More Female MBAs, But Still A Long Way To Go


Business schools are doing a better job of recruiting and enrolling more female MBA students, but they have a long way to go.

That’s one unmistakable conclusion from the latest gender-specific data published by The Financial Times in its recently published Global MBA ranking. Among the top 100-ranked schools, 19 now have female student numbers over 40%. This figure has almost doubled from just 10 schools last year; 31 schools have female faculty rates above 30%, which is an increase of eight schools from last year.

A number of schools have made considerable improvements in all three areas, female students, faculty and board members. These schools are:


However it is the top-ranked schools, those that have the most influence and prestige for students, that are falling behind.

In our sample of the top 13 business schools, about half (six) have female student representation over 40%, with the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management both leading at 43%. Only one school has student numbers below 30%. The school that fares worst in this measure is Spain’s IE Business School, with a low rate of just 29% female students.

Across these same schools, only the IE Business School has female faculty numbers above 30%. In fact, almost half of the top 13 schools still have female faculty numbers below 20%. These schools still have not fathomed the importance of gender balance at the front of the classroom.

So, how have things progressed in comparison to where these 13* schools were last year?

The figures above indicate there has been a positive movement towards achieving a more representative female student community over the last year.

Business schools are waking up to the fact they need more women in all areas of their institutions. Focusing on increasing female student numbers is the first step.


There is a groundswell to change this position; therefore, programs to encourage young women to consider careers in business and as business academics are now being implemented.  In the US, this can be seen in the form of targeting women’s colleges and having women-focused days at their schools; Harvard Business School even launched an initiative in 2014 to encourage female MBA applicants by giving women the chance to experience a weekend at the school for a low fee.

Some schools are making their campuses more female-friendly by providing child care facilities, courses that are flexible in terms of f2f time, and scholarships for women, so that they can afford to enter business schools in the first place.

The corporate sector is also seeking out more women for leadership positions within their companies. These companies are not only funding women’s participation in programs, they are also funding whole programs for women at some schools. This is putting pressure on schools to change.

More recently, several schools have begun to include female leadership initiatives as part of their curricula; these initiatives support women in advancing their careers once they graduate. They include topics such as how to gain promotions and negotiate salary increases. It is early days to measure the success of these programs, but equipping women with the skills they need to advance once they begin their careers is crucial.


An examination of the top business schools’ faculty gender balance statistics paints a gloomy picture. There hasn’t been much change since last year, with six schools having a female faculty rate of less than 20%, which includes the number 1-ranked INSEAD.

IMD is at the lowest end of the spectrum, with 14% female faculty (a decrease of 1% since last year), and only one top-tier school boasts a female faculty rate of over 30% this year. With 38% female faculty, the Spanish institution IE Business School is leading the way here.

As with large private sector organizations, these business schools reflect the male hierarchical system. Men run businesses, and men run business schools; the business school environment is still pretty hostile for women.


Deans and their leadership teams need to have the hard conversations about these issues.  There is a great deal of acknowledgment that businesses perform better when there are balanced leadership teams, and this should be the same for business schools.

When we factor in the underlying bias around the fact that there is still a culture that believes that leaders and managers should be male, we must ask ourselves what it might mean to have women at the top, and what would that look like?

Research undertaken amongst academics in the U.K. 20 years ago showed that male academics at lower levels do not stereotype the manager role, however those in senior positions stereotyped it as male. Whilst we have come some way since then, this stereotyping still exists, and changing socialized perceptions is clearly a huge challenge in any environment. (Frances Foster, (1994) “Managerial Sex Role Stereotyping among Academic Staff within UK Business Schools“, Women in Management Review, Vol. 9 Iss: 3, pp.17 – 22).

When looking into business schools, women see men at all levels within the organization, which subconsciously indicates to women that they are not welcome, or do not belong in these institutions. This is a form of second-generation bias.

Until perhaps the last ten years, the majority of women have not viewed their careers as pathways to becoming business leaders. Further to this, business schools have not encouraged women to join as faculty, and thus women haven’t seen themselves following careers as business academics. Together with a few senior leaders, there is presently no large pool of women from which the wider business school community can draw.


It isn’t as simple as looking at what happens during the post-graduate career of a female academic; we need to look at the whole cycle.  In the very first instance, globally, fewer women than men apply to take the GMAT. Female pass rates are lower than men’s, although the gap is closing. The women who manage to jump those hurdles tend not to perform as well as their male counterparts in the business school environment. B-School career paths are often in male dominated industries. Not only does this put women off pursuing the B-School route, they tend not to have the experience in relevant industries, which gives the men a head start.

It seems that there is a lack of deans putting the topic to the front of their schools’ agendas. The problem has not been front of mind, and these schools seem very slow to change, which is not unlike the rest of the higher education sector.

Notably, it is the lower ranking schools within the top 100 that appear to be leading the way in terms of faculty gender balancing. Moving down the ranking table, the occurrence of schools with a faculty rate over 30% increases. Only one of the top 13 schools has a female faculty rate of over 30%, however 30 of the remaining 87 schools have female faculty over 30%. What is the reason behind top schools not employing female academics? This is conjecture, but there is a certain level of caché involved with business schools employing and showcasing the top academics, who, of course, are currently in the majority men.  Also with the gender pay gap, men at the top of their game are more expensive to employ than women. Is it the case that, with the top schools’ larger budgets, the lower-ranking schools simply cannot compete financially in meeting the salary expectations of the male elite in academia?


Businesses are changing, mainly due to increased pressure through legislation, pressure from their customers, and general publicity on the topic. The feeding pools into these businesses are now experiencing a knock-on effect and beginning to integrate change in their approaches to recruitment, retention, and, slowly, the advancement of their female academics. While feeding the pipeline is necessary for increasing women’s presence in business schools, ultimately a two-pronged attack is the key to success. A recent article from the White House lays out best practices guidelines for business schools to help better prepare female students during their education to become business leaders (BEST PRACTICES FOR BUSINESS SCHOOLS TO LEAD IN EXPANDING OPPORTUNTIES FOR WOMEN IN BUSINESS AND TO ADAPT TO THE 21ST -CENTURY WORKFORCE, The White House, Aug 2014).

The overall push to encourage women to study at business schools seems to be having positive effects. We are seeing improvements. However, we must ensure that all students at these schools see women at the front of the classrooms, too. It is imperative that men and women see different leadership role models and ways of teaching and being in a business context. It is only when this happens that underlying biases be challenged.

We argue that these schools are fertile ground for teaching men and women about leadership and running gender balanced organisations; they are the best place to develop talent across both genders.