Women Worry More About Impact Of COVID On B-School Plans


No one is treating lightly the upheaval caused by coronavirus. New data from the Graduate Management Admission Council, however, shows that the disruption in graduate business education is affecting the calculations of women B-school candidates more than men — and that their concerns are more likely to result in a delay in pursuing a degree.

In a May 27 post at the GMAC Advisor blog, Rahul Choudaha, GMAC’s director of industry insights and research communications, writes that a new survey shows women’s concern about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic rising dramatically over two months, from 12% expressing concern in early March to 55% being concerned by late April. Overall, GMAC found that 41% of female candidates are more likely to report that they are “very concerned” or “extremely concerned” about the impact of the pandemic on their pursuit of a graduate business degree compared to 32% of male candidates.

“The recent survey snapshot to gauge the impact of Covid-19 on female candidates suggests that the virus has increased the number of barriers for women as they attempt to navigate the uncertainty,” Choudaha writes. “As a result, the gap between male and female enrollment in GME may widen.”


Choudaha’s analysis is based on nearly 1,600 responses collected through the mba.com Prospective Students Survey between March 4 and April 30. GMAC found that on March 15, women and men had a similar level of concern, but the gap soon widened, with female candidates growing more concerned even as male candidates’ concerns stabilized. By April 30, Choudaha writes, “more than half of women respondents (55%) were very concerned or extremely concerned due to the impact of Covid-19,” while by comparison, “the degree of concern for male candidates ranged from 33% to 37% for the next three periods ending March 31, April 15 and April 30.”

As women’s level of concern about Covid-19 intensifies, they’re more likely to respond by delaying the pursuit of a graduate business degree, Choudaha writes. On March 15, two-thirds of female candidates reported that they were not considering alternatives — in other words, staying the course. But as the pandemic crisis has unfolded, “there has been a consistent increase in the proportion of female candidates reporting an openness to consider alternatives,” with the number not considering alternatives dropping to one-quarter (25%). The alternative, delaying the pursuit of a graduate business degree, is something only 15% of surveyed women considered in mid-March but more than half — 55% — were mulling by the end of April.

(For more details on prior GMAC research that shows greater barriers for women in graduate business education, see P&Q‘s story here.)

GMAC’s survey also shows that international female candidates — defined as those considering studying in a country not their own — are less likely to report that they are not considering alternatives due to the impact of Covid-19 (28%), compared to domestic female candidates (39%). “In other words,” Choudaha writes, “international female candidates were more open to considering alternatives.” Half of international female candidates (50%) reported delay as an alternative, compared to 43% of U.S. domestic female candidates.


One reason women may be more concerned than men about the impact of Covid-19 on their plans and the status of graduate business education overall is that it jeopardizes so much recent progress. Choudaha notes that the share of Graduate Management Admission Test exams taken by women globally climbed from 40% in 2009 to 47% in 2019. “Yet,” he adds, “gender parity in graduate business schools, especially in MBA programs, remains an unresolved issue.”

In the U.S., for example, overall in the top 25 schools, 13 saw gains in the percentage of women in their full-time MBA programs over the last two cycles, at an average of 2.85 points; the biggest gainers were at Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business (+7, to 38%), Stanford GSB (+6), Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business (+5, to 33%), and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania (+4). However, there were declines at 11 schools, at an average of 3.5 points, with the biggest reported at USC Marshall, Washington Foster, and UC-Berkeley Haas. (See our story from last December on the latest trends.) One school, meanwhile, stayed even: Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, which shares with UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School the distinction of having the lowest percentage of women in their full-time MBA programs: 29%.

A much more positive outlook comes with the five-year window. The number of top-25 schools that gained in percentage of women in the full-time MBA since 2015 is 15, at an average of 5.9 points; the number of decliners is only seven at an average of 2.4 points. Three schools — and they are three of the leaders in the push for gender equity: Northwestern Kellogg (43%), MIT’s Sloan School of Management (41%), and Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business (42%) — were even.


“Every year we see women’s enrollment inch up at business schools,” Elissa Sangster, CEO of the Forté Foundation, a nonprofit focused on women’s advancement and gender parity in business school, told P&Q last year. “The progress over five-year intervals, in particular, demonstrates a significant shift in gender parity at top business schools. At this pace, we’re confident we’ll reach our goal of 40% women’s enrollment by 2020.”

Coronavirus throws everything into doubt, of course. But as of last November, when Forté issued a report on gender equity, the percentage of women in its member schools who have enrolled in full-time MBA programs in the U.S. continues to climb upward, to about 39% on average in the fall of 2019. Forté’s member schools comprise 54 of the top MBA programs in the U.S., Europe, and Canada. U.S. schools continue to outpace non-U.S. schools, the group reported, the latter of which average 36% women enrollment.

Altogether, enrollment in full-time MBA programs at Forté member schools has grown to 38.5% from 36.2% five years ago and 37.7% last year. Nineteen Forté schools currently report 40% women or more, up from 13 five years ago. In 2005 there were none. Forté also reported that 33 schools, or more than 6 in 10, have 35% or more women enrolled — more than double the 16 schools five years ago and nearly quadruple the eight schools in 2010.

“To ensure that business schools’ focused efforts in recent years to achieve gender parity in graduate management education (GME) are not lost, there is a need to understand the evolving journey of female candidates and pursue strategies that help maintain momentum,” Rahul Choudaha writes. “These strategies may include purposeful conversations, partnerships, and campaigns to strengthen and reinforce the pipeline of female candidates by showcasing alumni stories and communicating the value of GME.”


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