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Inspiring The Next Generation Of Female Business Leaders With MBAs

It is a sad fact that gender equality remains an issue in the business and MBA world. But organisations like Forté Foundation are inspiring the next generation of female business leaders.

Wed Jan 22 2014

If ever there was a need for an organisation to champion the cause of the businesswoman, it is now. 

It is a sad fact that gender equality remains a troublesome topic in business. Old perceptions have begun to change, but there is much more that needs to be done.

When it comes to female business leaders, there are few. According to Catalyst, the non-profit dedicated to expanding opportunities for women in business; just 4 per cent of Fortune 500 chief executives are female.

Only 6 per cent of executive directors in FTSE100 companies are women, and only four of those companies are led by women: Burberry, easyJet, Royal Mail and Imperial Tobacco.

In fortune 1000 companies, these figures are even lower. Just 4 per cent of CEOs in the index are female and only 16 per cent of its board members are women.

Forté Foundation, a non-profit consortium of leading companies and top business schools working together to launch women into fulfilling, significant careers through access to business education, says that an MBA can level the playing field.

Since its foundation in 2001, Forté has been increasing women's access to education and business networks, as well as providing financial support for those seeking business education.

In a recent study, the foundation found that an MBA can increase a women's earning potential by over $3 million. The Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC) reported in a 2012 survey that female MBAs saw a 70 per cent increase on their pre-degree salary.

There are many positive reasons for women to attend b-school.

Forté is holding a European Business Leadership Summit for Women this month in London and Paris to promote gender equality in business, and the value of an MBA.

Top speakers will be at the events - including Darci Darnell, partner at Bain & Company, who will be presenting the study: Latest Findings on Gender Parity.

Those that attend will also have access to networking opportunities with female MBAs from leading business schools and representatives from the foundation's sponsors - including Bain & Company, Deloitte and Barclays.

Business school is clearly a good option for women and men alike to further their careers. Yet only 34 per cent of MBA graduates are female, a rise from about 28 per cent over the past ten years.

What's more, a recent survey by Catalyst concluded that female MBAs earn $4,600 less than males in their first post-business-school jobs. In Canada, female MBAs can over $8,000 less than male MBAs, according to the report.

Elissa Ellis Sangster, Executive Director of Forté Foundation, said that influcing women's perceptions about business careers is one way to close the gender-gap. "We can show women that business offers an excellent opportunity to have a career that is flexible, philosophically rewarding, and aligned with a principled, multi-faceted life," she told BusinessBecause.

"The earlier women know about the benefits of an MBA, the more likely they are to incorporate it into their life plans. Offering a wealth of resources to help women connect with the information they need to consider and make a decision about a career in business is vital.

"We have found that young women are more likely to be motivated by stories of senior women who have achieved success in their business careers."

Forté, as well as many top business schools, offer MBA Scholarships to help women shoulder the financial burden of tuition fees, through their Forté Fellows Program.

Financing an MBA is a key consideration, as students will often have to take up to two years out of work to obtain the qualification.

The foundation's target is to see 20 per cent of Fortune 500 boards comprised of women by 2020. They believe MBA programs are one of the best ways to make this possible.

So far, their sponsor schools - including HEC Paris, IE Business School and LBS - have given around $45 million to more than 2,300 female MBA students.

Business school could be a great way to boost careers - as well as the number of female business leaders. Yet the gender pay-gap is evident across many popular MBA Job functions.

According to the Fawcett Society, a group that campaigns for equality between women and men in the UK on pay, women who work in the City of London are paid 33 per cent less than their male counterparts. Across the finance sector as a whole, that figure is a staggering 55 per cent.

The Chartered Management Institute released a report in August which found that a widening pay-gap in bonus payments also exists. Throughout 2012, male managers received an average bonus more than double that of females (£6.442 to £3,029).

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in the States, women working full-time still earn 81 cents on the dollar compared with men working full-time.

Elissa says that the pay gay can be explained by false perceptions. "It is time for us to reassess these negative stereotypes," she said, "whether the assumption is that women can’t contribute as aggressively as men because of their roles as family caregivers, or the myth that women are not as skilled at negotiating assertively.

"With more women obtaining advanced degrees and participating in the workforce and more dual-income families, the same factors and issues now affect both women and men. Yet we haven’t fully challenged old assumptions."

Is it evident that a pay-gap exists, but what can be done to improve the career opportunities for female MBAs in the business world?

Forté's leadership events, in London on January 30 and in Paris on January 31, will see a distinguished panel of female executives that can advise women on how to navigate in their careers.

Elissa says that education, information and altering perceptions are key. Encouraging more women to earn MBAs is just "one piece of the puzzle".

Creating flexible hours for both men and women is an important step companies must take.

"Flexibility initiatves are key to improving career opportunities for females once they receive their MBAs," Elissa said.

"Providing flexible hours for both men and women is becoming more essential in employee retention. Companies should encourage sponsorship programs rather than only mentoring programs. Sponsors do more than offer advice and guidance; they actively advocate for an employee’s promotion.

"This is a crucial factor in providing women equal access to advancement opportunities within organizations."

Countless reports show that a female perspective is important in business. And there is no suggestion that women are in any way less well-suited to business careers.

Yet top companies still lag behind in female employment. And despite an increase in female MBA students, gender diversity is still advancing at a slow pace - and women are still paid less than men.

An MBA is not a guaranteed route to gender equality, but it will improve your career opportunities, networks and salary.

Organisations like Forté Foundation are leading the fight for parity in the corporate world.

They are inspiring the next generation of female business leaders.

To find out more about Forté's January events, to sign-up or find out how an MBA can help you, click here.