How Oxford Saïd Achieved Gender Parity: P&Q’s Exclusive Interview With Program Director Amy Major

Scholar’s Breakfast: Oxford Saïd’s Laidlaw and Forté fellows

For the first time in history, a top European B-school has shifted the playing field past gender parity, with more women than men in its MBA class. How did Oxford Saïd Business School manage to tip the scale, and what can this shift be attributed to?

​​Oxford Saïd joins the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California, which enrolled 52% women in 2018, and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, which has enrolled at least 50% women each of the last three years, as the only other top B-schools globally to join the gender parity club. Before this year, no European B-school had ever managed to do so.

Amy Major, director of MBA programs at Oxford Saïd

“When women look at business schools in the UK or Europe, I believe we are somewhere that they think, ‘As a woman getting an MBA, Oxford Saïd is where I want to be,’” says Amy Major, director of MBA programs at the Saïd School.

Poets&Quants recently spoke with Major, who says that, as one can imagine, getting to a 51% female MBA class was not a linear journey, with the number of women in each MBA class fluctuating by year. Finally making it, she says, can be attributed to a number of factors, the first being the Laidlaw Scholarship.


Incredible strides have been made in gender parity since the early 2000’s, when MBA programs at the leading business schools averaged less than 28% women.

“We’ve had a visible dedication towards reaching gender parity,” says Major. “The establishment of the Laidlaw scholarship two years ago has made a big impact. The scholarship gives ten awards to women that otherwise wouldn’t have been able to undertake an MBA. Most scholarships are about academic merit; this one also takes into account women that wouldn’t have otherwise been able to afford a degree. It is difficult to quantify the impact of something like that.”

“If you look at the gender pay gap and where that deepens in different parts of the world, women are disproportionately affected and typically need funding more often than men. That’s where the Laidlaw Foundation scholarships are really important. This year we welcomed the third cohort of Laidlaw Scholars,” says Major.

She also credits the Forté Foundation, as well as the alumni-funded Rewley scholarship. “We’ve now been a member of Forté for ten years, so that momentum has been building as well,” says Major.

Gender parity also increases diversity in discussions within the classroom.

“I think this has a huge impact on the classroom. If you go back 20 years, we had half this number of women in the MBA. That translates positively into the group dynamic. A few years ago, groups would have been much more male dominated. Gender parity creates a much more diverse learning experience which translates into the working world,” says Major.


“Post-pandemic, there has been a general decline in MBA applications. I think there’s a spirit of ‘if not now, when?’ from women. The belief mindset in women is growing. The political climate of the US is changing – there is a rise against misogyny, and it seems as though women are believing in themselves more. The shackles are off, particularly for the generation that’s heading towards getting their MBA,” says Major.

Major believes that the one year program may be more favorable than a two year, especially in terms of flexibility. 

“There are many reports that the pandemic had more of a detrimental effect on caregivers and women, and I speak personally as a mother myself. I think the hybrid environment of work now lends itself well to women and gives more flexibility to women than it might men,” says Major.  

Incremental change can have a large impact, and more applicants this year made for a wider pool of talent to choose from. 

“We had a couple of percentages more female applicants. Even if you get 2% more female applicants, that makes a difference. That’s enough to make an impact on your final class percentage,” says Major. 

“If you look at the global spread of people earning MBAs, you’ve got people coming from a variety of countries – some liberal societies, some patriarchal societies.”

The top three sectors women are coming from is Consulting, Finance and Technology, respectively.

Major notes that when some of these students come to Oxford, they have the freedom to unapologetically be themselves for the first time. “Our rich history brings people from many walks of life and many backgrounds, of whichever gender. Non-inclusive behavior is not tolerated here, and that is hugely liberating for people.”


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