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One Top B-School Struggles Most In Hiring Female Faculty

A new report shows that the top 20 global business schools have a lot of work to do when it comes to gender balance at the front of the classroom. Photo: taketheleadwomen.com

It’s one thing to keep progressing toward gender equity in the MBA classroom, something a majority of top-25 business schools in the United States have done. It’s another to balance the faculty. As a new report makes clear, B-schools in the U.S. and internationally have a lot of work to do in achieving greater female representation in their teaching ranks.

20-first, a UK-based management consultancy that helps businesses achieve gender balance, released its annual “report card” on global business schools on Monday (March 2). It shows that while gender equity is closer than ever in the MBA student ranks (at least in the U.S.), top schools everywhere are struggling to achieve similar results in their faculties. And one of the most prominent U.S. schools is struggling more than the rest.

While a handful of U.S. schools managed 40% or more women in their MBA programs in this year’s classes, including Harvard Business School, The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, and Stanford Graduate School of Business, only one of the 20 total B-schools in the U.S., Europe, and Asia examined by 20-first eclipsed the 30% mark in female faculty: Hong Kong University of Science and Technology Business School. Meanwhile, the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, with just 18% women on its faculty, had the worst marks of any school.

“There’s a little bit of a pipeline issue there, making sure that people are tenure-track, making sure they’re supported appropriately,” says Elissa Sangster, CEO of the Forté Foundation, a nonprofit focused on women’s advancement and gender parity in business school and the corporate world. She adds that while individual schools may be doing more to address a shortage of women in faculty positions, it remains one of the areas of gender equity that has not had a specific external focus that could shed light on the problem. “Some of the same things that happen to women in their business careers happen in those academic careers, where they’re not getting the right support from their mentor, they don’t have sponsors internally, they are going through a time in their personal life that is also somewhat challenging if they’re trying to start a family.”

STANFORD, WHARTON TOPS IN WOMEN MBAs; HKUST BEST IN FEMALE FACULTY

Elissa Sangster. File photo

Using data from The Financial Times Global MBA rankings, 20-first graded each of the 20 B-schools with a ranking: Balanced, with a 60% maximum of either gender; Progressing, with 30% to 39% female students or female faculty; Starting, with 20% to 29% female students or faculty; or Asleep, with fewer than 20% female students or faculty. Individually, 20-first lists the top schools for women in the MBA as Stanford, at 47%, and Wharton, at 46% (Wharton, however, says its class is at 47%). Nine other schools, all but one of which are in the U.S., are at 40% or more in the 20-first report card. But for faculty, the picture is much grimmer.

All schools but two received a “Starting” rank, with HKUST Business School barely inching into “Progressing” at 30% and Chicago Booth at the other end of the spectrum, ranking “Asleep” with just 18%. That’s still an improvement, 20-first notes, over Booth’s mark of 16% in last year’s report. Yet other schools don’t have much room to boast. Even those that managed to avoid being branded “Asleep” only did so by the skin of their teeth, and in some cases only because they got a boost between 2018 and 2019 — particularly Cambridge Judge Business School, INSEAD, and HEC Paris, all of which are at 20% a year after being at 19%. So, too, with Columbia Business School (21%, up 3 points), UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business (22%, up 2), and Duke University Fuqua School of Business (24%, up 2).

“It’s unfortunate,” Sangster says, “that women are hearing the drumbeat of, ‘Here we have more women involved in our classroom. We have hit these amazing markers.’ But when they arrive and they sit down in the classroom, many are experiencing no female faculty. If you only have 18% women faculty, it’s possible that you enroll in a program and you never see a woman (teaching in the classroom).”

20-first found that overall across the 20 B-schools, 39% of MBAs, but only 25% of faculty, are women. Just two schools — UC-Berkeley Haas and Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management — get props for having women deans. In all, 15 of the 20 schools are up from last year in female faculty, with Columbia and the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business up the most, 3 points (bringing Darden to 29%); while half the schools are up or even in the number of female MBA students, led by HKUST’s 7-point increase to 37%, Stanford’s 6-point jump to 47%, and IESE’s 5-point climb to 31%. Berkeley Haas is down the most in women MBA students, 6 points to 37%. Eleven schools have now “balanced” their MBA student populations, according to 20-first’s criteria, down from 12 last year.

One notable trend: U.S. schools are far ahead of their international counterparts in the number of women in their MBA programs. This is particularly true of European B-schools. Four of the five European schools examined by 20-first lag every one of their American counterparts, with only London Business School (38%) managing to catch the pack, and none has achieved gender balance. “This does not bode well for Europe’s business talent pipeline,” 20-first’s report reads. “Or for the European companies (and business school clients) trying to balance their own businesses.” Sangster addressed this in an interview with Poets&Quants in December. In Europe, she said,  “the negative variables are still in play: There are not enough women in the pipeline to fill all of those seats. So we still want to see growth in the number of women taking the GMAT test, the number of women applying to business school.

“But despite what is going on with rhetoric in the media and globally what’s been happening, even despite that we’re still seeing improvement, so we’re pleased with that.”

LACK OF GENDER BALANCE IN FACULTY ‘A CLEAR STICKING POINT’

20-first analyzes progress on gender balance in the top companies of a number of industries and countries, as well as across the Top 100 companies of the Fortune Global 500. Among its corporate clients are Microsoft, Accenture, Nestle, Bayer, and Unilever. The consultancy notes on its website that one of its philosophies is that gender balance is a business issue that some companies see as a problem, and others see as an opportunity.

The opportunity for B-schools, as it were, comes in serving as a reliable pipeline of talented women MBAs to the world of business. Gender balance “should positively contribute to a continued knock-on effect in company leadership, salaries, and pay gaps in the coming years,” 20-first notes, which in turn should improve the talent pool of applicants to those schools. How to get still more women in business school? The answer, says Elissa Sangster, is scholarships.

“Recent research we conducted shows that an MBA provides an economic mobility engine for women, increasing their salary 63% or more, but they still make less than men both pre- and post-MBA,” she says. “Providing scholarships to help women pursue an MBA helps to level the playing field.”

The faculty problem, however, is thornier.

“The lack of gender balance in the faculty is a clear sticking point,” 20-first’s report reads, “and has a huge impact on the culture and climate of what gets taught, valued, and perceived as leadership. Balance in the classroom leads to balance in the workplace; you cannot be what you cannot see. The majority of the top 20 schools have stubbornly registered either no change or a minimal increase of 1-2% in female faculty numbers.”

See the next page for 20-first’s complete report card on global B-school’s progress in gender equity for MBA students and faculty.