But a group of elite US business schools are trying to champion the crucial yet often overlooked role men play in helping to close the gap in the top ranks of business.
Harvard Business School, The Wharton School, and Columbia Business School are among 10 top MBA programs fostering the creation of male-led gender equity groups on campus.
The initiative, Men As Allies, is spearheaded by Forté Foundation, a consortium of schools and companies promoting gender equality in business.
The initiative leverages the momentum of business schools’ “Manbassadors” programs, such as those at London Business School, NYU’s Stern School of Business, and Stanford Graduate School of Business.
As the focus shifts from encouraging women to enter the workforce to creating a more inclusive environment in which they can thrive, men’s role has grown in importance.
Diversity initiatives must be led from the top ranks of business and that layer is largely male dominated. Men can also help in taking down one of the biggest hurdles to women's career advancement — unconscious bias.
Previously, male MBA students felt like outsiders and did not know how to get involved, according to Elissa Sangster, executive director of Forté Foundation.
But, “Over the past few years, we’ve seen a surge of interest from men in getting involved in issues of gender equality on business school campuses,” she said.
By understanding gender equity positions, men can be ahead of the curve in school and in business.
“This increased awareness gives them an edge in providing support to female colleagues, and retaining them in the workplace,” added Elissa.
“It also leads to greater organizational health, financial success, and life satisfaction for both men and women.”
The findings come as business schools strive to enrol more women into their MBA programs — something Judy Olian, dean of the UCLA Anderson School of Management, calls a “huge priority”.
Business schools are setting aside more funding for women-specific scholarships, holding female-only recruitment events, and forming women’s leadership clubs on campus.
They believe they can be catalysts for greater boardroom diversity. Figures published by Fortune show there are just 21 companies in the Fortune 500 with women CEOs, down from 24 last year. Initiatives such as Oxford University’s Women Transforming Leadership program are designed to help senior women leaders overcome personal and professional obstacles to career progress.
Maura Herson, director of the MBA program at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, says: “For women to contribute consistently and well at senior levels, they need more opportunities to acquire the wisdom of both education and experience.”
Research published last year by Forté Foundation showed that female enrolment at top business schools had risen from 32% in 2011 to 36% in 2015.
But despite recent progress at the top schools, the share of women enrolled in MBA programs globally hasn’t edged above 37% over the past decade, according to industry body AACSB.
“While we are making great progress, and getting closer to 40% women’s enrolment at our member business schools, initiatives like this one that foster inclusiveness will help us get to gender parity faster,” said Elissa.