A few lines in a recent Wall Street Journal online piece caught my eye.
“About 39 percent of Harvard’s class of 2013 will be female, its highest percentage ever,” said its managing director of MBA admissions and financial aid. The same article reported that at Wharton, nearly 45 percent of next year’s incoming MBA class will be women, up from 40 percent last year, according to a school official.
Good news, I thought–albeit still less than one would hope after all these years of schools doing backflips trying to recruit more women to MBA programs.
It led me to wonder whether the same “uptick” phenomenon was occurring in EMBA programs, given their different demographic and psychographic profiles. I contacted several EMBA program directors, including Beatrix Dart, associate dean, Executive Degree Programs, at the Rotman School of Management in Toronto. She also heads the School’s Initiatives for Women in Business and is a deep thinker and presenter around issues of women in EMBA programs.
She pointed out that her analysis of U.S. EMBA programs ranked in the top 20 by the Financial Times between 2004 and 2010, shows a 4 percentage point increase in female enrollment during the period–from 18 percent to 22 percent.
Progress, but hardly a snowball effect.
To be fair, business schools have worked extremely hard to attract more women to their classrooms. They’ve launched special support programs, redoubled their recruiting efforts and expanded their marketing. But major progress remains stubbornly low.
Some analysts blame corporations and their cultures for the larger phenomenon of unequal opportunities that can make business school ROI less appealing to women in the first place. According to a study published in December 2010 by Catalyst, a nonprofit group focused on opportunities for women in the business world, the glass ceiling for women is still firmly in place. It surveyed more than 4,000 MBAs who graduated between 1996 and 2007 and found significant differences in the career and compensation outcomes among men and women.
(For details, click this link to a recent article on the study posted on the U.S. News and World Report website on June 15, 2011.)
According to Professor Dart, we must begin looking more closely at the culture and actual experience women have in business schools–the female brand experience, if you will. She believes many of the special outreach efforts business schools have made are misdirected.
“The tactics don’t work. The brochures focusing on women, the special events that schools produce to attract women don’t work, particularly if you don’t change the underlying issue,” she said.
The underlying issue in this case is part of the challenge facing all business school brands: How do you make sure that the brand experience and culture actually matches what the school has chosen to “advertise” to the world?
Professor Dart not so jokingly calls this the “dark abyss of culture” when it comes to many of the actual experiences that may be keeping women away from the MBA track–despite the often female-friendly face portrayed by institutional marketing. “It’s still a masculine culture in MBA programs,” she said. “Women get assigned to study groups and, as many will tell you, often end up being the note takers.”
While that, per se, may sound trivial, it’s symptomatic of the need for new cultural norms to evolve at business schools if real progress in attracting and retaining more women to programs is to be made, says Professor Dart and others.
While this subject is complex, she advises schools to consider even these basic issues when focusing on managing the actual experience women have in their programs:
- Women want different things from careers and work–often their definitions of success are fundamentally different than those of men. The program needs to acknowledge and reflect that fact.
- Female students don’t want to be singled out in the culture with things such as special networking programs “just for them.” “Women in business school don’t want to be painted pink, they want their needs met,” said Dart. Create opportunities for all students to network informally, they’ll do the rest, she added.
- Leadership styles of men and women often differ. Women need to feel they can be confident and ambitious in business school, but in ways that represent their values, styles and approaches.
- To help dissolve certain stereotypes about women, roles need to be reversed. For example, purposefully enabling work groups and other situations in which women dominate and have the opportunity to prove that they are worthy of moving up the corporate ladder, forces men outside their comfort zones. (One recent female MBA graduate I spoke with told me: “I can’t count the number of times men have said, wow, she is actually really smart, after unwillingly being placed on a co-ed team.”)
But this is about more than business school, it’s about competitiveness. Consider the following facts taken from a recent McKinsey & Co. study, if you need a good reason to keep pushing for change in the culture of business schools.
* When global business leaders were recently asked what they believed were the most important leadership attributes for success today, each of the top four–intellectual stimulation, inspiration, participatory decision-making, and setting expectations/rewards–were more commonly found among women leaders than men.
* Companies with more women on their executive committees have better financial performance. In terms of return on equity, the top-quartile group exceeds the group with no women by 41% (22% vs. 15 %).
* In terms of operating results, the more gender-diverse companies exceed the group with no women by 56% (17% vs. 11%).
Is there causality? Ultimately, the study highlighted that complementary and diverse leadership styles is what drives the difference. Sixty two percent of men and 90 percent of women at the C-level believe this is true……
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