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Forté Foundation Celebrates Record Women’s MBA Enrollment on 20th Anniversary

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The Forté Foundation is kicking off its 20th anniversary by celebrating the findings of its most recent research report. In the fall of 2021, women’s MBA enrollment reached 41%, exceeding the 40% milestone the foundation had been hoping would be met in 2020.  

Forté’s research has revealed impressive gains in the effort to close the gender gap in MBA programs. For the first time, three business schools—The George Washington University School of Business, The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, and Johns Hopkins University Carey School of Business—have achieved gender parity. Women’s representation hit 54% at George Washington, 52% at Wharton, and 51% at Carey. 

Top Ten Forté Member Schools’ Women’s Enrollment

George Washington University School of Business 54%
University of Pennsylvania Wharton School 52%
Johns Hopkins University Carey School of Business 51%
Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management 49%
Duke University The Fuqua School of Business 48%
Alliance Manchester School of Business 46%
Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business 46%
University of Michigan Ross School of Business 46%
Harvard Business School 46%
University of Toronto Rotman School of Management 45%

Forté’s research also finds that women represent more than 40% of MBA students in more than half of its member schools, and ten schools had more than 45%, both records for representation. Forté boasts 56 member schools in the US, Europe, and Canada. An overwhelming majority of 84% have at least 35% women enrolled in 2021, increasing 19% over last year. Moreover, 65% of Forté member schools reported an increase in women’s representation this year. Just a decade ago, no business schools had at least 45% women in their MBA programs.

Infographic courtesy of For Foundation

The Pandemic Effect

“For years, we have had a goal to reach 40% women’s enrollment by 2020, and each percentage point climb is a hard-won victory. While we came close last year at 39% overall and didn’t lose ground, we didn’t make as much progress due primarily to the pandemic,” said Forté CEO Elissa Sangster in the foundation’s press release. “Women have been disproportionately impacted in terms of job loss and stepping out of the workforce in the wake of COVID-19. It’s heartening to see on the 20th anniversary of Forté’s formation that more women enrolled in MBA programs this year. This will help rebuild a diverse pipeline of future leaders.”

Women’s enrollment in MBA programs stalled in 2020, primarily due to the pandemic’s impact on jobs and families. Many women found themselves held back from taking time to further their education and advance their careers. The demands of children learning from home coupled with job losses and furloughs made it impossible to have the flexibility to complete an MBA program. 

The Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) reported in an April 2020 survey that more than half of women (55%) were “very or extremely concerned about the impact of the pandemic on their pursuit of an MBA,” versus 37% of male respondents. However, in 2021 GMAC is reporting an increasing demand for graduate business degrees as the COVID-19 pandemic wanes. 

How Forté Carries Out its Mission 

An MBA degree is the gateway to leadership positions at top companies globally. When the Forté Foundation was formed in 2001, less than 28% of MBA students in the US were women. Today, only 6% of CEOs at S&P 500 companies are women, and according to Forté research, about 40% have an MBA or its equivalent. 

The foundation is a non-profit consortium of multinational corporations, universities, and business schools. Their work includes scholarship programs, a key component to increasing the number of women MBAs. As of the fall of 2021, Forté partner schools have awarded approximately $312 million in scholarships, with $35 million granted in the past year alone. They also offer programs like MBALaunch, an eight-month road map for business school applicants providing guidance and resources through weekly webinars, monthly peer group sessions, and feedback from experienced advisors. 

Forté has been flexible in responding to the pandemic, offering its programming in virtual format to maintain momentum and assist women as they absorb much of COVID-19’s impact. Their flagship event, the annual Forté MBA Women’s Leadership Conference, has taken place virtually since the pandemic began and doubled its in-person attendance with 1,250 attendees in 2021. 

The Men As Allies initiative, designed to educate male allies for gender diversity, was expanded to deliver the curriculum virtually and added the executive education program Inclusive Leadership: Allies for Gender Equity, a series of four two-hour sessions exploring gender equity in the workplace and what it means to be an ally. The Allies for Gender Equity workshop has been delivered at member schools including Wharton, Darden, and Yale.  

Other conferences held by the organization are the Forté Undergraduate Campus to Business Leadership Conference, College Fast Track to Finance Conference, the Undergraduate Leadership Summit, and Candid Conversations for Women of Color. These events provide opportunities for women to build leadership skills and network with Forté partner companies and business schools. This year, Forté launched Diversity Day, a symposium geared toward MBA candidates who identify as African American, Black, Hispanic, Latinx, and Native American women.

The Forté Foundation is not complacent in these historic achievements. “We aim to achieve gender equity in MBA programs in the next decade,” Sangster stated.  

Christina Griffith
Christina Griffith is a writer and editor based in Philadelphia. She specializes in covering education, science, and history, and has experience in research and interviews, magazine content, and web content writing.