Sexual Discrimination Scandals Are Engulfing Elite US Business Schools

String of high-profile cases threaten to overshadow gender diversity initiatives

Are business schools bastions of misogyny? For one, at least, it may have seemed so this week.

On Monday reports revealed the University of Colorado's Business School paid a former business school staffer $40,000 to settle a federal gender discrimination complaint. Robin Milglaresse, the former associate director of operations for executive education, claimed she’d resigned because David Ikenberry, the dean, and other officials created a hostile work environment and discriminated against her for being female and over the age of 40.

Far from being an isolated incident, Robin’s is one of serial complaints at CU. It’s the third gender discrimination case filed with the employment commission in the past three years. One was dismissed in April. The third is still pending. And while you could confine the trend to CU, more high-profile examples of gender discrimination at business schools have seemingly been rife this past year.

In March, Enrichetta Ravina, an assistant professor of finance at New York’s Columbia Business School, filed a $20 million lawsuit against the school claiming that she was subjected to gender discrimination and sexual harassment. In October, Garth Saloner, then dean at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, resigned amid a sex scandal and accusations from 46 current and former employees that there was “a hostile work environment” that differentiated “on the basis of gender and age”.

The string of scandals threaten to overshadow the hard work business schools have put into rebalancing their male-dominated staff and student cohorts.

These are good times for business education. Applications to the flagship full-time MBA are approaching pre-crisis levels. A record number of top US business schools hit fresh gender diversity milestones last year. For institutions that pride themselves on developing leaders who can handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically, and that council high-powered women on how to overcome gender stereotypes, recent headlines will be alarming.

At CU, not only has the school paid the plaintiff but, as part of the settlement, has forked out a further $7,800 for business school leaders to receive training on “emotional intelligence”.

The irony may not be lost on high-flying female managers who are considering splashing out $200,000 on a top MBA degree. Nor on female faculty, who Sunil Kumar, the out-going dean of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, confesses are hard to hire and hold: “Retention and promotion is a challenge for us,” he says, with feeling.

With the gender pay gap growing wider as graduates progress, and female directors holding just 15% of board seats in the US, women need no more reasons to feel disenfranchised with the business elite.

Education is often championed as the key to economic empowerment. Perhaps if more schools practiced what they preached, gender inequality would not be so rife in business and academia. The share (37%) of women enrolled in MBA programs across the board has barely moved in a decade, according to figures from education body AACSB. Or, as Judy Olian, dean of UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, puts it, “There’s a huge way to go.”

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