A lot has been written lately about equality and inequality in the business world, specifically addressing the question: has the past decade seen MBA programs and corporate businesses making more room for women or less?
Businessweek recently reported in “B-School Gender Mix Changing, Slowly” that a growing number of women are attending business school. According to the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), the number of females taking the GMAT in the U.S. has risen 10 percent in 2010 in comparison with the numbers from 2000. Elissa Ellis-Sangster, director of the Forte Foundation—a consortium of 36 business schools working to increase the number of women pursuing MBAs—noted that 31.2 percent of applicants to Forte-member schools were women in 2010, which is a step up from 28.5 percent in 2005.
Moreover, GMAC notes that around 54 percent of full-time MBA programs in 2010 said they implemented “special recruitment efforts” to try and bring more women to their schools. An even more impressive statistic comes from Forte-member institutions, which found that 100% of schools host women’s outreach programs.
Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a Harvard Business School professor who wrote the book Men and Women of the Corporation, comments that there has been a great amount of progress since she began teaching. Now 36 percent of Harvard’s incoming class is comprised of women, a step up from 25 percent in 1985.
Yet, another article, this time in the Financial Times, discusses the difficulties around convincing boards to include larger numbers of women. Former UK minister, Lord Davies, wrote an independent review of women on boards, suggesting that a voluntary target of 25 percent be implemented for FTSE 1000 boards by the year 2015. However, Penny de Valk, chief executive of the Institute of Leadership and Management, has spoken to many business leaders who claim they “find it very difficult to find women for senior leadership positions.”
There is clearly a connection between the low numbers of women in top management positions and the difficult time business schools have recruiting female students. Most believe the main reason is that women want a balance between their work and family life. Another reason cited is the cutthroat environment on Wall Street, which fits more of a male then a female stereotype. Lastly, business school is expensive and since women have a stronger aversion to risk according to the FT article, they are less likely to make the commitment.
However, the business world needs to meet Lord Davies’s goals. It clearly must begin thinking in more creative ways about how to make more room for women at the top of the corporate ladder – as well as on the way up.
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