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

Ross dean Alison Davis-Blake speaks to female deans' group

Ross dean Alison Davis-Blake speaks to female deans’ group

Davis-Blake raises the phenomena of boys coming out of high school with higher test scores than girls, and girls coming out with higher grades than boys. “There’s an important lesson to be learned there,” Davis-Blake says. “Assessment on one number as the main indicator is really not accurate.” Davis-Blake suggests more emphasis on “holistic admissions standards” that look at the whole candidate, ranging from their cognitive capability to their ability to work on teams. While that approach is what most admissions officers say is already in practice, it could mean a slight de-emphasis on GMATs where women tend to score lower than men. “We need to rely on multiple indicators and not get fixated on one,” Davis-Blake says. Olian adds that life experience, work experience, articulation of purpose, leadership experience, and contributions to the world should also be emphasized. But Olian says the admissions arena isn’t the place where the gender inequality problem will be solved.

“It’s more about broadening the pipeline than it is about changing the (admissions) criteria,” Olian says.

Key to the deans’ plan is involvement of the opposite gender. “This isn’t meant to be exclusionary in any way. We believe that men have to champion this, too,” Olian says.

During the April meeting at the White House, as part of the lead-up to the White House Summit on Working Families in June, high-profile deans including Harvard’s Nitin Nohria, Haas’s Richard Lyons, Davis-Blake, and Olian gave input on best practices for business schools in response to gender disparities in the labor force. After the meeting, White House advisers Betsey Stevenson and Jason Furman posted a roundup of the event, which noted that family issues hinder female MBA graduates in the workplace.


“Surveys of MBA graduates demonstrate that women are penalized due to career interruptions, often from motherhood,” Stevenson and Furman wrote. “Even if women are working, they often must accept positions that offer significantly lower pay or growth opportunities in order to have flexible work schedules to balance responsibilities outside of the workplace.”

And women in MBA programs tend to come from a concentration of fields, such as marketing, consulting, and human resources, Olian says. That reality fits with findings of a UN International Labour Organization report issued in January. That report found that female business managers are concentrated in certain functions: HR, PR, and finance and administration, with men concentrated in general management, research and product development, sales, and operations.

Olian has a picture in mind of what success ultimately looks like. “Here’s how I’ll know we’ve created a culture of success for all,” she says, “when among the commencement names I read, there are as many Janes as there are Jameses and when I’m surrounded on stage by my fellow faculty–an abundance of women as well as men.”


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