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A Historic Gathering Of Female B-School Deans Tackles Gender Inequality

Power in numbers: (Rear, L-R): Scheller dean Maryam Alavi, Tippie dean Sarah Gardial, Goizueta dean Erika James, George Washinton dean Linda Livingstone, Kellogg dean Sally Blount, and Kelley dean Idalene Kesner; (Front, L-R): Ross dean Alison Davis-Blake, Carey dean Amy Hillman, Anderson dean Judy Olian, Carlson dean Sri Zaheer, and White House adviser Betsey Stevenson

Power in numbers: (Rear, L-R): Scheller dean Maryam Alavi, Tippie dean Sarah Gardial, Goizueta dean Erika James, George Washinton dean Linda Livingstone, Kellogg dean Sally Blount, and Kelley dean Idalene Kesner; (Front, L-R): Ross dean Alison Davis-Blake, Carey dean Amy Hillman, Anderson dean Judy Olian, Carlson dean Sri Zaheer, and White House adviser Betsey Stevenson

To little fanfare, a potentially historic moment has taken place in the business school arena, involving 10 powerful women and a senior White House adviser. The 10 women are deans at leading U.S. business schools. The adviser is a member of the three-person panel that advises the President on economic policy.

On Feb. 3, the deans met at UCLA with Economic Advisory Council member Betsey Stevenson and embarked on a mission: to bring more women into business schools as students, faculty members, and deans.

The gathering follows an April meeting in the White House between Stevenson and fellow advisory council member Jason Furman, and 10 male and four female deans from elite business schools including Harvard Business School, the Fuqua School of Business, the Kellogg School of Management, the Haas School of Business, and the Ross School of Business.

A HISTORIC FIRST IN B-SCHOOLS

The meeting this month in Los Angeles reflects a critical mass of sorts: For the first time in history, there are 10 female deans in the top 60 business schools, nine of them in the top 50.  The unusual pow-wow occurred at the invitation of July Olian, dean of UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. Sally Blount, dean of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, and Alison Davis-Blake, dean of the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, were scheduled to be on campus for an accreditation visit.

Why not use the occasion to bring together other prominent female deans in an attempt to come up with a plan for addressing gender inequality at all levels in the business school ecosystem, she thought. “We felt that we could do it better collectively, rather than alone,” says Olian.

In business schools, and in business management, men dominate. Women make up only about 35% of the U.S. MBA student population. Among undergraduate business majors, about 43% are women, even though 60% of the students entering the top universities in the U.S. are female. Women in business doctoral programs is also low: 38.1% in the 2013-14 academic year, not much more than the 37.9% ten years earlier. The United Nations reports that women hold 43% of senior and middle management positions in the U.S. but fewer than 5% of Fortune 500 companies have female CEOS. About 19% of board seats in S&P 500 companies are held by women.

Among students, because career experience is required for entry into most MBA programs, women’s choices around having families play a role in unequal business school gender representation, Davis-Blake says. “It’s really a timing issue and not a hostility-of-business schools issue.”

WOMEN MORE LIKELY TO GIVE UP ON ECONOMICS

Women’s socialized response to their own performance can also lead them to fall out of the student pipeline to business schools, Davis-Blake says. Female students who receive a B or C grade in an economics or business class are far more likely than men to stop studying in that field, Davis-Blake says.

Reasons for unequal gender representation in B-school faculties are varied, the deans say. According to Kellogg’s Blount, the pipeline that carries people through business-oriented PhD programs into business school faculties is 80% male. Adds Davis-Blake, “The faculty pipeline is very long and very leaky.”

Women leave the pipeline at greater rates than men because they often are “stymied” along the way, gaining less support, fewer promotions, and failing to gain tenure, Olian says, noting that family responsibilities can often play a role in climbing the academic ladder.

At root, the solution to gender inequality in business schools lies in putting more women into the pipeline toward degrees, faculty positions, and deanships, and keeping them from falling out – creating bigger reservoirs of talented people for selection into programs and positions, the deans say.

COMING SOON: A CONSORTIUM TO IMPROVE THE PIPELINE

They plan to bring together a “consortium” to carry out their mission to remedy business school gender inequality. One project for the group could be a summer boot camp for high school teachers, to familiarize them with careers in business, Olian suggests. “It goes back very much to where you’re starting out in high school,” Olian says. “There is no isolated point at which you can remedy this.”

Statistics show that women are less likely than men to pursue jobs in the private, for-profit sector or to own a business. Instead, women are more likely to enter the non-profit sector or to teach. Similarly, women from top universities are 50% less likely than their male peers to pursue some of the most competitive jobs that are among the best training grounds for their careers, such as investment banking or management consulting. These are major factors why women earn only 82% of what men do one year after leaving college.

The deans have a simple, though hard-to-achieve goal in mind: To inspire more women to consider an undergraduate business major or minor, or a pre-experience master’s degree in business.

Women’s sports organizations could provide another avenue for generating female MBA applicants, Olian says.”Those are people that have excelled. They have purpose. They’re born leaders. Have they thought about an MBA?” And, Olian adds, the proportion of women in STEM fields has been climbing, creating a pool of potential B-school applicants. “The STEM fields are ripe for us,” Olian says.

The deans are also considering workshops for female academics in earlier administrative positions who may someday want to be deans, along with a joint presentation at this summer’s Academy of Management conference. The academic pipeline gives reason to suggest that these efforts could have a more short-term impact. Some 67.9% of the assistant deans or directors of business undergraduate programs are now female, while 65.1% of assistant deans in general are women, according to the AACSB.