

Battling sexism in the workplace 

Amanda at graduation

A significant challenge throughout Amanda’s career has been gender discrimination. When working in logistics at AB InBev, Amanda’s team was predominantly male, and she often felt she wasn’t taken seriously at times. 

“Inappropriate comments were made about my appearance, for example, but I tried to not let it affect me. It wasn’t until I was promoted and was in charge of 20 men, most of whom were older than me, that I found it really hard to earn respect as a female leader. 

“Many colleagues were resistant to any kind of change I tried to implement or were unwilling to use new technology. It took a while and after many serious conversations, I was able to get my colleagues onboard.” 

So, what advice does Amanda have for women working in business industries that are often male dominated? “It’s important to be brave and remember that any of the judgement or comments aren’t a reflection on you.  

“Things are changing in business and discussions are being had around female empowerment. It’s unfortunate that being a female leader in business is a minority, but I would use that to your advantage. You have a perspective that your male colleagues don’t, and you can bring value. 

“Speak up if you feel uncomfortable. Some colleagues think they’re being nice when making comments about your clothing or putting a hand on your shoulder but it’s best to set boundaries as soon as possible. 

“You may assume that small comments are harmless, but they do build up in your subconscious and alter your behaviour. For example, in the past, I’ve dressed more masculine to avoid attention. That’s why it’s important to speak up and not worry about coming across as rude.” 

Transition to entrepreneur  

When Amanda graduated from ASB, Covid hit, and she wasn’t able to pursue opportunities in Asia as she’d planned. 

“I spent a lot of time during lockdown thinking and reflecting. I decided that I wanted to study, even if the skills learned weren’t directly related to my career, so I took courses in finance, investing money, and digital marketing.” 

As Covid eased, she found a senior research analyst job in Puerto Rico, eventually becoming a product manager. “Although the role didn’t pan out in the long-term, my salary was considerably larger compared to my earnings in Brazil and having an MBA meant a lot of doors opened for me internationally. 

Amanda now works as a consultant for Montage, a service platform that connects customers with local professionals, as well as freelance work, helping business in the engineering space. 

She has also pursued her long-term dream of wanting to become an entrepreneur. “As a child, I was interested in saving and earning my own money. Sometimes we struggled with finances as a family, so I understood the importance of being financially independent.”  

“Although I do a lot of consulting for business, I realised my interests stem from personal growth and helping people find out what they want to do. This year I started a mentoring programme, with the long-term goal of helping Brazilians from remote areas find job opportunities. 

“Some of the work I’m doing also involves going to schools. I think it’s important to show kids that it’s possible to pursue a successful career even if you don’t come from a wealthy background.” 

This article was originally published in July 2023 .

Want more content like this Register for free site membership to get regular updates and your own personal content feed.

Explore Events

Get assisted by higher education experts

Our expert teams can help start your academic journey by guiding you through the application process.

Related Articles Last year

Most Shared Last year

Most Read Last year