These days it’s no secret business schools are actively seeking women for their MBA programs. They are aggressively throwing money to women applicants, creating recruiting events for young female professionals, and tapping into their alumni networks to dig up the most successful women to showcase—all in the name of inclusiveness. “The perception is that the schools are falling all over themselves to get females through the door,” Stacy Blackman, founder and president of Stacy Blackman Consulting, a prominent MBA admissions consulting firm, told Poets&Quants bluntly in May.
Indeed, the very best B-schools have not been shy about their quest to recruit women. UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business catapulted from 29% of women in the class of 2015 to 43% in the class of 2016. The Stanford Graduate School of Business has 42% in their class of 2016, Harvard Business School has 41%, and The Wharton School has 40%.
And now, perhaps more than ever, top consulting firms are doing the same. Programs and recruiting efforts geared toward advancing women with MBAs are developing and expanding rapidly. No doubt, consulting continues to be a popular and lucrative option for MBAs. But in the c-suite, it also continues to be a good ol’ boys club.
“Over half of university graduates are women and in a business environment, the number is probably 50/50. But for c-level positions there are very few women—probably between five and 15%,” says Julie Coffman, who is a partner at Bain & Company’s Chicago office and has led research and initiatives to foster career growth for women at Bain.
THE YEAR THREE ASPIRATION DROP OFF
Why are the numbers so low? Coffman’s research points to some ideas. “Women and men are starting out in their careers with equal amounts of aspirations and confidence,” Coffman explains. “But just a few years in, before senior level, we see that women’s aspirations have dropped dramatically—more than 60%—while men have stayed the same. The results were similar with confidence.”
The study Coffman led surveyed about 1,000 male and female workers across multiple industries. The firm found that 43% of women in the first two years of their careers either agreed or strongly agreed to having “aspirations to reach top management.” The percentage for men at the same career-point was just 34%. However, for women with more than two years of experience, the number drops to 16% while for men it stays the same.
According to Coffman, many factors are likely to cause the decline and they go beyond the commonly held belief that women’s careers take a hit when beginning a family. The results were the same for women with and without children. “We think that while of course balancing family and work is a challenge for everybody, it’s not a driving force,” Coffman says.
More critical, says Coffman, is self-confidence, feelings of support, and being able to identify with a role model. In many cases, believes Coffman, women are still being addressed as “sweetie” and “honey” and are asked to make copies for meetings because they are the one woman in the room. So Coffman says Bain is doing everything from continuing to build its Global Women’s Leadership Council to training managers on fostering growth and diverse management styles.
DELOITTE IMPLEMENTS WOMEN’S INITIATIVE
And Bain certainly isn’t alone. Nearly all of the top consulting firms are taking notice of the increasing amount of women entering finance and consulting—more than 40% now—yet very few are ending up in top leadership roles—about 7% are CEOs at Fortune 500 companies.
Deloitte is in the beginning stages of making big moves toward an increasingly inclusive and supportive environment for women as well as targeting women with MBAs for leadership roles. It’s called the Deloitte Women’s Initiative (WIN) and although it was first introduced in 1993, is ramping up new programs aimed at developing relationships with business schools and MBAs.
“About four or five years ago, we saw the amount of women interested in consulting at a decline,” says Kelly Marchese, a principal and head of talent recruiting based in Deloitte’s Atlanta office. “We wondered if that was part of a national phenomenon or if it was specific to us so we did a deep dive to look at all of our efforts around recruiting women MBAs.”
BALANCING RECRUITMENT WITH RETENTION
Marchese says the main disconnect was Deloitte was putting more effort into attracting women MBAs instead of retaining and advancing them. So, akin to Bain, the initiative switched from an emphasis on only recruitment to a focus on development and growth within an organization once they’re employees.
“How do you direct and control your career? As a woman, I can relate, and women want to have conversations about directing a career—not being pulled,” Marchese explains. She also says the initiative is focusing on making sure employees feel a belief and value fit to their role in the firm and being recognized for good work.
The highlight of the initiative is a conference called the Deloitte Women’s Leadership Launch, in which current MBAs meet with top women from Deloitte. “The marquee program is we select a couple of women from top schools and bring them to Deloitte University,” Marchese says. “It ends up being between 60 and 70 women from more than 30 MBA programs and they get a ton of time with top senior managers and other leadership.”