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Women In Business School: MBA Programs Bring Women Into Boardrooms

There is growing political and business pressure on companies and universities to close the gender gap. Business schools are bringing more women into the boardroom.

Mon Apr 13 2015

Progress on pay parity and bridging the gender divide has been promising but a striking gulf still exists between the careers of women and men at the top.

Business schools are promoted as champions for slashing gender inequality but the debate about diversity at the world’s leading schools and top blue chip companies continues to rage. The two are linked, believes Cristina Sassot, admissions director at ESADE Business School in Spain.

She says business schools can promote the presence of women on boards through facilities in the admissions process, with provisions for funding and accommodation.

Questions remain as to whether the push to secure more females at board tables has done anything other than widen the gap between the elite few and women in business generally. There is political and business pressure on companies and universities to secure gains.

Recent analysis of data from 110 of the world’s best business schools found that mean female representation is just 34%. But women account for 43% of GMAT entry test takers globally, according to figures from the Graduate Management Admissions Council.

This mirrors the business landscape. Cranfield School of Management’s widely reported annual Female FTSE board report shows women account for 23.5% of FTSE 100 board positions, up from 20.7% a year ago. This is short of the UK government target of at least 25% by the end of 2015.

There are only five women chief executives among FTSE 100 groups – at EasyJet, Imperial Tobacco, Kingfisher, Royal Mail and Severn Trent.

Professor Susan Vinnicombe CBE, director of the Cranfield International Centre for Women Leaders, says there has been significant progress. But she adds: “The burning issue remains that not enough women are being appointed to executive director roles in the UK.”

This is not just a UK problem. In the US, just 23 of Fortune 500 firms have a female chief executive – among them are the chiefs of IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Pepsi Co.

This is alarming for business schools and companies alike because recent studies suggest that significant levels of women quit the workforce when they reach managerial level – ranks an MBA opens doors to.

Figures from the OECD show that in Mexico and Greece 46% and 42% of women are in employment. But Grant Thornton research found that the proportion of female senior managers in those countries was around just half those levels. Women account for just 22% of global senior management positions, according to the professional services firm.

Amanda Goodall, a senior lecturer in management at Cass Business School, writes in BusinessBecause that there is a “confidence gap”, shown in the evidence that women are more likely to absorb negative feedback than their male colleagues.

Business schools are keen to find solutions. Research by Isabel Fernandez-Mateo, an associate professor at London Business School, found for example that search firms are more responsive to pressure and incentives to hire more women for top management jobs than client firms.

One persistent problem is the gender wage gap. Women in the US are paid $11,000 less than men, according to Catalyst, a non-profit women’s advocacy and research group.

The gulf starts early and gets bigger as women move up the corporate ladder, says Anna Beninger, director of research at Catalyst, in an interview with BusinessBecause. Catalyst has tracked about 10,000 MBAs since 2007 and found women are earning $4,600 less than men on average in their first post-MBA job, and are more likely to begin in an entry level position.

“This is a call to action for organizations,” Anna says. “They need to step up,” she adds.

Companies have drawn criticism when targeting female MBA students in the past. McKinsey & Co has invited female MBAs to a “mani/pedi” recruitment event in Palo Alto. Goldman Sachs once handed out goody bags to potential female recruits containing mirrors and nail files with the US investment bank’s logo on them.

Companies need to focus on recruiting top female talent but also on making sure they can progress, says Elissa Ellis-Sangster, executive director at Forté Foundation, an organization that promotes women’s business careers through access to education.

“Being open and honest and transparent about the future that is available to women, so they can see themselves making those strides up the corporate ladder, is important,” she says.

Progress has been made. Research showing the benefits of more diverse boardrooms to profitability and shareholder value has been widely discussed.

Helena Morrissey CBE, CEO of Newton Investment Management and founder of the 30% Club, which campaigns to get 30% women on FTSE 100 boards, says: “Organizations now realise that having a better mix of men and women at all levels is key to developing a modern culture.”

More women are graduating from university and this is a contributing factor, say experts.

Business school graduates have risen to the top – including Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, the world’s third largest automaker by sales, who earned an MBA at Stanford, and Irene Rosenfeld, the chief executive of global food group Mondelēz, who has an MBA from Cornell.

George Washington University Business School has taken a lead in this area. It launched “On the Board” – a course that seeks to advance women’s corporate board leadership – in collaboration with the International Women’s Forum, which ended last year.

Chris Storer, executive director of graduate programs and admissions, says the goal of the program was to be recognized as a major global initiative for advancing women’s executive careers.

Most schools recognize the need to diversify. “Business Schools can do a lot to help women,” says Professor Ginny Gibson, deputy dean of the UK’s Henley Business School.

