White House Backs B-School Gender Drive

Equality concept

Serious momentum has been building for well over a year now. In April 2014, 14 business school deans met at the White House with President Barack Obama’s senior advisor, Valerie Jarrett, to discuss “best practices” in preparing women for the labor force. In February, UCLA Anderson School of Management Dean Judy Olian hosted nine of her colleagues from top business schools and Economic Advisory Council member Betsey Stevenson for a historic meeting to discuss how to bring more women into business schools as deans, faculty members, and students.

But if strength truly does rest in numbers, the strongest move toward business school inclusiveness happened today (Aug. 5). Representatives from 47 business schools joined members of the Council of Economic Advisers and the Council on Women and Girls at the White House to commit to proposed “best practices” aimed to help women access and succeed within business school and throughout their careers.

“The American workforce has changed dramatically over the past few decades, and businesses are increasingly recognizing the benefits of attracting a diverse range of talent and supporting both men and women as they balance work and home responsibilities,” says a White House statement on the best practices commitment. “Business schools and the business community as a whole have a critical role to play in helping prepare future leaders for a 21st century workplace.”

Many deans from the country’s best business schools attended the meeting. “This was a day where business schools engaged in a collective commitment to an issue that is important,” says Dean Alison Davis-Blake of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. “The day was about what business schools can do individually, collectively, and with companies to expand access to business education and managerial jobs. To see business schools working together was exciting.”

Dean David Thomas of Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business says the amount of effort and commitment from so many schools and organizations shows how prominent the gender issue in business education has become. “I think the significance of it is rather than this being something focused on a school-by-school basis, it’s really risen to the level of being a primary agenda item for business schools as an industry,” he says.


The best practices suggest concrete strategies around the four broad categories of ensuring access to business schools and careers; preparing students for the “workforce of tomorrow;” providing career services that go beyond the “traditional student;” and “exemplifying how organizations should be run.”

Some of the specifics include building pipelines to younger women and girls through conferences, mentoring, and sponsorships; encouraging and facilitating opportunities for faculty to bring in more diverse presenters and speakers into their courses; and exemplifying in themselves how organizations should be run by diversifying administration, faculty, and staff.

Davis-Blake and Thomas were quick to note what their respective schools have done and plan to do. At Ross, it’s about life-long support and collaboration with girls and women. Through the Och Initiative, Ross begins getting girls interested in finance from a young age.

“We’re partnering with Girl Scouts and when they’re selling cookies, we’re teaching them finance,” Davis-Blake says. “We tell them if they like managing money and their finances, they can do that as a job.”

She also says the school is getting more creative in providing many “access points” to graduate education for women. Ross will also start an initiative called Life Long Learning this fall to foster relations and career growth for its alumni.

“We want to provide access throughout the whole life course,” she adds, “from when they are at the age of Girl Scouts to graduate education to engaging alumni mid- and late-career.”

At Georgetown’s McDonough, Thomas mentioned the work of professor Catherine Tinsley as being instrumental to inclusion – particularly her work in the Women’s Leadership Initiative at McDonough and the introduction of the first MBA credit course for women’s development, called Developing Women Leaders.


Another topic at the center of discussions at the White House, and what Davis-Blake says is often overlooked in conversations surrounding the issue, was the concept of “nudge.” While setting mandates could come off as forceful, nudging is a way to inch closer to fostering inclusion without making it a rule.

For example, concerning B-school faculty hiring, instead of setting a mandate for looking at equal numbers of men and women for a position, schools could bring in the top five candidates regardless of gender. “Look at more people in the process,” she says. “Instead of mandating you have to look at equal amounts of men and women, nudge to bring in more candidates.”

Thomas says he will address the need for more female guest speakers in McDonough classes – he plans to start suggesting faculty look beyond the typical successful alumnus who tends to be male and “without any international or racial diversity.”

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.