Women in business schools are finding strength in numbers. As the corporate world tries to close the gender gap, professional networks are blooming at top academic institutions including Harvard, Columbia and London Business School.
Networking is seen as a key strategy to climbing the greasy pole and networks of female MBA students are finding a value in launching organizations dedicated to women.
Genevieve Joyce Lupton, co-president of the Association of Women in Business at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, which has 571 members, says the group creates deep recruitment connections through events for women.
The Fuqua association cultivates relationships with MBA recruiters and organizations which support women in business. “We offer an additional layer of support for international women,” Genevieve says.
Not only is recruiting top women a challenge for companies, but helping them to advance in their careers is perhaps even more difficult. Research from the Bettany Centre for Entrepreneurship at Cranfield School of Management has found that increasing the social capital of women in business helps them to advance in their careers.
“Linking social capital provides links to otherwise disconnected people and opens doors to opportunities and resources,” says Dr Muhammad Azam Roomi, senior lecturer at Cranfield.
There has long been a gender gulf at the senior managerial level and business schools are seen crucial to increase the numbers of women on executive boards.
“Business school is a time when very strong bonds are created as a result of shared experiences over an extended period of time. This is valuable for men and for women,” says Nathalie Walker, external affairs director at Cambridge Judge Business School.
Yet with a few exceptions, the vast majority of business schools have failed to achieve gender parity in their flagship MBA programs.
Elissa Ellis-Sangster, executive director of Forté Foundation, which promotes business careers for women through access to education, says the business school talent pipeline is important in the fight for greater gender diversity.
“At a lot of business schools, we’ve made strides in the last 10 years to get a market to women,” she says.
Women’s networks have played an increasingly important role in targeting female MBA recruits. Lorraine Jonemann, president of the 200-member Women’s Business Connection at UCLA Anderson School of Management, says that it’s important to attract like-minded women to MBA programs.
“We organize several events throughout the admissions process, which help showcase our identity as a club to prospective students,” she says. These include a welcome brunch during the preview weekend, during which prospective students visit campus, and events organized in collaboration with UCLA Anderson’s admissions department.
“We strive to build a community among women and we see that connection starting even before [candidates] enrol,” Lorraine says.
Duke Fuqua’s Genevieve says that her network works hand in hand with Fuqua admissions to attract and the best and brightest women to the US based business school.
“From outreach to hosting special events for prospective and admitted women, our goal is to make every woman feel welcomed,” she says.
These women-only recruiting events are an increasingly popular tactic used by leading business schools.
MIT Sloan, for example, hosts women-specific admissions events on campus, including the Women’s Ambassador’s Day and Women’s Week. “I believe gender parity is a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more women you have in the program, the more women you will attract,” says Dawna Levenson, director of MBA admissions at MIT Sloan.
Henley Business School has teamed up with the 30% Club, an organization which campaigns to get 30% female board representation, to offer funding through scholarships for women to study on its MBA programs.
Professor Ginny Gibson, deputy dean at Henley, says there is already close to gender parity on undergraduate and masters programs at the UK business school, but the courses for executives are more of a challenge.
GWU School of Business sought an answer to this problem. It ran a course to advance women’s corporate board leadership — in collaboration with the International Women’s Forum — up until last year.
Chris Storer, executive director of graduate programs, also points to the scholarship funding GWU has provided to women — more than $1 million through a partnership with Forté in a year.