Lisa Ordoñez is the new face of business education at UC-San Diego’s Rady School of Management. Her arrival is auspiciously timed.
As the second-ever dean of the Rady School settles into her first semester, she does so amid a big helping of good news. Of 335 students enrolled at Rady across the school’s six master’s programs, 60% are women, including 43% of the latest full-time MBA cohort, enough to make many elite programs envious, 53% in the FlexEvening part-time MBA, and 49% in the FlexWeekend MBA.
Such a benchmark across programs seemed unlikely even a year ago, when Rady reported that just 28% of its full-time and 38% of its part-time MBA students were women. But a great deal has changed in the short period since. The school has made a concerted effort to cultivate interest from women eyeing business master’s programs, including developing social impact and sustainability initiatives and curricula; it has doubled down on outreach efforts; and maybe most importantly, its new dean says, it has invested in “creating a welcome environment.” Rady’s hard work has paid off in not only the school’s three MBA programs but its three other master’s programs as well: This fall, the Rady Master of Finance is 64% women, the Master of Science in Business Analytics is 67% female, and the Master of Professional Accountancy is 59% women.
Perhaps the biggest signal that Rady and SoCal may be an attractive option for women mulling B-school is the hiring of Ordoñez herself, who took over from founding Dean Robert Sullivan just seven weeks ago.
“It has been an active focus for many Rady programs to say, ‘It is time that we make a big change here,'” Ordoñez tells Poets&Quants. “So I’m really proud of that. I wasn’t part of it — this is week seven for me — so I can take no credit for any of this, but I can definitely be proud of what they have done.”
‘WE ALL NEED TO BE FOCUSING ON THIS’
Lisa Ordóñez became dean of the Rady School in September after 25 years at the University of Arizona as a research faculty member; her last four years at the Eller College of Management were spent as vice dean, a role in which she supported development of an online undergraduate program, an international program, and six master’s programs. Among her other responsibilities were successfully restructuring a college-wide financial allocation model and leading a successful AACSB review.
She takes over for the only other dean Rady has ever had. Robert Sullivan ran the school from its founding in 2003 and was at the helm when, in 2015, Rady received a $100 million gift from the school’s namesake, billionaire Ernest Rady. The windfall, Sullivan said at the time, would help catapult Rady into the top 15 in the U.S. So far, that lofty goal hasn’t panned out. The Rady School was most recently ranked 68th in the U.S. by P&Q and 69th by U.S. News; its part-time MBA was ranked 35th by U.S. News.
Ordóñez, who holds three degrees from UC-Berkeley including a Ph.D. in quantitative psychology and a master’s in marketing, takes the reins at the Rady School at a point when the school is ready to shed its “startup” skin and embrace its status as a prominent research institution and an innovative economic engine in the San Diego business community and beyond. And a big part of that is reaching out and cultivating interest from under-represented minorities and women.
“One way that we do this, we will definitely focus more on entrepreneurship,” Ordoñez says. “It’s not the only thing we do — our students can also do social impact, social innovation projects, or they can do business consulting projects. But we really look to find as many female and under-represented minority mentors as possible, with the idea that you see people who look like you starting businesses. It’s a silent signal and it says, ‘You can do this too, you belong here.’
“Most business schools struggle on the under-represented minority side. We struggle; we work to try to increase doctoral students as well as under-represented minority faculty. But all of it takes a focus and I finally have seen other business schools say, ‘This is real. The businesses are telling us that this is important. We need to diversify our employees because we know companies that are more diverse in terms of gender and ethnicity as well as other perspectives are more productive and more creative. And so we all need to be focusing on this.'”
PARITY — AND MORE — ACROSS ALL MASTER’S PROGRAMS
About a year ago, the Rady School decided to make it a priority to attract more women to Southern California. Progress has been rapid. This fall, 13 of 30 newcomers to the FT MBA are women, as are 20 of 41 in the FlexWeekend and eight of 15 in the FlexEvening programs. The larger Master of Finance has 93 women out of 146 students, or nearly 64%, and the MSBA is fully two-third female: 46 of 69 students are women. Twenty of 34 students in the schools accounting master’s program are women, as well. Altogether, 200 of Rady’s 335 master’s students — 59.7% — are women.
This didn’t happen by mistake.
“It was part of a strategy,” says Shaun Carver, assistant dean for graduate programs. “A little over a year ago we were reflecting on where we were at as a school and areas that we can improve. And I think we recognized that in the past we’ve been pretty much below norm in the percentage of females in our MBA program. And maybe we recognized it was an area that needed to improve, and we put in a strategy to address it.
“If you look at the last six years, our average has been 30%-31%. We had one year where it was 39%, but I think that was a bit of an outlier in that year. This year, we set our goal at parity, so we fell a little bit short — but we still made some really nice gains this year, and 43% is a very nice number.”
Asked whether he knows of other schools with majorities of women across programs, Carver says he doesn’t.
“Especially in the last two years with USC getting the first parity and a lot of other schools kind of following in that direction, things are trending that way,” he says. “But I’ve never seen an overall, across-all-graduate-programs number to really compare us to. Certainly 60% feels like it’s a great number, but without benchmarking it to other schools, it’s hard to know how where we are. So I think we’re good.”
EMBRACING THE ‘GROWTH PROCESS’
Seven weeks into her deanship, Lisa Ordoñez is still “drinking from the fire hose” — but she also revels in being one of four women academic deans out of seven at UC-San Diego, at the helm of the Rady School in what feels like an exciting time, particularly in terms of entrepreneurship.
“I came here for the quality faculty,” she says, “and I’m finding that I didn’t understand what an incredibly vibrant startup ecosystem is here on campus and here in San Diego area. It’s alive, it really is. More than anything, I’ve just been excited about the opportunities.” She describes a recent meeting with the dean of the UCSD engineering school about a graduate certificate program in which engineers and Rady MBAs work together: “It’s not only a great way to figure out how we take ideas from just the idea to a marketable company, it’s also a real window on the clash of cultures and how to work within that. You get people coming from very different perspectives and they have to learn to work together, and what better place to do that than when you’re in school, rather than you trying to figure that out on the job. It’s great for students in many ways.
“With a new leader, it’s a new time, a time to start that growth process even more. We’re going to do a strategic plan, but I think it’s very clear that the community asks for this school. They’re the ones that stepped up and said we needed a premier business school in San Diego. I don’t see any other way but doubling down on what we’re already doing and finding ways to really further embed ourselves in this amazing ecosystem here.
“Once you get to a stage in which overall we’re actually more women than men among our students, then it does become easier to maintain. If you enter a program where there are already a lot of women and that helps you feel comfortable and welcome, I think that helps perpetuate it. It’s interesting because when our chancellor (Pradeep Khosla) started here back in 2012, none of the seven academic deans were women. Now with my hire, we actually have more women than men deans: Four out of the seven are women deans. And that’s something that people notice, too.”