Discover How the Smith School Promotes Women in Business

Business

What were more than 200 Girl Scouts doing at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business? They were attending Cookie College, of course!

On December 10, 2016, more than 225 Brownies and Juniors from kindergarten to fifth grade headed to the Robert Smith School of Business to learn about the business of selling cookies. “The girls learned life skills like goal setting and money management that will help them in all aspects of life,” Sara Tyler, program specialist at the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital, said in a news release. “It sets them up for life.”

The girls also received additional benefits, such as learning about higher education and meeting female role models. It was an empowering event that was women-led and girl-attended, and it was all a part of the Robert Smith School of Business’ broader initiative: 50/50 by 2020.

The 50/50 by 2020 Initiative is the Smith’s pledge to achieve gender parity within their MBA programs within the next five years—by the year 2020. The date coincides with the hundredth anniversary of women’s suffrage, but the initiative is about more than that. It represents the university’s commitment to closing the gender gap, and the MBA programs have already made huge strides.

For 2015, 41 percent of all MBA candidates across the full- and part-time MBA programs were women. And thanks to Cookie College, the Forté Foundation and other similar programs, there’s no doubt that the goal will be reached.

To dig in further to the 50/50 by 2020 Initiative and to learn all about what the school is doing to support women in business, we spoke to Sharon Strange Lewis, senior director of Women and Diversity Programs at the school.

What is the 50/50 by 2020 Initiative and why is it important?

The 50/50 by 2020 Initiative is the Smith School’s pledge to achieve gender parity within our MBA programs. The initiative is important not only to Smith but to society because we educate leaders who will shape the future of business and the economy. Women have and will continue to make significant strides as thought leaders in key positions. Learn more from the school’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

What activities/events/programs has the Smith MBA program implemented to make the initiative possible?

The school has taken a three-pronged approach to deliver on its pledge: pipeline, programming and placement.

Pipeline: We reach out to girls as young as seven so they can start thinking about business careers. In addition to hosting Cookie College with the Girl Scouts, we offer summer residential programs like Women Investing in Learning Leadership (WILL) and host the Future Women in Business Conference for high school girls. We also host meet-and-greet events, where prospective students can have intimate conversations with women faculty, staff and students.

Programming: We take a holistic approach to our programming, which starts with mindful instruction in the classroom to make all students feel included and empowered.  The Smith Association of Women MBAs has also created the Get Confident Series to help women navigate topics ranging from golf to salary negotiation. Other extracurricular activities include a full-slate of Women’s History Month events, which culminates with our annual signature event, Women Leading Women. This is a magical evening of women gathering to hear candid talk about their professional journey.

Placement: We show our commitment to women by partnering with organizations such as Forté Foundation and the National Association of Women MBAs to educate and expose our students to career opportunities.  We encourage current and prospective students to attend these conferences and career fairs that attract Fortune 500 companies looking to recruit high-potential women leaders.

Why is it so important for an MBA program to have an equal representation of men and women?

As the landscape of business changes in the 21st century, we have a responsibility to prepare women to have a seat at the table. Research shows that women drive the economy, and they need to have equal representation as board members, executives and entrepreneurs driving and shaping the business landscape. One way to ensure that happens is to have more women enroll in business school.

What are some of the biggest strides that the Smith MBA program has already made toward gender equality in business?

The Forté Foundation has included Smith on its list of “elite business schools” with at least 35 percent women in their full-time MBA intakes. The school also launched an Office of Diversity Initiatives in 2016 and appointed Smith School Executive MBA alumna Sharon Strange Lewis as full-time senior director of Women and Diversity Programs.

To learn more about the Smith School of Business and to discover more upcoming events for women, visit its website.

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