B-Schools Step Up Efforts to Close the MBA Gender Gap

B-Schools Step Up Efforts to Close the MBA Gender Gap

The push to close the gender gap in B-schools and the workplace has taken on greater urgency in the past year, as gender parity in MBA programs continues to elude schools, despite some improvements. Many are teaming with non-profits such as Forté Foundation and the National Association of Women MBAs, holding networking events for women and offering scholarships. Forté Executive Director Elissa Sangster told Bloomberg Businesweek:

The more women you have in classrooms, the more women who want to come to your business school.

The share of women to receive full-time MBA degrees from US schools was below 38% from mid-2012 through mid-2017, according to AACSB International, an accrediting organization. Also, since 2012 the number of women applying to full-time MBA programs has “hit a plateau,” according to a 2017 paper from the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC). Meanwhile, about 21% of S&P 500 company board members are women. Ellen Taaffe, the director of women’s leadership programs at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management (US), says:

If we can get more women to come into business school, that’s a way to build the pipeline to effect change longer term. This is not a women’s issue. It’s a human issue.

Investing in women

Kellie McElhaney teaches The Business Case for Investing in Women at the University of California at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business (US). First offered in 2013, the course was initially based on McElhaney’s research that showed a strong correlation between the number of women in leadership roles and how well companies perform. She found that companies with greater numbers of women in leadership have higher share prices and better returns on equity and investment.

Check out: B-schools Use Online MBA Programmes to Attract Women

McElhaney says business schools must commit to developing leaders who champion diversity. The popularity of her course and heightened interest culturally around its themes led McElhaney and the school to launch the Center for Equity, Gender, and Leadership in November. Through specialized courses, fellowships, and student research teams, McElhaney wants the center to help graduate more women—and men—who understand the business value of equity and how to achieve it. Today’s generation of students is frustrated by the slow pace of progress, she says.

The competition to draw female applicants is intensifying. Right now, schools are spending a lot of energy on trying to attract female MBAs, says Pam Delany, director of recruiting and admissions at Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business (US). In 2015 the school announced it would grant scholarships to cover tuition for all students, male and female, accepted into its full-time MBA program. The share of women enrolled rose to 39% in 2017, from 30% when the scholarship was created. Carey’s dean, one of only a handful of female B-school deans in the US, and mentorships with senior executives are also a draw, Delany says.

Achieving parity is only an initial step

In 2015 the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business (US) pledged parity by 2020. Women made up about 34% of its full-time MBA intake last fall, less than when it committed. In an email to Bloomberg Businessweek, Smith School Dean Alex Triantis said:

We will not back away from the challenge. Having a goal has created a greater sense of urgency.

Achieving parity is only an initial step—the biggest hurdle is getting businesses to change their corporate cultures to create more equitable workplaces, says Julie McReynolds, national director of operations at the National Association of Women MBAs. There is a perception in the business world that ‘oh, this problem is solved,’ and it’s really not, Kellogg’s Taaffe says.

Columbia Business School MBA candidate Lindy Gould, whose Instagram bio describes her as a “lover of bananas, half-marathons, and dismantling the patriarchy,” is eager to help underrepresented groups. She was elected co-president of her MBA program in March. She says schools should do more, from hiring diversity officers to requiring classes on managing diverse teams. She doesn’t think that’s a crazy thing to ask.

Check out: Women in Business School

Gould’s plan is to work in diversity and inclusion when she graduates next year, then run for local office in New York. She says she was drawn to B-school by “the challenge of moving into a more male-dominated space and carving out a larger space for women.

I wanted to push myself to lead in spaces that I don’t think were designed for me to lead in.

Source: Bloomberg Businessweek


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