More Parents Paying For Their Kids’ MBAs

On Harvard Business School's sprawling campus

On Harvard Business School’s sprawling campus

Will Harvard Ever Have a Class That’s 50% Women?



If that’s your batting average, you’re another Rogers Hornsby. If that’s your pay raise, consider yourself blessed. But if that’s the percentage of women in your business school, then you have some work to do.

That’s the sentiment at Harvard Business School, where 41% of the 940 incoming students were women. Just one problem: It’s still less than an even split (Worse, it’s a percentage point lower than Wharton, whose classes have included 40% or more women for five consecutive years). Nationwide, the number is just 37%…far closer to a third than a half.

In reality, business schools have come a long way, observes Matt Symonds, Chief Editor of MBA50 in his latest Bloomberg Businessweek column.

Back in 1965, only 8 of HBS’ 684 graduates were women…a depressing 1.1% figure. Fast forward to 1999 and b-schools had upped their game. Among the elite programs, women comprised over 40% of the class at NYU Stern…and approached that percentage at Haas and Columbia. There were stragglers, of course. Women barely comprised a fifth of Booth enrollees…and at Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton – the holy trinity of business schools – women barely cracked 30%.

Now, it’s two steps forward and one step back. Harvard and Wharton have vaulted over the 40% mark, while Stanford, Kellogg, Booth, and Sloan have boosted their numbers by 5%-15% over the past 15 years. But Stern – the original trailblazer – has slipped a bit. And the percentage of women at Haas has actually dropped by nearly 10%, placing them dead last among the top 10 schools in 2014.

BW Chart


To optimists, such advances represent a sea change. For cynics, progress has stalled or even hit the proverbial ceiling (pun intended). But the dynamic is a bit more complicated.

Symonds also points out that child rearing plays a role in inequality. Citing a 2009 National Bureau of Economic Research study on Booth MBAs in the corporate and financial sectors, he writes that “the bulk of gender differences in earnings across the 10 to 15 years following MBA completion was primarily related to greater career discontinuity, less job experience, and shorter work hours for female MBAs.”

And he adds this caveat: “The ever-spiraling cost of two years at a top business school, with the associated loss of salary, is going to dissuade more women from taking on the significant debt burden when, according to the NBER study, the careers of MBA mothers slow down substantially within a few years following their first child.”

Here’s another viewpoint. In a recent blog post, Bob Bruner, dean of the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, argued that there weren’t enough female candidates with the academic and professional chops to be admitted into elite business schools to achieve a better balance. According to GMAT data, only 6,062 women (out of 101,336) scored a 640 or better on the GMAT. Among those, only 2,122 had the requisite 4-9 years of business school. “Even if you relax the expectation of years of work experience,” Bruner writes, “the resulting numbers of candidates are small relative to the aspiration enrollment of leading schools.”

Achieving greater parity would “enhance the educational experience of both men and women,” Bruner notes. However, the challenge goes well beyond schools’ expectations and recruiting practices. “Achieving [increased female enrollment] is constrained by the small numbers and proportion of women seeking education in business. Therefore a priority should be to increase the pool of qualified applicants.”

Bruner is certainly onto something. Take the GMAT, for example, where only 43% of test-takers are women. Break down the stats further and women actually represent 64% of test-takers in China and 57% in Russia. In the United States, they comprise 38% of the total – and only 33% and 27% in Western Europe and Latin America respectively. Now, combine this with another stat cited by Bruner: Women comprise 50% of undergraduate business majors in the United States.

That means that 62% of female business majors never take the GMAT to get into business school. Actually, that percentage is likely far higher since many test-takers come from different majors than business. In short, the answer to gender inequality may really stem from this question: Why are so female business graduates –particularly Americans – dropping off the business school radar after graduation?


Source: Bloomberg Businessweek

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