Women are applying to business school like never before. Yet the highest ranking positions in business are still occupied by men.
While 45% of the S&P 500 companies’ employees in the US are women, only 4% have female CEOs. In Europe, only 21% of the largest publicly listed companies have female board members, and less than 4% have female CEOs according to EU figures.
Around the world, top international business schools are having to play an increasingly vital role in addressing the issue of gender inequality in the c-suite. Among them, SKEMA Business School, whose project management-focused EMBA program has the development of business leaders at its very core.
“For female applicants, the EMBA is a real game-changer,” says Dorothy Foster, SKEMA’s university partnerships manager who works on recruitment, development and strategy for the EMBA program.
“The career opportunities are phenomenal,” she continues, “women are put on a different track; they gain credentials, confidence and respect.”
With its EMBA program, SKEMA is doing its best to help ambitious young women smash through the career glass ceiling. 81% of the last two cohorts’ participants changed careers after their EMBA, while 62% went on to gain a promotion within their company. The future looks particularly bright: although men make up 75% of the EMBA’s current intake, 50% of the program’s prospective applicants are women.
Dorothy (pictured right) is a female business leader in her own right. In the late 1970s she headed up HR at Max Factor Cosmetics before going on to set up and sell on four of her own businesses, including a UK-based bistro, a fashion wholesale and retail business and a nightclub in the south of France.
While Dorothy’s business success was unusual for a woman at the time, she can see that the times are changing: “There aren’t the old traditional viewpoints about women in the typing pool and men in management positions,” she says. “We’re even finding women moving into more male-dominated areas - sales, IT, engineering - and we get a lot of female engineers and project managers applying for the course.”
Aud Trondvold (pictured below) is one such engineer who works for industrial product manufacturer Kongsberg Group in Norway. She changed position halfway through her EMBA, transitioning from a technical engineering role in the company’s maritime division to an innovation management position at group level.
"If I had not joined the EMBA program I would not have applied for that position,” she says.
While in Norway government legislation requires companies to adhere to a 40% quota of women at board level, the gender balance has not necessarily filtered down to less senior positions. For Aud, education, rather than legislation, is the key to women’s future business success.
“The EMBA gives you the knowledge and, more importantly, the confidence that you know things before you throw yourself into new challenges,” she says.
One SKEMA EMBA student ready for a new challenge is Inaya Haydar (pictured below, right), a registered nurse at the American University of Beirut Medical Center in Lebanon.
She wants to become a leader in the healthcare space in the Gulf region, where a rapidly expanding industry is beset by staff shortages. It’s an ambition made possible by her transformative EMBA experience.
“On SKEMA’s EMBA, you don’t feel like you are just a student,” she says. “You feel that you are a member of a big family.”
SKEMA’s EMBA brings professionals from different industry backgrounds and cultures together. Its student make-up is considered 100% international and participants have an impressive average of 20 years’ experience. Together, EMBA participants take part in international weeks at SKEMA campuses across the globe.
“The exposure is great,” says Inaya. “We went to the US, to China, Norway and even to the EU Commission and Parliament – all these experiences give a special flavor to the program.”
SKEMA is more than playing its part in the fight against gender inequality in the c-suite. So will women soon occupy as many senior level CEO positions as men?
“You can see it moving that way,” says Dorothy. “More organizations are appointing women and, gradually, we are seeing an improvement.”
Inaya agrees: “With business schools like SKEMA offering everything that they can for their students, there will be a lot of very well-trained females who will be able to develop into the world’s future business leaders,” she says.