Top MBA Programs Gain Ground for Gender Parity

MBA Gender Parity

The Forté Foundation today released its annual women’s enrollment report for full-time MBA programs at its member schools, which include many of the top business schools in the United States and abroad. This fall, women’s MBA enrollment climbed to a global average of 37.4 percent, up 4 percent over 2013 figures, when the global average was 33.4 percent women.

In fact, the last five years of enrollment data at Forté member schools reveal steady gains in the percentage of women. For U.S. schools, women’s enrollment reached 37.8 percent this fall, up from 37.1 percent in 2016, and 34 percent in 2013. And for schools outside the United States, the gains have been even greater. In fall 2017, non-U.S. Forté member schools enrolled 36 percent women, up more than 3 percent year over year (from 32.8 percent in 2016) and almost five percent since fall 2013 (from 31.1 percent).

“I’m always heartened anytime I see a 1 percent trend overall,” Forté Executive Director Elissa Sangster told Clear Admit. “Year by year, it’s pretty significant for this group of schools to steadily have that same number increase—because it’s a lot of work to get more women into the pipeline and to matriculate those women,” she continued. “But this year, in particular, seeing those other schools outside the U.S. go up 3.4 percent in one year was very surprising.”

Two Schools Reach 45 Percent Women, Highest on Record

In fact, there were many signs beyond these overall statistics that show continuing progress toward gender parity among MBA programs. For one, 17 Forté member schools this fall enrolled 40 percent or more women—as compared to just two schools that reached this milestone in 2013. A total of 26 schools enrolled more than 35 percent women, more than twice as many as in 2013 (12 schools). Best yet, for the first time ever, two schools reached 45 percent or more women enrolled—the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and George Washington University School of Business. And three more schools—two in the United States and one in the United Kingdom—were close behind at 44 percent.

“The 1 percent [overall year-over-year gain] may seem small, but we’re seeing 17 out of 50 schools hit over the 40 percent mark, and that’s huge,” said Sangster. “To start seeing schools trend that direction makes a big impact because it’s a hard thing to obtain for any school at this point.”

Not only that, the progress demonstrates that gender parity is attainable, Sangster stressed.

“Although women’s enrollment in business school is a slow and steady growth story, at this rate we could reach an average of 40 percent women’s enrollment in top business schools in less than five years and 50 percent by 2030,” she said in a Forté press release. “Why is this significant? There is evidence that an MBA can provide both career advancement and significant pay gains for women, giving them greater economic mobility. And efforts to support women to pursue an MBA can contribute to a more diverse leadership pipeline at companies.”

The Forté Foundation is a non-profit consortium of top business schools, corporations, and the Graduate Management Admission Council, and its efforts to move the needle toward gender parity in the MBA and business more generally are widespread. Launched in 2001 after the results of a landmark research study, Women and the MBA: Gateway to Opportunity, Forté now has 51 member schools: 39 in the United States, four in Canada, and eight in Europe. It also has numerous initiatives to help close the gender gap.

“Our college efforts are very robust and have been growing over the last five years. We are connecting with women about their career options and bringing the MBA into the conversation early,” explained Sangster. “It’s important for women in their university years to really understand what type of opportunities they have, to have access to role models, and to know the landscape of what’s to come. I think Forté can be a real guide in that. We know that having those conversations with young women is critical.”

A few of Forté’s initiatives include

  • The annual Forté MBA Women’s Leadership Conference, which brings together hundreds of women MBA students and top companies each year to help attendees explore career paths, meet recruiters and mentors, and hear from influential businesswomen;
  • The Forté College to Business Leadership Conference, a similar event designed to introduce undergraduate women to career opportunities and summer internships at top companies;
  • The “Rising Star” pilot initiative, launched in September 2015, which helps undergraduate women become well-informed about their many career options, and
  • MBALaunch, a hands-on, 10-month program that provides guidance, resources, and ongoing feedback about the business school application process through monthly webinars, peer group meetings, and feedback from experienced advisors.

“MBALaunch allows us to give women unprecedented access to business schools, alumnae, admissions representatives, and admissions experts—and also to give them a cohort of like-minded women who can support them and encourage them through the business school application process,” Sangster said. In the past, many women went through the application process alone, she continued. “MBALaunch allows us to present the best version of those women candidates to business schools. That’s what makes a critical difference in terms of admission into your stretch business school.”

The Forté Foundation also awards a variety of scholarships through its Forté Fellows program. The program has exploded from just 33 inaugural scholarships awarded in 2003 to 1,300 scholarships awarded to the incoming Class of 2017 and another 1,100 scholarships awarded to second-year students in the Class of 2016. Overall, since 2003, Forté schools have awarded a staggering $142 million in scholarships to Forté Fellows.

It Takes an Entire Community Effort

To augment Forté’s initiatives, top business schools can continue to make progress on their own by keeping a steady eye on gender parity and getting the entire school involved in the process, said Sangster.

“The schools that are doing a great job at consistently keeping their numbers high have an entire community effort focused on the goal of gender parity,” Sangster said. “It’s not just the admissions team reviewing applications and making decisions. It’s the students enrolled in the school being actively involved in recruiting and matriculating those students. It’s the alums making phone calls and participating in local coffees or teas to talk about their own story and to reduce concerns about the investment that women will be making.”

“It’s not just one small group of people; it’s a team effort, a community effort,” she continued. “The schools that are maintaining their numbers and seeing a steady climb have a full-court press.”

So which schools are leading the way? The following 17 Forté member business schools have 40 percent or higher women’s enrollment:

  • Alliance Manchester Business School
  • Columbia Business School
  • Dartmouth College (Tuck School of Business)
  • George Washington University School of Business
  • Harvard Business School
  • Imperial College Business School
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Sloan School of Management)
  • Northwestern University (Kellogg School of Management)
  • University of California Berkeley (Haas School of Business)
  • The University of Chicago (Booth School of Business)
  • University of Michigan (Ross School of Business)
  • University of Oxford (Saïd Business School)
  • University of Pennsylvania (Wharton)
  • The University of Texas at Austin (McCombs School of Business)
  • University of Toronto (Rotman School of Management)
  • Yale School of Management
  • York University (Schulich School of Business

And the following nine schools have 35 percent or greater women’s enrollment:

  • Arizona State University (W. P. Carey School of Business)
  • HEC-Paris
  • London Business School
  • New York University (Stern School of Business)
  • University of California – Los Angeles (Anderson School of Management)
  • University of Cambridge (Judge Business School)
  • University of Illinois Urbana–Champaign (Gies College of Business)
  • University of Virginia (Darden School of Business)
  • Washington University in St. Louis (Olin Business School)

To access the full Forté report, click here.

This article has been edited and republished with permissions from Clear Admit.

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About the Author

Kelly Vo    

Kelly Vo is a writer who specializes in covering MBA programs, digital marketing, and personal development.

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