By The Numbers: Are Women Really Making Progress At Business School?

women students

The progress of women in business is, like history, a tale of two steps forward and a step back, where the pace of progress seemingly fails to match the promise.

There’s little doubt that far greater numbers of women are enrolled in the world’s best MBA programs. Just look at the trend lines at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. In 1999, the school’s incoming class of MBA students boasted 20% women. This fall, that number had more than doubled to 42%. And the progress is even more striking when you look at the bigger picture. Among Poets&Quants’ ten highest-ranked MBA programs, nine reaped classes with 40% or more women. In fact, the only Top 10 school to miss this threshold – Columbia Business School –actually led the pack in this metric in the 2000 Financial Times rankings at 36%.

Look at the percentage of female faculty at top business schools, however, and you see much less progress. Chicago Booth, which has shown the greatest advance on studnets, rising 22 percentage points, is dead last on female faculty among the Top 25 business schools. Only 15% of Booth’s faculty are women, compared to Harvard Business School’s 28% total, or Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business’ 25%. Out of the Top 25, only three schools report a lower percentage of faculty members in 2015 than 1999. And none of those schools – Kellogg (-5%), Duke Fuqua (-3%), and Virginia Darden (-2%) experienced a steep decline.


Over the past 16 years, few schools enjoyed a noteworthy uptick of tenured and tenure-track professors in the classroom. And just four programs – Michigan State Broad (+19%), Yale SOM (+14%), Notre Dame Mendoza (+13%), and Carnegie Mellon Tepper (+11%) experienced an increase of 20% or more. At 33%, Broad’s total actually represents the highest percentage of faculty women among Top 25 American MBA programs. And just one top business school, either domestic or overseas, employed a faculty with 40% or more women (U.C.-Irvine’s Merage School of Business at 46%).

Using historical Financial Times data, Poets&Quants recently reviewed the progress of women in top business schools according to three metrics: Females students (“Percentage of female students in the full-time MBA”); female faculty (“Percentage of female faculty”); and female board members (“Percentage of female members on the school’s advisory board”). Rather than report year-by-year fluctuations, Poets&Quants evaluated progress over four locus points: 2016, 2011, 2006, and 2000 (The earliest available ranking, 1999, did not include the percentage of women who served on school advisory boards).


In 2015, you could’ve referred to business school recruiting as the year of the woman. Kellogg hit an all-time high of 43% female students, up 12 percentage points from five years earlier. Wharton, a traditional haven for women, matched Kellogg’s total. And Booth, Yale, and Harvard trailed just a point behind them. Ironically, UC-Berkeley Haas and Stanford, which made headlines by lassoing female students to the tune of 43% and 42% respectively the year before, actually slid two percentage points each in their fall classes.

Indeed, a rising tide lifts all boats. And that was certainly true when it came to women who chose to be full-time MBA students. In 2015, just 13 schools ranked in Financial Times’ Top 100 sported classes with 40% or more women. In 2016, that number had doubled to 27. The level of concentration improved too, with nine schools producing classes of 45% or more women – compared to just four the previous year.

Despite American programs grabbing the spotlight, the real yeo(wo)man’s work is happening overseas. Three of the five programs with the highest percentage of MBA women are based in China: Renmin University (59%), Fudan University (51%), the Chinese University of Hong Kong (49%), and Shanghai Jiao Tong University Antai (45%). British programs acquitted themselves even better, with four programs housing 45% or more women: Leeds University (57%), Durham University (47%), Edinburgh Business School (47%), and Imperial College (45%). And two American schools, the University of San Diego (48%) and Rochester Simon (44%) ranked within striking distance of their Chinese and British counterparts.

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