HEC Paris Partners With LaidLaw Foundation To Create Scholarships For Underserved Women

One of the most active clubs on HEC Paris’ campus is the Women in Leadership Club, dedicated to promoting gender equality both on campus and in the broader business world.

Months after the Laidlaw Foundation helped the first European B-school in history achieve gender parity in an MBA class, another European business school hopes to replicate that success.

HEC Paris and the HEC Foundation have partnered with the Laidlaw Foundation to provide scholarships to exceptional women for whom a full-time MBA program would likely be out of reach. Laidlaw is donating €1.9 million over the next three years to fund 10 full-tuition scholarships per year over that time period.

“Both of us have the goal to empower women, and to find women that wouldn’t normally think that they’re ready, qualified, or able to do an MBA, and to make it happen for them,” Sara Vanos, executive director of marketing and admissions for MBA programs at HEC Paris, says of the partnership.


This fall, Oxford Saïd Business School became the first top European business school to achieve gender parity enrolling a 51% female MBA class for 2024. Oxford joins a small but elite class of top B-schools globally to achieve gender parity in an MBA cohort: The Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California enrolled 52% women in 2018 and The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania =has enrolled at least 50% women each of the last three years.

Amy Major, director of MBA programs at the Saïd School, attributes the milestone largely to its partnership with the Laidlaw Foundation. The school recently welcomed the third cohort of Laidlaw Scholars to campus.

Women At The Top MBA Programs in Europe

School 2023 % Women 2022 % Women 2021 % Women 2020 % Women 2019 % Women
HEC Paris 34% 34% 36% 31% 31%
Oxford Saïd 48% 44% 47% 44% 44%
LBS 37% 38% 36% 38% 38%
ESADE 32% 41% 28% 39% 42%
INSEAD 36% 37% 35% 34% 35%
IE 33% 33% 36% 32% 30%
IESE 37% 25% 32% 31% 31%
Cambridge Judge 47% 43% 37% 35% 35%

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.

“We are committed to supporting more extraordinary women to reach the C-Suite. By partnering with HEC Paris, we know that outstanding women will have the opportunity to develop the skills, knowledge and networks that will propel their careers forward,” says Susanna Kempe, CEO of Laidlaw Foundation.
Laidlaw also works with London Business School, making HEC Paris the third leading European B-School to offer Laidlaw scholarships.

In the last five years, female representation in HEC Paris MBA classes has hovered between 31% and 34%, according to the Financial Times’ Global MBA rankings. Its low was 31% women in 2020 while climbing to 36% in 2021. For its most recent intake, HEC enrolled an MBA class that is 42% female, Vanos says.

Joining the ranks of the gender parity club isn’t necessarily a goal of the Laidlaw partnership, it would be a welcome outcome. “I don’t think (gender parity) is a goal just to be a goal. It’s a goal because we believe that excellent women should be attending HEC Paris,” Vanos says.


In selecting its first cohort of Laidlaw Scholars, HEC Paris is looking for exceptional female candidates – academically and professionally – who traditionally may not be on the MBA track. That means going outside its normal marketing channels including soliciting referrals from its alumni and recruiting in underserved markets around the world.

Sara Vanos, executive director of marketing and admissions for MBA programs

“I think we want to make an MBA accessible to as many people as possible, and I think MBAs these days are quite expensive and can be a real barrier to entry. I think there are a lot of people who think about it, get the courage, and they look at the tuition fees and think it’s impossible,” Vanos says.

“That part is really important because we don’t just want diversity of nationality and professional backgrounds, we want diversity in every facet. We want our MBAs to come into a classroom full of people from every type of background, including every socio economic situation. Overall, that’s what adds value to the class.”

The program also includes a comprehensive mentorship program, following the scholars from the moment they arrive on campus, throughout the program, and through their professional careers. That includes lifelong career support, networking with HEC alumni and contacts, and a series of seminars, workshops, and events designed to foster the scholars’ development.


Laidlaw Scholars is the latest example of HEC’s commitment to gender equality, Vanos says. More than 70% of women in the January 2024 intake were awarded the HEC Paris Excellence scholarship. The school also waives application fees for women to encourage female participation in the MBA, and it is a member of the Forte Foundation, providing Forte Fellowships to outstanding women.

One of the most active clubs on campus is the Women in Leadership Club, dedicated to promoting gender equality both on campus and in the broader business world. It aims to inspire the next generation of both men and women leaders to challenge traditional gender roles and advocate for change in gender relations.

At 16 months, Vanos believes HEC is ideal for women considering an MBA. They can rejoin the workforce sooner than two-year residential programs common in the U.S., but have more time to immerse themselves in electives and concentrations than the one-year MBAs preferred by most European schools.
“I know that having impact and social purpose is more important in general to women than men, based on surveys. I think that is embedded across our curriculum through our electives, and we also have a specialization dedicated to that. If women are driven by purpose and impact, we can satisfy that,” Vanos says.

One success metric of the Laidlaw Scholars program will be whether it attracts women candidates that otherwise wouldn’t consider an MBA.

“Success will also be what they do next, how they give back, and who they are. I think success will be finding 10 exceptional, outstanding women who’ve done extraordinary things and then think about how they are going to change the world.”

Learn more about the Laidlaw Scholars program at HEC Paris here.


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