Last year the Henley Women in Leadership Forum was launched, with more than 150 women attending. The school also invites female chiefs to speak at its campuses, including Dido Harding, the CEO of telecoms group TalkTalk, and has partnered with the 30% Club to offer a fully funded scholarship to women for its MBA programs – which Ginny highlights as a particular problem in terms of gender diversity.

“This is critical in helping women to gain the wider strategic perspective and confidence they need to move into very senior roles,” she says. Between 35% and 45% of the Henley MBA each year is comprised of women.

In the US, Harvard Business School announced plans this month to launch a new recruiting program that targets students at women-only colleges.

MIT Sloan School of Management, based in Massachusetts, hosts women-specific recruiting events on campus, such as its Women’s Ambassador’s Day and Women’s Week. Female students enrolled in its two-year MBA program comprise 40.7% of the student body – a record.

Dawna Levenson, director of MBA admissions at MIT Sloan, says that gender parity is a self-fulfilling prophecy. “The more women you have in the program, the more women you will attract.”

The gender divide is bad for business. Companies can struggle to retain their most prized female employees to the point of senior management. Women are also looking at entrepreneurship as a viable career path.

Role models are important but this can be a challenge if there are so few women at the top of companies, says Elissa at Forté Foundation.

But she believes business school is a valuable tool for women to advance their careers. “Business school is helpful for creating leaders for the future.”

Yet as Anna at Catalyst points out, there has over many decades been a sense that more women needed to pursue education and training. “We're so far past that; women are getting more degrees than men,” she quips. “It’s the structure of companies that needs to be changed.”

Student Reviews

Bayes Business School




On Campus

Best Journalism school in Europe

When I first stepped onto the campus of City, University of London, I knew I was in for a ride - and not just on the Tube! With its vibrant energy and an impressive repertoire of programs, City U became my home away from home. The Journalism program was kind of a big deal. Rumour was that we were the best in Europe! The lecturers were not just experts in their field; they’re practically journalistic royalty. They were invested, passionate, and had a knack for turning the most flat press release into a riveting news story. With their guidance, I’ve learned to navigate the chaotic world of media like a pro. The campus was a melting pot of every culture, being that we had such a diverse international crowd. Being in the heart of London, I had the world at my fingertips - there was always a new corner to explore, a hidden gem of a cafe to discover, or a street performer! City, University of London wasn't just a university; it was a chapter in my life story that I’ll never forget.




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The teacher-learner ration is manageable, giving each learner a chance to gain personal attention. It is also easier following up on the progress of a student, as the numbers per class is not large. the conducive environment for learning includes clean classes, standard desks, world class instructional facilities and the opportunity to engage lecturers even after their sessions. The team spirit at City is above board, with learners getting chance to learn both from instructors and colleagues. This is the university of choice; the place to be.




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I liked that each class had a manageable number of learners, making the professor-learner ratio favor knowledge acquisition. I also liked that study schedules were manageable, and not overwhelming. The focus on talents and gifts even within the learning environment makes it possible for learners to achieve the best of their potential, and this has worked to the advantage of those that have schooled at City, University of London




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The diversity at City University facilitates interactions and is a direction toward the unity of the world. The classes are well built to match the number and needs of all students regardless of the elements of diversity that set people apart. The use of technology in delivery makes learning even more interesting and achievable. At City University there is no distinction pegged on the issues that make people unique.




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The team of lecturers at the Uiversity are well experienced. Their level of insight and the methodologies of delivery works for the interes of the leaeners. My learning experience was largely boosted by the level of knowledge of the professors at the institution, and their passion to transfer the same to learners. I appreciate every class I attended because of the level of insight I was able to gather




On Campus

The best university I’ve been to

The campus and the people I've met have made it a wonderful experience. I was reared in a small town with a graduating class of only 88 individuals, so moving to City University was a huge adjustment for me. My dorm has more residents than my whole high school combined! I enjoy the atmosphere here, and everyone is so friendly. Outstanding academic options and a stunning campus. Really great from beginning to end. The educators genuinely love what they do, and the students are ready to learn. On or around college, there is always something to do with friends, and the social scene is particularly warm.




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Bayes Business School

As a student at City university attending Bayes Business School I would totally recommend choosing this university as the experience is exceptional with great social networking opportunities . Professors are significantly helpful, delivering with excellence and professionalism. Everyone is happy to help and make you feel welcomed in such an esteem university as City, offering exceptional development and guidance through out the course.




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Economics and Politics

Incredibly amazing university, the way they polish students and help them boost their morale and think intellectually is worthwhile. Many universities have international partnerships to allow exchanges between their students. The most obvious subjects for these opportunities would be those that involve languages, and the study of people and places.




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I really like it it’s perfect for me with not too many people and not too few either. All the modules are amazing. I love the toy bar. I love all the societies that I’ma part of. Especially the colour Bollywood society