This MBA Program Wants To Be Europe’s First To Reach Gender Parity

A UK-based foundation has committed $1.6M in founding for women’s scholarships at Oxford University Saïd Business School. Laidlaw Foundation photo

Forty-four percent is a very respectable number when it comes to the proportion of women in a full-time MBA program. Forty-four percent is higher than all but three of the top programs in the United States and all but one of the major programs in Europe.

It’s higher than Harvard Business School. It’s higher than London Business School. It’s higher than Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, Columbia Business School, MIT Sloan, UC-Berkeley Haas, Dartmouth Tuck, and Yale SOM. And it’s higher — much higher, in fact — than HEC Paris, INSEAD, IE, and IESE.

Yet as impressive as 44% is, it’s not enough for the Saïd Business School at Oxford University. Oxford Saïd wants to achieve parity, a 50% gender split, which no major European program has accomplished. Now a foundation dedicated to ending inequality around the world is stepping in to help the school do just that.

Oxford Saïd announced this month — Women’s History Month, observed in March not only in the U.S. but also in the UK and Australia — that it has received £450,000 for each of the next three years from the nonprofit UK-based Laidlaw Foundation, totaling £1,350,000 (about $1,656,000) to create scholarships for women to attend the MBA program. The scholarships begin in 2021.


In the fall of 2019, Oxford Saïd reported Europe’s highest percentage of women in a top MBA program, 44%. Oxford’s MBA is a one-year program with about 300 students that, like Cambridge Judge’s MBA, regularly appears in The Financial Times global top 20 (in 2020 the Saïd School sank to 21st from 13th; Cambridge, another one-year program, dropped to 19th from 16th). But unlike Cambridge, Oxford has been trending in the right direction when it comes to bringing women into its MBA. The school jumped 5 percentage points between 2018 and 2019, up from 39%, even as most of its peers in Europe backslid, including Cambridge.

Oxford Saïd can boast of other advancements in the area of greater representation for women in graduate business education. The school has undertaken initiatives to support female leadership, including skills development programs and career workshops; and Saïd School research has improved understanding of female leadership styles. In 2018, the school founded The Oxford Women’s Leadership Alliance, a network and slate of events “designed to foster inclusivity, partnership, and allyship among students,” according to the school’s scholarship funding announcement.

The announcement coincides with big changes in the MBA market. Oxford cites a recent Graduate Management Admission Council survey showing that 47.1% of GMAT exams were taken by women in 2019 — the highest number on record. Yet as GMAC also reports, women are more likely than men to face financial limitations that prevent them from accepting offers to graduate business schools.

Enter the Laidlaw Foundation.


Lord Laidlaw. Columbia photo

The Laidlaw Foundation was founded by Lord Laidlaw of Rothiemay, a long-time philanthropist and entrepreneur. One of its four main programs is to fund women in graduate business education, particularly MBA programs, by which “the Foundation intends to give women the education and networks to achieve equal representation and power,” according to its website. To date, Laidlaw has helped more than 300 women earn their MBA from Columbia Business School; last year it launched a Women’s Movement program with London Business School, “providing full and half scholarships to women who would not otherwise be in a position to reap the benefits of attending this outstanding school.”

At Oxford, the Laidlaw Foundation’s funding will help the school appeal to “diverse and exceptional women, irrespective of their socioeconomic backgrounds,” who might not have previously considered graduate business education because of financial constraints. The aim, says the foundation’s founder, is to push Oxford Saïd to gender parity while expanding a global network of future women leaders.

“Unfortunately, many women reach a glass ceiling, particularly in the corporate world,” Lord Laidlaw said in Oxford’s announcement. “I am deeply committed to helping more of them break the glass ceiling through expanding access to top business education.”


Kathy Harvey, associate dean of the MBA and executive degrees at Oxford Saïd, says the Laidlaw funding with significantly change the school’s MBA program.

“We are delighted that the Laidlaw Foundation is generously providing scholarships for women over the next 3 years, giving them an opportunity to create real change in businesses and industries across the world and inspire others,” Harvey says. “We are committed to achieving gender parity in education and this gift will materially help us in our endeavors.”

Adds Peter Tufano, dean of Saïd Business School:

“Research shows that a better gender balance in the student cohort leads to better outcomes, and so we are proud to be partnering with the Laidlaw Foundation to increase our scholarship offering for female applicants to the Oxford MBA in 2021.”

Once they have joined the Saïd MBA program, scholarship recipients will become part of the online expert platform known as the Laidlaw Scholars Network, through which they may “connect and collaborate with ambitious peers, and share their expertise with others in the Laidlaw community, in order to help develop the next generation of ethical and diverse leaders.”

“We are thrilled that Oxford Saïd is joining our Women’s Movement,” says Susanna V. Kempe, CEO of the Laidlaw Foundation and chair of Laidlaw Schools Trust. “Our aim is to propel more women into leadership roles by giving extraordinary women, who would not otherwise be able to afford an MBA, access to Oxford Saïd’s exceptional program and network.”


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