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Business Schools Are Boosting The Number Of Top Female CEOs, Says Research

Half of female Fortune 100 CEOs have an MBA

Mon Nov 9 2015

Half of female Fortune 100 chief executive officers have MBA degrees, according to new research that underscores the link between top business schools and boardrooms.

Forté Foundation, the non-profit seeking to help women launch careers through access to business education, publishes the findings on Monday along with data showing that elite US schools are ramping up the number of women in their flagship MBA programs.

Elissa Sangster, executive director of the Forté Foundation, said that there is some evidence that earning an MBA is a “ticket to the top”.

She added that female gains at top business schools “should go a long way in building the senior leadership pipeline at companies and on boards”.

Maura Herson, director of the MBA program at MIT Sloan School of Management, told BusinessBecause: “In a time of increasing complexity, corporations must engage a diversity of perspectives in decision-making.” 

The research from Forté, whose sponsors include Boston Consulting Group, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase, shows that seven more US business schools hit 40% female MBA enrolment this year, reaching 12 in total and up from five in 2014.

The figure across 36 schools — among them Kellogg, Wharton, Tuck and Simon Graduate School of Business — has risen by nearly 4 percentage points over a five-year period, from 32% in 2011 to 36% in 2015.

Bill Boulding, dean of Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, said: “If we improve the diversity of the MBA workforce, we will help create the value society so badly needs from the business community.”

The female CEOs leading Fortune’s list of top companies by revenue include Stanford GSB’s Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, and Irene Rosenfeld, the chief executive of food group Mondelēz, who studied at Cornell’s Johnson School.

Other top executives also went to business school, including Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and author of Lean In, who graduated from the Harvard MBA. 

Erin Kellerhals, interim executive director of full-time MBA admissions at Berkeley-Haas School, said: “Gender equity makes good business sense. Decades of research by organizational scientists, psychologists, sociologists, ​and ​economists show that ​diverse ​groups are more innovative than homogeneous groups.”

fortune 100 ceos

Forté’s figures compound research published earlier this year from Cambridge Judge Business School, BNY Mellon and Newton Investment Management, which found that placing more women into education will lead to better representation of women in business.  

The findings come as the global business community strives to give more women a seat at boardroom tables. Recent research from McKinsey & Company, the consultancy, and LeanIn.Org found women make up just 17% of the executive suite.

Susan Vinnicombe, professor of women and leadership at Cranfield School of Management, who leads female FTSE board research, said: “There are more new women getting onto boards in the UK and countries that have quotas and various companies, such as Lloyds Bank, have become proactive in managing female talent.”

However Dr Shaheena Janjuha-Jivraj, associate professor at Henley Business School, said that while there are more women in leadership roles, “we need to ensure the pipeline for women is strong across organizations”.