The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School will become the first elite business schools to enroll a majority of women in its MBA program this fall. A record 52% of this year’s fall cohort will be female, a significant boost from the 41% Wharton enrolled last fall.
Wharton’s new record comes as it fell behind many peer schools last year, including Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business (49%), Stanford (47%), Duke Fuqua (46%), Harvard (44%), Michigan Ross (43%) and NYU Stern (43%) (see The Leading Business Schools With The Most Women).
In fact, Wharton experienced one of the largest year-over-year decreases last year in female MBA students, falling to the 41% level from 47% a year earlier. That was the smallest percentage of women in an entering MBA class at Wharton since 2014 when 40% of the incoming cohort was female. Last year’s six percentage point decline no doubt galvanized the school’s admissions team to redouble efforts to recruit far more women.
“As we do every year, we made a conscious effort to ensure female applicants felt wanted and welcomed at Wharton, and showed them the many resources and communities in our program where they can connect, collaborate and feel supported,” said Maryellen Reilly, deputy vice dean of the Wharton MBA program, in a statement. “Diversity, equity and inclusion are central to our efforts, and while we are extremely proud to welcome this record number of women to our MBA community this year, we do hope that equitable gender representation soon becomes the norm among business schools, rather than the exception.” At nearly 52%, the percentage of women in the Wharton MBA Class of 2023 represents a 10% increase in female students over last year’s first-year students.
‘THIS IS A TREMENDOUS MILESTONE AND DISPLA OF LEADERSHIP’
The school is already winning praise for the record number of women in this year’s cohort. “This is a tremendous milestone and display of leadership,” says Jeremy Shinewald, founder and president of mbaMission, a leading MBA admissions consulting firm. “Others will follow and this should be a catalyst to ultimately help bring the boardroom and V-suite into balance. As a father of two girls, I am pumped!”
So is Erika James, who celebrated her one-year anniversary as Wharton dean this month. “Reaching this milestone brings me both personal and professional joy,” she wrote in a LinkedIn essay. James noted that one of her co-authored papers found that investors responded more negatively to the announcement of female CEO appointments than their male counterparts, and also more negatively to female CEO announcements than to the announcement of women to other executive leadership positions. The sample size for that 2007 study was just 17 women out of 529 announcements over a full decade from 1990 to 2000. “Overall, we were not surprised with the findings, but we were disappointed. After defeating the odds to reach the C-suite, women were being judged on their impact even before they took the helm.”
She strongly believes things have improved but that there is still more progress to be achieved. “The number of women CEOs of today’s Fortune 500 firms is 41, more than twice the number in a single year from our decade-spanning sample thirty years ago. Despite slow progress, the trajectory is at least promising,” she added.
“That slow but steady progress exists in business education as well. In the 1980s, the number of women earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in US Colleges began to outpace men, but gender parity in graduate business education has been harder to attain. The hypotheses for why are numerous…including the dissonance related to the proportion of male vs female CEOs. Our study showed that, when the representation of a group (e.g. women) falls below a certain proportional threshold, there are damaging implications for how those in the minority population are perceived. Conversely, as the proportions balance, the perceived differences between the groups become less salient, and characteristics like a person’s experience and competence weigh more heavily in how people assess someone’s talent. More directly put, the data show that it’s simply harder to have confidence in women executives when they have historically represented such a small fraction of all executives. And what’s most challenging is that this perception likely prevents more women from pursuing a career in business, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
INCOMING FALL COHORT ALSO BOASTS HIGHEST CLASS AVERAGE GMAT SCORE
Wharton reached the new milestone in a year when the school also broke the record for application volume. The school reported that 7,338 candidates applied for admission, up 2.5% from last year’s record of 7,158 applicants, which itself reflected a 21% jump in volume from the previous year when only 5,905 had applied. Despite the increase in apps, however, Wharton chose to enroll a smaller class of 897 MBA students, down from 916 last year.
Wharton also disclosed that it achieved the highest ever average GMAT score for an incoming class, 733, as well as the highest median score, 740. The new average matches last year’s GMAT class numbers at Stanford Graduate School of Business, historically the school with the highest GMAT scores for enrolled students, while the new median is a full ten points above Harvard Business School’s 730 median of last year. The new GMAT average at Wharton is a major boost, up 11 points from 722 last year, though it is only a point higher than the school’s GMAT average two years ago. The average GRE verbal and quant score was 162, with a average writing score on the GRE of 4.6.
Undergraduate GPA averaged 3.6, according to the school’s newly posted class profile. Incoming students will bring an average five years of work experience with them into the program, with the range between a single year and 14 years of work experience. Wharton reported a major turnaround of international students. Some 36% of the incoming class will be international from 83 countries, a big boost from the 19% who enrolled during the pandemic-impacted class of last year.