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Women Are Pursuing MBAs in Higher Numbers Than Ever Before

Women today make up 37 percent of students in full-time MBA programs in the United States, up from 33 percent five years ago and 30 percent 10 years ago, according to a recent article in the Financial Times. Adding that top European schools are also closing the gender gap, the FT report attributed the increase to a concerted effort on the part of leading programs to woo more women.

Citing data from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), a global accrediting agency for business schools, the FT report noted that while schools are still far from a 50/50 split, many are much closer than ever before. For instance, New York University’s Stern School of Business has been about 40 percent female for the past five years, and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania reached the 40 percent mark for the first time this year.

“In a more plural classroom you’re going to get a more well-rounded learning experience,” John Fernandes, president and chief executive of AACSB, told the FT. “Many schools have become very focused on getting more women and they’re getting good results,” he added.

European schools, too, are attracting more women. For instance, the graduating class at INSEAD this year is 34 percent women, up from 23 percent in 2000, and in the past five years female applicants to the school have more than doubled, according to the FT.

Part of the challenge of attracting women has been the traditional timeline of the MBA. The standard MBA track requires four to five years of post-college professional experience before matriculation, which can be problematic for women planning a family, admissions officers told the FT.

“For a lot of work/family reasons, business school just comes too late [for women],” says JJ Cutler, dean of admissions at Wharton. Law, medicine and other graduate degrees, which women can pursue immediately after college, don’t pose the same conflict.

“Anecdotally speaking, what we find is that when women start thinking about graduate school, business school isn’t in the mix,” Elissa Sangster, executive director of the Forté Foundation, a consortium of corporations and schools that promotes women in business, told the FT. Schools that are successful in attracting more women are those who get them thinking about an MBA “early in the process,” she said.

So that’s exactly the tactic top schools are taking. Wharton, for example, has started to recruit promising female candidates at the college level by assigning them student mentors who offer advice and application tips, according to the FT.

Harvard Business School, through its 2+2 Program, has also drawn greater percentages of women. Though not specifically designed to impact the gender gap, the deferred MBA admissions program for undergraduates – which guarantees a spot in a future HBS class for accepted applicants upon completion of two years of approved work experience – drew about half women this year, HBS Admissions Director Dee Leopold told the FT.

Schools are also working to dispel the perception that business school is male-centric and cutthroat, as well as to counter the idea that an MBA is only useful for careers at investment banking and consulting firms.

To read the FT article in its entirety, click here.

Posted in: MBA News

Schools: Harvard Business School, INSEAD, NYU Stern, UPenn / Wharton

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