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Women in business schools

Georgina Fuller

Georgina Fuller investigates the lack of women in business schools and what is being done to improve the situation

Women are significantly underrepresented in US business schools and are being outclassed by their male colleagues at MBA level, according to a recent study by the Graduate Management Admission Council. The Council, which runs the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), found that men are outperforming women by around 20 points. All though many major US business schools, such as Harvard and Berkeley-Haas, are taking great strides to tackle the issue of gender equality, the New York Times recently claimed that some schools still emulate the chauvinistic attitudes usually found on the trading floor. But how do things compare this side of the pond? Is there a similar pattern or are we a little more egalitarian than our American counterparts?


David Simpson, admissions director, MBA and masters in finance at London Business School (LBS), says the gender balance in business schools can often be skewed by the career stage of the different peer groups. “There is no evidence to suggest that women do any better or worse than men at London Business School,” he notes. “As the GMAC study states, there may be a small difference in the GMAT average score at point of application, but as we judge every candidate on a range of criteria without focusing on GMAT alone, it is not a noticeable or relevant factor.” 

However, only a third of the LBS’s full-time MBA class are women and 60% of the masters in management class are men. 
In general, female applicants tend to be younger and have less work experience than their male counterparts, says Simpson, and therefore have lower salaries. “We find that our MBA women applicants tend to be seeking, but potentially currently lacking, career-path role models, due to the fact that there aren't enough senior leaders in business globally. And to be motivated, like all our candidates, to advance their career, obtain challenging and interesting work and develop confidence,” he comments.
Ginny Gibson, deputy dean of Henley Business School, says that women don’t necessarily push themselves forward as much as men. “Women may be more reluctant to take on the challenge of an MBA but when they do, they are fully committed and really understand the work involved,” she notes. 

Around 40 to 50% of students on Henley’s full time MBA programme are women all though the number of females taking executive MBAs is slightly lower at 35%. The business school is currently working with the Financial Times and The 30% Club, which is campaigning to achieve 30% female representation on FTSE company boards by 2015, to raise the profile of its MBA programme to women.

Gibson says there is certainly no evidence of a gender performance gap at MBA level. “Women are as likely to complete and obtain their MBA as men. In fact, recently on the full time MBA, women have outperformed the men in terms of their overall outcome,” she comments. “We are currently undertaking some research with our alumni on performance and satisfaction post-MBA. Our early findings suggest that women gain more from the MBA in terms of increases in self-confidence and career satisfaction, but less in terms of increases in seniority and promotions. This accords to much of the research on women in leadership and management.”

Some MBA programmes, are, in fact specifically geared towards attracting high calibre women. GCU London, for example (which is part of Glasgow Caledonian University) recently launched an MBA in luxury brand management and also offers an MSc in international fashion marketing. Ruth Marciniak, MBA programme leader at GCU London, says the luxury brand programme is very appealing to women. “I would estimate that around two thirds of MBA students at our London campus are women. The rationale for this is that the programmes we offer predominantly attract females,” she notes.

Marciniak says the range of MBAs business schools offer are often reflective of the job market and that this can affect the balance of genders. “When I did my MBA in the 1990s a good number of females were in my cohort due to changes taking place in the NHS at that time,” she says. So all though progress is being made, more must be done to encourage women to invest in MBA programmes to help further their careers if real progress is to be made. As Gibson notes: “It’s clear that there are some excellent women candidates who need some encouragement to consider investing their time and finances in an MBA, but once they do they benefit greatly.”


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