The Trouble for Women in Business School
In the United States, there are more male CEOs with the first name of John than there are female CEOs. Despite earning suffrage nearly a century ago, despite fighting for civil rights for more than 200 years, and despite all of our marches, boycotts, sit-ins, riots, and numerous forms of protest in recent months, women still haven’t reached this seemingly simple (and equivalently beneficial) milestone in equality: representation in positions of business leadership. What gives?
Most barriers to true female equality are endemic to our society – rooted deep in ancient beliefs about sex and strength – but the obstacle preventing women’s saturation of the boardroom can be traced to one notable discrepancy: enrollment in business school. Around the country, business schools feature gender ratios of about 70/30, with the vast majority of students claiming a Y-chromosome. Unfortunately, business education provides a strong foundation from which future business leaders build their careers. Business schools provide knowledge, skills, and (arguably most importantly) networks that grads use right away to gain better positions and pay.
Because fewer women have higher-level business educations, fewer women are finding their way to the top. Thus, many experts agree that one solution to female equality in the C-suite is getting more ladies enrolled in business courses – but the execution is not nearly that simple.
Why Everyone Benefits When Women Learn
It should be obvious that women benefit by increased business education. In addition to gaining essential leadership skills and knowledge about typical business processes and strategies, women can connect with peers and professionals to establish a strong and far-reaching network. The sandbox environment of business schools allows prospective female entrepreneurs to experiment with ideas and business models while becoming more comfortable with risk and direct competition. At the very least, business school familiarizes women with numbers and equations, which works to dispel the persistent misconception that women aren’t good at math.
However, it isn’t just business-inclined women who benefit by more equal female representation in business schools. In fact, society as a whole benefits by the increased earning potential of half the population. First, employers gain access to an increased number of educated, experienced, and talented workers, who would boost productivity and profitability. Then, the economy as a whole improves. Some estimates suggest that just establishing parity in the workforce – i.e., closing the pay gap between men and women – could add between $2.1 and $4.3 trillion to the U.S. GDP by 2025, which is 10 to 20 percent more than standard GDP growth. The increase could be even more substantial if women were both as educated and paid as well as men.
Why Women Don’t Go to Business School
It’s a well-worn fact that there are more women graduating high school and college than men, so why does female interest in higher education stop before business school? It seems there are several reasons.
Unlike other graduate programs, MBA programs and other advanced business degrees often require real-world work experience. For a minimum amount of time – around four years for most universities – women must enter the job market and earn wages before they can pursue a higher-level business degree. Unfortunately, the prospect of returning to school tends to become less attractive to women as they age, drifting closer to the time when most are interested in starting families.
Plus, business school is rarely cheap. Though some online programs are affordable, and scholarships for women abound, most programs can cost upwards of $100,000, factoring in tuition, housing, books, and other expenses. Worse, many MBA programs are full-time, meaning women must abandon their existing jobs and commit two entire years to study – which many are unwilling to do.
Finally, a study from Harvard Business School found that women tend to be less ambitious than men, at least in the traditional sense. Women are less inclined to move through established channels to gain money and power. Instead, women tend to be entrepreneurs and small-business owners, and many (mistakenly) believe that business school educations do not help with such aspirations. Thus, to gain equality, business schools must modify their programs to suit women’s needs.
How Business Schools Are Trying to Change
Most business schools are well-aware of the gaping gender gap on their campuses, and many are actively working to change it. Schools can capitalize on women’s interest in achieving high-level business degrees — if only they can manage to attract more women. Traditional application processes and course structures aren’t ideal for target female business students, so many business schools are making radical changes to appear more female friendly.
One trend many business schools have noticed is that women are not disinterested in attending business courses or obtaining business degrees. At MBA events where prospective students gather, there tend to be equal numbers of men and women. Yet, somewhere within the application funnel, women fall away. Thus, many business schools are making the application process easier. Women can enroll in courses for an MBA online, no GMAT scores required as a pre-requisite; they can waive application fees and receive assistance throughout the application process.
Additionally, business schools are striving to help women stay enrolled. The high percentage of male students tends to make the business school experience hyper-masculine and aggressive to women. Thus, the growth of women-friendly clubs and student organizations helps women find a safe, comfortable place. Plus, some schools are organizing and supporting women’s mentorship programs, connecting female students with business professors and female professionals who can guide them through their careers.
Thanks to these measures and others, women’s interest in earning business degrees is growing. According to the Graduate Management Admissions Council, 75 percent of universities have recorded an uptick in the number of women applying to business school since last year. In truth, this has been the trend for several years: In 2014, only about 30 percent of applicants were female, and by 2016, that number had risen to 37 percent. Further, a handful of schools have student populations consisting of more than 50 percent women.
These changes are more than promising; they are heartening. It is conceivable that within a lifetime, we will see women have equal representation in business school – and in boardrooms, alongside all those men named John.
This blog was contributed by Tiffany Rowe, a leader in marketing authority who prides herself in her ability to create and provide high quality content that audiences find valuable. She also enjoys connecting with other bloggers and collaborating for exclusive content in various niches. With many years of experience, Tiffany has found herself more passionate than ever to continue developing content and relationship across multiple platforms and audiences.