Bill Boulding, dean of Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, which has 36% female MBAs, said that we need the best and brightest women in the game.
“If we improve the diversity of the MBA workforce, we will help create the value society so badly needs from the business community,” he said.
The data are from Forté Foundation, the non-profit seeking to help women launch business careers through access to education, which is backed by IBM, Credit Suisse and Citi.
Female MBA enrolment among 36 top US schools — including Rice Jones, Columbia and Robert H. Smith — has risen by nearly 4 percentage points over a five-year period, from 32% in 2011 to 36% in 2015.
Erin Kellerhals, interim executive director of full-time MBA admissions for Berkeley-Haas School, told BB: “Diversity in the classroom is a critical factor in our learning environment.”
Leading the pack are Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, Wharton School and Simon Graduate School of Business, which all have 43% women MBAs. Dartmouth’s Tuck School has 42%; Harvard Business School and Chicago Booth both have 41.5%.
George Washington University’s business school, Yale School of Management, Michigan State's Broad College and Olin Business School, all posted female MBA enrolment of 40%. For MIT Sloan and UC Berkeley’s Haas School, the figure is 41%.
“Every percentage point gain is not only hard earned, but something to celebrate,” said Elissa Sangster, executive director at Forté Foundation, who added that schools are working to close the gap “significantly” in the next five years.
Forté’s research suggested that “earning an MBA is a ticket to the top”, she added, as 50% of female Fortune 100 chief executives have the degree, such as Stanford’s Mary Barra at General Motors.
Maura Herson, director of the MBA program at MIT Sloan School of Management, said: “For women to contribute consistently and well at senior levels they need more opportunities to acquire the wisdom of both education and experience.”
Many schools have strived to offer a market to women with recruitment initiatives and women-specific sources of funding, such as scholarships.
This has been a slow response to the historic low female representation in top programs. The percentage of MBA degrees awarded to women in the US has languished at around 35% over the past decade, according to AACSB, the industry body.
Susan Vinnicombe, professor of women and leadership at Cranfield School of Management, said that business schools must market their programs better to women and introduce more incentives to attend, such as bursaries.
US schools’ results come as business education globally warms to diversity. In the UK at Lancaster University Management School, half the MBA class is comprised of women, up from 30% in 2005. At Warwick Business School the figure is 38%, up 18% over the same period.
The success of business schools in increasing their diversity comes as businesses come under growing pressure to recruit and retain female talent. Research this year by the Graduate Management Admissions Council found that women make up only 21% of senior management positions in the US.
Sally Gillespie, a full-time female MBA student at Aston Business School, which announced recently it had hit 50% female MBA enrolment, said: “It's fantastic that there are so many women in the course, as it reinforces the fact that there is no glass ceiling for us professionally and that we are able to aim high for senior positions.”
However, Dianne Bevelander, executive director of the Erasmus Centre for Women and Organizations at Rotterdam School of Management, said that addressing the gender challenge will take more than simply recruiting more women.
“Our academic and administrative leadership too often mirrors business in being overwhelmingly male-dominated,” she said.