Logo BusinessBecause - The business school voice

Inspiring and informing your business school journey

mobile search icon

Females Not Making the Top Jobs

The number of women at b-school is rising but may mean more women hitting the glass ceiling

By  Sarah Halls

Fri Mar 12 2010

While more women than ever are applying to and entering business school, the signs for women moving up the corporate ranks are less encouraging.

According to GMAC, the administrators of the GMAT, there has been a 55 per cent increase in female applications for full-time MBA programs between 2005 and 2009.

“In 2009, 40 per cent of GMAT examinees were women. That’s driven by age… younger people are deciding to stay on [in education] and they’re disproportionately women,” says David Wilson, CEO of GMAC.

Last year’s GMAC data shows that for 25-and-under examinees, the ratio of male to female candidates was 52:48 and the number of female GMAT examinees surpassed 100,000, an increase of 36 per cent over the last five years.

According to the FT Global MBA rankings, George Washington School of Business and University of Pennsylvania: Wharton have 40 percent or more female students enrolled on their program.

Making the jump from the cosy confines of b-school to gritty corporate life is where women encounter difficulties.

Although there are more women than men in entry and mid-level jobs from the MBA classes of 2000 to 2009, the figure drastically drops at senior and executive level. Only 19 per cent of women hold senior management positions compared with 27 per cent of men. Just 4 per cent of women have executive status compared to 8 per cent of men, according to GMAC.

“Women are often relatively under-represented at the most senior levels of many organisations, and they also tend to be concentrated more heavily in particular areas,” says Dr Louise Ashley of Cass Business School.

“There are many competing explanations for this situation. One... is that organisations have not made the kind of fundamental structural changes that are arguably necessary in order to help women successfully combine both their work and family responsibilities. This is arguably particularly problematic in the context of the type of ‘long hours’ culture that thrives in the City of London...”

The situation is further aggravated when women are prescribed roles based on their gender. According to Dr Ashley’s research this leads to women "sometimes not [receiving] the same opportunities to develop the required skills," which hampers their career progression.

To address this, “firms must acknowledge the existence of this type of bias in their particular organisation, and then develop targeted strategies to deal with it,” says Dr Ashley.

Breaking the Mould

Florence Barkats, a London Business School (LBS) MBA student, also feels gender stereotypes persist.

The former molecular biologist “received background noise” from friends and family when she decided to go to b-school. “A lot of people questioned: why aren’t you getting kids?” she recalls.

In contrast, when Barkats asked mock interview questions to a male colleague he revealed that within 5 years he wanted to start a family. “That might give him Brownie points to be hired but as a woman I could forget the dream straight away,” says Barkats who chaired the Women in Business conference at LBS earlier this month.

How Women View their Career

Another barrier to women progressing is how they envision their career paths. Barkats argues that men tend to think of their career in terms of setting milestones in order to reach their goal. Whereas women take a vaguer approach to their career, which sometimes “limits them as it does not come across as ambitious,” says Barkats.

With rankings listing the rise of women CEOs – there are now 13 in the Fortune 500 -you’d think that women have little to worry about. There’s even data showing that ‘Generation Y’ believe gender diversity is no longer an issue. Have we become too complacent?

“I do think that there is a danger that because of the increasing visibility of women in the workplace, organisations and individuals believe that the problem has already been solved,” warns Dr Ashley.