Women Continue to Break Down Barriers at MBA School

For more than 20 years, we have heard how business schools want to have more women in their classrooms. However, the numbers at some schools continue to disappoint. In 2011, women still accounted for only 31% of MBA students that were attending programs accredited by the AMBA around the world. In the UK, only 32% were female. While this is an increase of 20% from the 1990s, obviously there still is a lot of work to do.

There are some business schools that are getting it right. For example, at the Reims Management School in France, 52% of the students are female. At the Nyenrode Business University in the Netherlands, there has been a 100% increase in female attendees from last year.

Still, progress has been quite slow, which raises the question of why more females are not applying to get their MBA. Some experts believe that part of the problem is cultural.

In the United States, getting your MBA is a clear business career route that is viable for both women and men. In the UK, senior management is still dominated by men. There, the MBA is thought to lead more to a finance career in major cities, which tends to have a negative image. For more women to go into business school in the UK, at least, there needs to be a better demonstration of the value of the MBA in all business areas.

In the UK, many businesses that pay for you to go to MBA school or that value the MBA are still mostly dominated by men. This includes businesses that are focused on technology, defense and management consulting.

Some of the more common routes for female employment, such as human resources and law, have their own specific qualifications, and specific career paths, so an MBA is not always the best option to advance in these people fields for women.

Another issue that can lead to women not getting an MBA is a lack of confidence. If they do not get their degree, their salary expectations are much lower. In the UK, women look for about $90,000 per year after graduation and men look for at least $110,000. While both genders have finance and consulting on the top of their career wish lists, women tend to look for consumer goods jobs, which tend to pay less than technology, engineering or energy fields, which is what men aim for.

What are MBA schools doing to get more women in their ranks? At some schools, there is an attraction for female candidates because so many of the faculty are women. At the Henly Business School in the UK, women are 40% of the academic staff. The style of teaching at the business school is truly collaborative, and it encourages debate and discussion. Many women want to feel as if they have a voice as they learn, so this is important.

Other business schools in the UK view scholarships as a good way to get more good MBA candidates that are women. Some schools offer women scholarships up to $25,000 per year.

While financial assistance can help, one of the biggest barriers for entry into MBA school is age. The most common age to come into business school is the late 20s to early 30s. This is just when many women are trying to have children. There have been cases in the UK where women started MBA school but then they quit less than one year into the program because it simply was causing too much stress in the marriage.

Family considerations is one major reason that there is such growth in online MBA programs around the world. Most of these programs can support people who have family obligations.

Overall, the best ways to achieve anything close to parity in MBA schools in terms of men and women is a high degree of flexibility in the MBA program, family friendly support, good mentoring with both male and female teachers, and targeting a wider age range of students.