MBA Scholarships Help Women In Business Break 'Glass Ceiling'

Business schools partner private and public sector groups to fund female leaders through management training.

The battle for gender parity in business got a boost on a hot summer evening last month in Cambridge, the UK city 60 miles north of London.

The Judge Business School signed off on a new batch of women’s scholarships with the 30% Club, an organization that campaigns to get 30% female boardroom representation. The latest analysis from the Professional Boards Forum shows that more than half of FTSE 100 firms had failed to hit the 25% government target for women on boards.

Progress has been made in bridging the gender divide. But like in business, education still lacks female leaders.  

“Graduate management education is often an important accelerator on the journey to the executive suite. But unfortunately many programs struggle when it comes to adequate female representation,” says Brenda Trenowden, global chair of the 30% Club and head of financial institutions for Europe at ANZ, the bank.

Elissa Ellis-Sangster, executive director of Forté Foundation, a group that promotes women’s business careers, says that business school education is extremely valuable for women.

It boosts women’s confidence and opportunities, she says, and refines their skills. “Across the board, it’s a great investment.”

Dr Dianne Bevelander, director of the Erasmus Centre for Women and Organizations at Rotterdam School of Management, says that women in business school also benefit from being able to build and hone valuable professional networks.

“They get introduced to the right people; they get constructive and honest feedback on their ideas; [and] they find mentors and peers with whom to discuss career goals,” she says.

While many women in business are enthusiastic about management training, they can be held back by concerns over the cost of tuition, which can be upwards of $100,000. “Women may have not have the financial means to take time out of work to study,” says Bernard Garrette, associate dean at HEC Paris, a leading French business school.

He highlights the persistent wage gap that can be observed when men and women carry out comparable work as a contributing factor. Research from Catalyst, a non-profit seeking to expand opportunities for women and business, found that women are earning $4,600 less than men on average even after obtaining MBAs. “The gap gets significantly wider over time,” says Anna Beninger, Catalyst research director.

As an example of efforts to boost female enrolment, business schools point to the growing pot of scholarship funding that is exclusive to women. The 30% Club works with a cluster of top schools to provide funds and support, such as Oxford, Henley and Imperial College. “This is critical in helping women to gain the wider strategic perspective and confidence they need to move into very senior roles,” says Professor Ginny Gibson, deputy dean at Henley.

The trend for business schools to partner private sector companies to fund women through education has spread across industries.  

Graham Lindsay, Lloyds Banking Group director for responsible business, says the UK lender has sought to develop a program to ensure it is an attractive place for women to work.

As a result, Lloyds will provide funding of £700,000 in scholarships for women to study at London Business School.

Banks including Morgan Stanley, BofA Merrill Lynch and Deutsche Bank offer funding for women to study MBAs. Consultancy firms such as Deloitte and Boston Consulting Group also support female MBAs at schools including Melbourne and UWA.

Governments too are investing in management training for women. The Executive Program for Women in Upper Management at Spain’s ESADE Business School, for example, is funded by the EU.

“Schools can [also] promote the presence of women on boards with grants, scholarships and accommodation,” says Cristina Sassot, ESADE admissions director.

But now schools are examining the potential of partnerships with not-for-profit organizations that are championing women in business.

Nearly $70 million has been provided to more than 3,000 candidates at the likes of Georgetown, Cornell and Dartmouth Tuck by Forté, which also serves as a network, providing mentorship. “A lack of role models in business and industry is one of the major issues for less women in the top jobs,” says Dr Muhammad Azam Roomi, senior lecturer at Cranfield School of Management

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