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Maryland's Smith School of Business is ranked 36th among the top 100 U.S. business schools by Poets&Quants.

Maryland’s Smith School of Business

University of Maryland Seeking More Female MBA Students

“Well, someone’s gotta do it.”

You’d expect that sentiment to come from an accidental movie hero. As the villain – often with a thick eastern bloc accent – seizes the momentum, the hero steps forward and undermines the plan (often with slapstick and a timely catchphrase). Sure, it’s cliché – or a Jungian archetype depending on your persuasion. In the end, we all wish that we could take charge and be the difference maker.

Maybe that’s one motivation behind the University of Maryland’s decision to launch its “50/50 By 2020 program. Set to be unveiled at the school’s annual Women Leading Women Symposium on March 5th, the program’s goal is produce a 50/50 split between men and women in the MBA program.

The program is being sponsored by the Forte Foundation, a public and private sector consortium designed to increase opportunities for women in academia and business through scholarships, education, and mentorship. Currently, the program’s details are sketchy. However, Joyce Russell, vice dean of the university’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, shared that they intend to target high school and middle school girls in the process (as well as undergrads). “We’ve got to find out what it is that would get girls excited about business,” Russell acknowledges.

Certainly, this isn’t a solution in search of a problem. According to the Forte Foundation, barely a third of MBA graduates are women. At Smith itself, just 32% of the student body is comprised of women. Not surprisingly, women are underrepresented in business. Just 14% of Fortune 500 senior executives are women (and only 17% of its board members). At the very top, just 4% of Fortune 500 companies are run by women. “You can’t make any change unless it starts from the top,” Russell points out.

Worse, the numbers have been stagnating. Back in the 1970s, the percentage of women enrolled in business schools was in single digits. In the 1980s, according to The Washington Post, that number rose into the low 30s…where it remains today. This may also explain why women are also a minority in b-school’s academic circles. “The percentage of women business school deans is very low, around 20 percent,” Russell shares. “And the women faculty who could potentially become deans is also low. Those percentages are in the 30s.” And it doesn’t look to improve anytime soon – at least not in America, where only 38% of GMAT test-takers are women.

So why isn’t business a magnet for the best-and-brightest women? For starters, MBA programs aren’t cheap, with tuition at the top schools running $55,000-$60,000 a year (excluding living expenses). Women aren’t foolish either, sometimes facing glass ceilings and lower wages compared to their male counterparts. And biology plays a part too, with a recent study from Vanderbilt’s Joni Hersch showing that over a third of women who earned an MBA after attending a tier one undergraduate program opted out of the workforce after becoming mothers.

Russell also attributes this low participation to long work hours, punishing workloads, and rigid corporate cultures. And she believes an influx of women, particularly at the senior levels, could soften the blow. “For decades now,” she says, “when women go into workplaces, they have to accommodate to the workplace that exists, one that’s built around the organization man. If more women were at those higher levels, they’d understand that the workplace can accommodate the people coming in…We need change. But I don’t think we’re going to get it until the people making the decisions understand the issues. And it’s hard to understand them if you’ve never experienced them.”

Thus, Smith is taking a step forward to make a difference. And like a reluctant action hero, Dean Alex Triantis is pushing forward, unsure of the outcome but knowing something needs to be done. “Now it is time to deliver results,” he wrote in a recent release. “Working together with public, private and social sector organizations, we will do what it takes to attract and advance more women in business careers.”


Source: Washington Post

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