Business school has not exactly been a bastion of equality when it comes to attracting students who don’t fit the typical MBA mold, which as many experts point out, is overwhelmingly male.
Karen Marks of North Star Admissions puts it quite simply: “Women are historically underrepresented in business school. Even the top programs are doing well if they have a class that is 35% female.”
At the same time, statistics from the American Association of University Women indicate that women on average earn 80% of what men in similar position earn. Recent studies show that female MBAs earn $400,000 less over their lifetimes compared to male MBAs.
Schools are becoming more aware of the role they play in closing the gender pay both in and outside the classroom. While many host conferences, offer scholarships, and launch initiatives, there is still much work to do when it comes to creating a truly inclusive culture, particularly when it comes to the cost of entry.
Accepted.com’s Linda Abraham says: “Higher education reduces the gap, but doesn't eliminate it—same with the MBA. The cost of MBA programs versus the payback is a major issue. MBAs charge men and women the same tuition, but if women earn less or perceive fewer opportunities to climb the corporate ladder, they have less motivation to get an MBA.”
This conundrum seems less like a catch-22 and more like a closed loop. Anne York is a professor of economics at Meredith College’s School of Business, which boasted the highest female enrollment for any MBA program in 2016—85.3% according to the US News & World Report rankings.
“Male and female graduates start off with very similar pay early in their careers, but as they get older and have more children, the pay gap widens,” she explains. “We can see proof of this in that there is a smaller pay gap between childless women and men and a larger pay gap between women with children and men.
“The corporate world could minimize this pay gap by offering more flexible work options for all employees and encouraging men to take advantage of these work options so they are viewed with a gender neutral lens,” Anne continues.
“Women tend to take jobs with fewer hours and more flexibility because they have a greater share of household and caregiving responsibilities than do men. Having a gender-neutral family leave policy can ease the time women devote to the household and caregiving if men are more able to participate in the home.”
The Forté Foundation is a nonprofit working to create opportunities for women in business, in part, through its Forté Fellowship program which has distributed $138 million in scholarships to date. It’s seen average female enrollment in business school increase from 28% in 2002 to 36% globally by 2016.
Forte Executive Director Elissa Ellis Sangster says business schools themselves can help combat the gender pay gap:
“The MBA gives women a much better salary than they would ever receive without the MBA,” she says.
“It helps create a more level playing field for women at graduation by offering women opportunities to compete and learn in a less risky environment than on-the-job; advance faster than they can by simply trying to move up the ladder at their current jobs, or changing careers; and be recognized and recruited by organizations based on their skill set and contributions as future leaders.”
At schools, the most effective means to build more inclusive campus cultures—and educate students—seems to be a combination of student clubs, initiatives, and concerted efforts by individual administrators. In 2016, Forte launched the ‘Men as Allies’ initiative to get male b-school students involved in gender equality issues.
Dr. John Stayton, director of graduate programs at Sonoma State University’s School of Business & Economics, has made it a personal mission to make the school’s culture more egalitarian. This extends to the type of education he imagines for Sonoma State—one that emphasizes both analytical and leadership skills.
“There’s a tendency for business schools to market to students who look like their current students. I believe programs need to stretch beyond that and adopt new practices to adopt an underserved audience,” he says.
Ultimately, John believes business schools need to take stronger stands when it comes to the gender gap.
“I feel like leaders of MBA programs have a moral obligation to even the balance because we’ve been primarily serving only one gender—we need to bring balance into our activities,” he says.
“There is strong evidence that businesses perform better with women in leadership positions. We think it will help how businesses are run and improve the social discourse within the political and cultural climate.”