A Gender Scorecard for Business Schools

20-first CEO Avivah Wittenberg-Cox

20-first CEO Avivah Wittenberg-Cox

A Gender Scorecard for Business Schools

They say grades don’t matter in business school. No cares if you earned a C in Strategy. Passing is passing, right?

Don’t say that to school administrators, who meticulously screen applicants for their enviable track records and can-do spirits. In academia – like business – the mediocre, generic, and complacent are the biggest threats. Like their students, faculty and staff aren’t just satisfied with success. They want to create and disrupt, making a difference and doing good all at once.

So you can imagine how frustrated business schools must be with the continuing gender gap. In recent years, schools have invested in scholarships, outreach, staff, and partnerships to attract more women to their programs. Despite such efforts, just 36.4% of MBAs in the United States were conferred to women in 2013 – a result that would earn a failing grade in most classes. Outside the United States, that number isn’t much better at 38.1% according to 20-first, a research and consulting firm focusing on networking, mentoring and leadership training for women.


Indeed, gender equality is a touchy subject. Forget the 77 cents-for-every-dollar stat. In the faculty lounge, the real question is how to increase female representation in the c-suite and the boardroom. While women run leading firms like General Motors, Yahoo, and PepsiCo, they hold just 4.6 percent of CEO positions at Fortune 500 companies according to Catalyst. More striking: the Forte Foundation found that women filled just 14 percent of senior executive and 17 percent of board member spots.

MBAs are a major pipeline to the corner office. According to 20-first, 31 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are MBAs. As noted earlier, barely a third of b-school graduates are women. Do the math: You won’t many female MBAs hopping into the big chair anytime soon.

And 20-first is looking to help change that…for good reason. In a 2014 report from the Council of Economic Advisors entitled “Women’s Participation in Education and the Workforce,” 25-34 year-old women were 21 percent more likely than men to graduate from college and 48 percent more likely to have completed college. What’s more, Women Moving Millions adds that roughly 70 percent of college valedictorians are women. So why do men still outnumber women in MBA programs by a two-to-one margin?

Well, that’s the $64,000 question. And Lesley Symons, a former Estee Lauder executive who now serves as a consultant for 20-first, has one answer. “Despite the fact that women are 60% of university graduates,” she writes, “the number falls precipitously at business schools. Female faculty are in even shorter supply. The learning tools used on MBA programmes feature case studies dominated by men. The faculty are mostly men (tenured faculty even more so). And executive programs are even more male dominated than the MBA classes. Add all this up, and neither women nor men are getting much experience of gender balance at business schools.”


The shortage of female faculty members is one theme from 20-first’s “Global Gender Balance Scorecard,” a call to arms against the status quo. “Business schools could play a crucial role in educating both men and women about gender-balanced companies and leadership,” writes 20-first CEO Avivah Wittenberg-Cox and Lesley Symons in the Harvard Business Review. “They are an ideal place to develop talent that is twenty-first-century-ready—i.e., that is both meritocratic and “gender bilingual.” How seriously have these schools embedded this culture change themselves? Have they created balanced learning environments? And how attractive are their rather masculine cultures to today’s more female-dominated pools of college graduates?”

Despite the rhetoric, the term “scorecard” may be a misnomer here. 20-first doesn’t saddle schools with letter grades or indexed cumulative scores. Instead, the “scorecard” simply provides some basic data on the top schools. Drawing from schools in the 2015 Financial Times business school ranking, 20-first includes the percentage of females in both the faculty and student populations at the top business schools. Using this data, the firm also provides the percentage of growth in each population, as well as where they fit within four “tiers” (the segments used by the Financial Times “based on the pattern of clustering within the final scores.”).

From a macro perspective, the “scorecard” concedes that most top 100 MBA programs have made improvements in gender balance from 2010-2015. For example, it cites seven programs as having a female student population over 40 percent and female faculty over 30 percent. However, none of the schools fell within the first tier…nor were any based in the United States.


Among what the FT considers tier-one programs, four American programs lead with the way in the percentage of female students. The University of California-Berkeley (Haas) chalked up the best highest proportion of women at 43 percent, followed by the Stanford Graduate School of Business (42 percent), Harvard Business School (41 percent), and the Wharton School (40 percent). At 39 percent, MIT’s Sloan School of Management fell just under the 40 percent bar. At the opposite end, two programs based in Spain – IESE Business School (22 percent) and IE Business School (28 percent) – fared the worst among female MBA students.

Ironically, IE Business School maintains the highest percentage of female faculty members among tier one schools at 37 percent. In fact, IE Business School is the only tier one program with a higher percentage of female faculty over female students (though IESE comes close at 22 percent female students vs. 21 percent female faculty). Among top tier American programs, the University of Chicago reported the lowest percentage of female faculty members (16 percent), while Harvard Business School (25 percent) placed at the high end. Overall, the lowest percentage of female faculty belonged to CEIBS at 13 percent.


Top Tier Business School Ranking for Female Representation

Rank School Female Students Female Faculty
 1  Harvard Business School  41%  25%
 2  London Business School  36%  27%
 3  Wharton School  40%  22%
 4  Stanford Graduate School of Business  42%  21%
 5  INSEAD  31%  15%
 6  Columbia Business School  36%  17%
 7  IESE Business School  22%  21%
 8  MIT (Sloan)  39%  21%
 9  University of Chicago (Booth)  36%  16%
 10  University of California-Berkeley (Haas)  43%  22%
 11  CEIBS  33%  13%
 12  IE Business School  28%  37%

Source: U.S. News & World Report

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