A Gender Scorecard for Business Schools

Berkeley's Haas School of Business

Berkeley’s Haas School of Business

Such numbers actually represent progress. For example, the percentage of female faculty grew by four percent at both Harvard and IE Business School over the past five years. And IESE Business School and London Business School enjoyed a three percent bump.

However, Haas exemplifies how frustrating efforts to increase female representation in the student and faculty bodies can be. Despite the percentage of female students swelling by 15 percent at Haas since 2010, that same percentage among faculty has dropped by three percent. Similarly, you’ll find a lag between the two groups at some schools. For example, London Business School has raised the percentage of female students by nine percent over five years – against a three percent increase in female faculty. Stanford produced similar numbers: a nine percent leap in female students coupled with a two percent climb in female faculty members.

That said, such progress can’t disguise a key gap: Despite having the highest proportion of female students, top tier programs had the lowest percentage of female faculty members.


Looking for a silver lining? If you think of second and third tier schools as a farm system, where faculty members pay their dues before being called up to the big leagues, you have reason for hope. Among tier one MBA programs, just eight percent have faculty where 30 percent (or more) are women. Among tier two schools, such as Duke (Fuqua), Northwestern (Kellogg), and Dartmouth (Tuck), that percentage triples to 24 percent. And it also remains healthy at the third (22 percent) and fourth (32 percent) tiers. In other words, women are slowly inching their way into tenure-track positions. Just don’t expect the faculty lounge to shift from being a good old boy’s club anytime soon.

However, such gains have been undercut by the ongoing struggle to bring female students into graduate business schools. Take top tier schools, where adcoms can apply the most selective standards. Here, 25 percent of tier one schools have female populations greater than 40 percent. And 58 percent of these schools have female students in the 30-to-40 percent range. Compare that to second tier schools, where just seven percent have female student populations above 40 percent. In third tier programs, that number falls to five percent. In other words, growing female populations at the top programs is like placing the proverbial band-aid on a gunshot wound. Unless the percentage of female students is increased across the board, the problem is simply being shifted from one tier to another.



Bob Bruner, the outgoing dean of the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, has made this exact point. In a 2014 blog post, Bruner noted that only 80,000 of the 916,000 women who earned a bachelors degree in 2009 took a standardized test to enter business school. Despite schools’ best efforts, low demand for business education among women – coupled with historical testing data – suggest gender parity is nearly impossible for business schools.

“Of the 81,000 women who take the [admissions] test,” Bruner writes, “only 50,000 have made the decision to apply to an MBA program, of which only 34,000 are considering attending a full-time MBA program. Of these some 6,000 women offer academic potential generally consistent with the admission “sweet spot” of schools… Taking into account the traditional years of work experience, [that] leaves about 2,000 candidates. Even if you relax the expectation of years of work experience, the resulting numbers of candidates are small relative to the aspirational enrollment of leading schools. And even the 34,000 women considering a full-time MBA program…is small relative to the 633 AACSB-accredited institutions in the world (which would yield 54 women per class).”

Line Group (Column A) Volume (B) % of Line 1 (C) Notes (D)
1 Total Tests Taken by Women 101,336
2 Unique Examinees – Women 81,069 80% Unique examinees were 80% of total tests taken in 2012-13 test year
3 Considering MBA 50,263 62% 62% of GMAT examinees want to apply to MBA programs
4 Considering Full-Time 33,676 67% 67% of those considering MBA want to enroll in full-time programs
5 Scored 640+ 6,062 18% 18% of those considering MBA scored 640+
6 4-9 years of experience 2,122 35% 35% of those considering MBA have 4-9 years of experience

Source: Bob Bruner (Dean’s Blog)

If you accept Bruner’s premise – and apply the “scorecard” metaphor from Twenty-first – you could argue that any evaluation would be slanted. The only way to evaluate progress would be on a curve. Since top tier programs are the most attractive draws for applicants, regardless of gender, you could add that the system is set up for lower tier programs to struggle when it comes to female representation.

In other words, real solutions – not window dressing – are outside the control of graduate business programs. For example, Bruner ticks off a series of steps to increase the representation of women in MBA programs They include improving K-12 education to promote entry in business programs; expanding outreach to undergraduate students, boosting financial aid to female students; developing programs to ease the transition for women into business careers; and relaxing H1-B visa requirements for prospective female students. Business schools can contribute towards facilitating such activities. Demographics are destiny. And there is little that schools can do to move the needle in the short-term.

20-first’s “scorecard” is an appealing infographic (and a wake up call, no less). At its heart, it is a flawed tool that simply reflects the end result at the expense of a longer sequence shaped by broader trends. It may depict which programs are attracting the best-and-brightest women to the student and faculty ranks. To solve the gender gap, the real issue is expanding the pool, not re-distributing it.


Source: 20-first and Harvard Business Review

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