When the Forté Foundation was founded in 2002, MBA programs at the leading business schools averaged less than 28% women — a problem thrown into sharp relief by comparison with law schools and medical schools, which had largely already achieved gender parity.
Twenty years later, the nonprofit dedicated to advancing women in graduate business education reports that a record 17 of its 56 member schools have reached at least 45% women enrolled in full-time MBA programs, up from 10 schools in 2021, two in 2017 and none in 2012. Poets&Quants‘ analysis of the class profiles at the leading U.S. B-schools shows that 15 have 40% or more women in their MBA programs, with 11 of the top 27 schools seeing progress from 2021 to 2022 — and 19 reporting growth in the number of women in the six MBA cohorts since 2017.
Progress has not been uniform, however: Amid a decline in MBA applications worldwide, the percentage of women enrolled among Forté member B-schools grew only incrementally, to 41.4% in 2022 from 41.2% in 2021. At the top 27 U.S. B-schools, 11 MBA programs saw declines in women’s enrollment, and five more were flat; eight schools are below 35% in 2022, compared to six in 2021.
‘GRANULARITY IN THE APPROACH’
“It’s been an interesting year,” Forté CEO Elissa Sangster tells Poets&Quants. “It’s a little challenging in places, but it’s also been really encouraging in places. That 45% number is something we’re happy with.”
Sangster says some of Forté’s 56 member schools in the U.S., Europe, and Canada “don’t feel as enthusiastic about this year just because some of their numbers went down or they stayed the same. About the 45%, I was kind of thinking about what’s the trend behind that or what’s some of the stuff that’s actually happened that’s caused it? And I think what we’re definitely seeing is some granularity in the approach.”
What does that granularity look like?
“I think schools are really taking their applicant pool and doing a lot around intersectionality and thinking about the different groups and populations that are applying to business school,” Sangster says. “And trying to make sure that the current students and the alums are actually connecting live and in-person with the students who are in that applicant pool.
“And so they are really thinking about how to connect the dots for students and to have representation and to make sure that they know, ‘Those students are in our community. You can be one, too. And we want you here.’ You’re seeing that the schools that are hitting those marks are doing an exceptionally good job at connecting those groups across those intersections.”
BIG REBOUNDS AT BIG B-SCHOOLS
Last year, Poets&Quants‘ annual analysis of the MBA programs at the top U.S. B-schools found that women’s enrollment grew at 14 of 26 top-ranked U.S. B-schools, while 15 schools reported 40% or more women in their MBA student ranks. In 2022, 11 schools had growth, 11 saw declines, and five were even year-to-year at the top 27 schools.
UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business was the only school in top 10 last year to miss 40%, but this year Haas reported that its percentage of women jumped 7 points to 46%; only three U.S. B-schools in the top 25 had more. Also notable was the 10-point jump for USC Marshall School of Business, which just four years ago became the first top B-school to achieve gender parity but which had seen declines in women’s MBA enrollment in three successive years since. This year the Marshall School saw a 10-point jump to 46% women in its MBA, putting it again among the very top schools for women’s enrollment.
Perhaps the biggest story is that the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, which enrolled 52% women in 2021, was able to follow up its achievement this year. Half of Wharton’s MBA Class of 2024 is women despite the severe downturn in MBA applications that is the result of a continued strong economy.
“In terms of reputation and rankings, Wharton is always at the top, and when you’re that brand that Wharton has in the business school space, you’re going to weather the storm a little bit better,” Sangster says. “So year to year you’re going to have more control over how you craft your class, because your application pipeline is so strong. Even the economy didn’t weaken their application pool so much that they’re struggling to craft or create their class.”
WHARTON’S DEAN ‘DOUBLING DOWN ON COMMITMENT’ TO PARITY
Sangster notes that Wharton has another thing going for it: its dean, Erika James.
“They are extremely dedicated and committed to making sure that those underrepresented groups are represented — they are paying attention to that,” Sangster says. “They’re definitely making every effort to keep consistent. But it is easier to do when you’re at the top.
“You also have a dean like Erika James, and that is a beacon out of your school. That’s got to be applauded too, because I know that she is doubling down on that commitment across women, across underrepresented students. So they have some great things playing in their favor right now that are giving them maybe a little bit of an edge to make sure that they stay at parity — especially when the pipeline overall shrunk a little bit, and you’re also seeing in the U.S. numbers be a little less than even outside of the U.S.”
In Europe, which has traditionally lagged the U.S. for women’s enrollment, most top schools are at least trending in a positive direction (see table above). Oxford Saïd Business School this fall enrolled 48% women in the 313-student cohort of its one-year MBA program, putting the UK school ahead of all non-U.S. programs in the top 25 of the 2022 Financial Times Global MBA ranking, a group that includes INSEAD (38%), London Business School (37%), HEC Paris (36%), IESE (38%), SDA Bocconi (35%), National University of Singapore Business School (37%), and CEIBS (40%). Only Cambridge Judge Business School, at 47% this year, comes close to Oxford’s mark.
DECLINE IN APPS MEANS DECLINE IN MBA WOMEN
After women’s enrollment stalled near the start of the pandemic, last year Forté saw a record 2% jump from 39% in 2020. In a little more than a decade, women’s full-time MBA enrollment at Forté schools climbed nearly 10%, from 31.8% in 2011.
But as Sangster notes, some schools have seen declines. Among U.S. B-schools, schools in the lower half of the top 25 have struggled more to fill out their classes, contributing to significant declines in women's enrollment. UCLA Anderson School of Management reported a 7-point drop in women from 2021 to 2022, to 35%; Virginia Darden School of Business and Texas-Austin McCombs School of Business each lost 3 points, to 37% and 35%, respectively; and Indiana Kelley School of Business lost 5 points to sink to just 26%.
Even bigger drop-offs were seen at Vanderbilt Owen School of Management (8 points to 29%) and Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business (15 points to 24%). And while Carnegie Mellon Tepper School of Business saw a 10-point year-to-year gain, that only brought the school to 31% after last year's dismal showing.
See the next page for a table of all the leading U.S. B-schools' historical data on women in their full-time MBA programs. See page 3 for more data from the Forté Foundation.