Women MBAs: Change Will Be Slow

Dean of the Year: Darden School's Bob Bruner

Dean of the Year: Darden School’s Bob Bruner

A prominent business school dean says that getting more women enrolled in the nation’s business schools is a highly desirable goal but that change will come slowly.

Dean Bob Bruner of the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business concluded that there are little more than 2,000 female candidates who have both the academic potential and the work experience to gain admittance to a highly ranked MBA program in the U.S. “Even if you relax the expectation of years of work experience, the resulting numbers of candidates are small relative to the aspirational enrollment of leading schools,” he wrote in a recent blog post.

Bruner was among 13 deans who met at the White House last week to discuss “the best practices for business schools to prepare their students for the increasing importance of women in the labor force.” But after the session before Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to President Obama, Bruner says he reflected on the facts that the pipeline of women likely to go to a graduate business program is lacking.


According to the 2010 Census, he points out, some 916,000 women graduated from college in 2009; but only about 80,000 women take the standardized entrance exam for graduate business school. Though women account for about 57% of all undergraduate students in the U.S., only 43% of examinees of the entrance exam for graduate business school.

“Of the 81,000 women who take the test, only 50,000 have made the decision to apply to an MBA program, of which only 34,000 are considering attending a full-time MBA program,” wrote Bruner. “Of these some 6,000 women offer academic potential generally consistent with the admission ‘sweet spot’ of schools at the White House meeting. Taking into account the traditional years of work experience leaves about 2,000 candidates (see table below). Even if you relax the expectation of years of work experience, the resulting numbers of candidates are small relative to the aspirational enrollment of leading schools. And even the 34,000 women considering a full-time MBA program is small relative to the 633 AACSB-accredited institutions in the world (which would yield 54 women per class).”

Bruner’s conclusion: “If we are to achieve the benefits of enrolling more women in MBA programs, we need more women applicants. Change will come slowly.”


Total Tests Taken By Women101,336 Total female GMAT test takers in 2012-2013 test year
Unique Female Examinees81,069Unique examinees were 80% of tests taken in 2012-13 test year 
Considering MBA50,26362% of GMAT examinees want to apply to MBA programs
Considering Full-Time33,67667% of those considering MBA want to enroll in full-time programs
Scored 640+6,06218% of those considering MBA scored 640+
4-9 years of experience2,12235% of those considering MBA have 4-9 years of experience

Source: Analysis of GMAT test taking data by Bob Bruner

  • JohnAByrne

    In defense of the dean, he’s only looking at the numbers and saying that there has to be dramatic change to get the numbers to move in any significant fashion.

  • Darden FY

    So I’m coming to this discussion late, but as a FY female at Darden, this really upsets me. Especially with my 740 GMAT. Had I seen this before I applied, I don’t know that I would have felt welcome.

  • Rajendra

    Like the last 10 years, the change will continue to be gradual without any doubt.

  • Feminist MBA

    Although that may be because all of my posts have typos. Sorry!

  • Feminist MBA

    Are we evening having the same conversation? I don’t think you understand what we are saying.

  • CPO_C_Ryback

    Careful what you wish for. You might get it.

  • CPO_C_Ryback

    Five years as a worker-bee in Youngstown, Ohio, is the same as five years as an Outward Bound leader in Africa?


  • Feminist MBA

    Shouldn’t matter. At the point at which she is on the waitlist, she must be good enough to be there, right? If we take the things schools say about wait-lists at face value, it’s about creating a “balanced class,” not about who is good enough to be there. If that’s the truth, there shouldn’t ever be women or minorities on waitlists.

  • Feminist MBA

    ? I’m not sure what you’re getting at. I have an MBA, I don’t need a second.

    I was criticizing a statement which blamed the system instead of looking to take action.

  • CPO_C_Ryback

    Five years where? That the big thing. And in what kinds of roles?

  • CPO_C_Ryback

    Gee, there are some African-American billionaires. Why don’t they open MBA programs, and level the field? Show how it should be done?

    From the Henry Ford family — you say things are bad, they will be.

  • CPO_C_Ryback

    Do you know anything about Darden? Its workload is second only to Harvard, something awful.

    Careful what you wish for. You might get it. And then be horribly surprised.

  • MBAToday

    I don’t buy this. I’m a female candidate on the waitlist at Darden with a 700+ GMAT and 5 years of work experience. And there are plenty more out there just like me – the candidates are out there, but they aren’t making space for them.

  • Myron

    Excellent point, his argument reminds me of ‘underrepresented minorities’ in various organizations. Incidentally I read the same questionable analysis about African Americans at B-Schools. Most people in charge read from the same PR script that the environment/structure is the main cause and there is not much they can do. Deans can ignore the problem, make some noises or take actions, reach out and change sth. Of course, most deans are reluctant to risk their valuable ranking spot. If Med/Law schools can do it, why not B-Schools? The women I have met at B-Schools are accomplished students and contribute to class room experience.

  • Feminist MBA

    I’ve read about people like this in HBS cases. This sounds like someone trying to avoid taking responsibility for their actions. Trying to claim his powerless to change the status-quo, despite being a Dean at one of the top B-Schools in the country. If this is the kind of thinking you teach your MBA’s, it’s no-wonder women (or anyone else) doesn’t want to go there.