Leading MBA Programs With The Most Women

There may be only one school in the 50% women enrollment club, but a few others are knocking on the door. File photo

Real talk: This story will be a lot more interesting next year. But don’t stop reading. There are still quite a few wrinkles that deserve your attention.

The reason next year’s iteration of Leading MBA Programs With the Most Women will be more interesting is because that’s when we‘ll see the impact of one of the biggest-ever developments in the long road to parity. That, of course, is USC Marshall’s stunning achievement in its Class of 2020, the reverberations from which are still being felt: Last fall Marshall announced it had attained gender parity, that long-sought but elusive goal in graduate business education, leapfrogging several top schools that have been slowly climbing through the 40% range to become the first elite school to enroll 50% or more women in an incoming MBA class.

Marshall’s 52% women enrollment grabbed all the headlines, but it is not the only good news on the equality front. In the fall of 2017, 12 schools in the Poets&Quants U.S. Top 25 were members of the 40%-or-greater club; a year later, that number has ticked upward to 13 — more than half. Besides Marshall, which grew its female enrollment by an incredible 20 percentage points to 52% — an amazing 62.5% jump from 32% women in the Class of 2019 — the club now includes Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, which grew its female ranks from 34% to 42%, and the University of Washington Foster School of Business, which jumped from 36% to 42%. (However, it disincludes a pair that dropped out: Columbia Business School, which slipped from 41% to 39%, and the University of Texas McCombs School of Business, which dropped from 40% to 38%.) The question now is, at what point will volatility decrease in the enrollment of women in MBA programs? Will Marshall crossing the threshold inspire other programs to push harder toward parity? Will the 40% club — and even the 50% club — grow? And can USC maintain its pioneering pace?

For the answers, we need to wait another year.


Marshall’s Director of MBA Admissions Evan Bouffides says increased communication and contact with admitted and prospective students played a big part in the school’s ability to reach gender parity.

“Our students pretty aggressively recruited people we liked and especially people we admitted,” Bouffides told Poets&Quants last month. “We have a lot of women involved in the ambassador group and our Graduate Women in Business club also helped to convince people to come. It strikes me that the quality in the overall pool was the strongest that I have seen and stronger than last year. Had I known last year that the cycle would end up with 2,000 applicants, maybe we could have done better. So some of it is processes. Some of it is the terrific work of our students and staff, and there’s probably a little luck in there.”

Elissa Sangster, CEO of the Forte Foundation, cheered USC’s achievement in an interview with P&Q in December and noted that globally among Forte’s 53 member schools, three others came close: Northwestern Kellogg (46%), Dartmouth Tuck (45%), and Imperial College Business School of London (45%).

“We’re extremely proud that (USC) hit that mark,” Sangster said. “We would like to see the volatility decreasing in terms of some schools’ percentages jumping from 25% to 40% and then back to 25%. What we really want to see is a school consistently staying at that high number. For USC, that was a big leap, and I hope that that is sustainable. I don’t want to be the Debbie Downer of the group, and we are really excited that they hit that. And I think that sets a tone for the rest of the schools, so there’s never anything that is a real down side for someone hitting 50%.

“But like I said, we want to decrease volatility, and we want to see that you can consistently recruit a class that is diverse. Ultimately that’s the goal: to make sure that the class experience is a really positive one for all of the students they have recruited.”

Then, of course, there’s the question of pay — but that’s another story altogether.


Marshall’s 62.5% jump from 32% to 52% is far and away the biggest two-year leap of any top-25 school, of course, but not the only impressive one. Duke Fuqua jumped 23.5%, an 8-point gain from 34% to 42%, while Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management climbed 22.2%, a 6-point gain from 27% — last year’s low-water mark among the top schools — to 33%. Two other schools — Washington Foster and Indiana Kelley — gained six percentage points from 2017 to 2018. On the flip side, no school lost more than 3 percentage points; among those that did, UCLA Anderson and NYU Stern both fell 7.9% to 35%, Georgetown McDonough dropped 9.4% to 29%, and Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business slipped 8.8%, to 31%. Altogether 10 schools were in negative year-over-year territory, with an average loss of 2.1 percentage points, while four stayed even and 11 were in positive territory (average gain, 5.3 percentage points).

In the five-year trend, the picture is even brighter, with only five schools backsliding in the enrollment of women in their MBA programs, at an average loss of 1.4 percentage points. Meanwhile, four schools stayed even and 16 showed gains, at an average of 6.1 points. In the top 10, only one school is in negative territory over the five-year period from 2014 to 2018: Stanford Graduate School of Business, which went from 42% to 41% in that span.

The school with the highest overall percentage of women in its latest cohort, after Marshall, is Northwestern Kellogg, at 46%, followed by Dartmouth Tuck (45%) and four schools at 43%: Wharton, UC-Berkeley Haas, Michigan Ross, and Yale SOM. And the top-25 MBA program with the lowest female enrollment? Two schools tied at 28%: Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business and UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School.

(See the next page for a five-year breakdown of trends in female enrollment at the Poets&Quants Top 25 schools, as well as a look at women MBAs at the top European schools.)

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