Posted by: Louis Lavelle on March 3, 2010
There’s a really interesting, albeit not all that surprising, report from Catalyst, the group working to expand opportunities for women in business.
In 2007 and 2008, Catalyst surveyed 9,927 alumni who graduated from 26 leading business schools in Asia, Canada, Europe, and the United States. Less than half, 4,143, were men and women who graduated from full-time MBA programs and were working full-time at the time of the survey. The goal was to find how women with MBAs fared (relative to men) in terms of pay and career trajectory after receiving their degrees.
The answer: not well. Even after correcting for years of experience, industry, and global region, Catalyst found that women were more likely than men to start their first post-MBA job at a lower level. That basic finding held even when considering only men and women who aspired to senior executive level positions, and even among survey respondents who did not have children. Overall, 60% of women started on the post-MBA career ladder at the lowest of rungs, entry-level positions. For men, that number was 46%.
Men also had higher starting salaries than women—even after taking all the same factors into account. Overall, men had a pay premium in their first post-MBA jobs of $4,600.
It would be nice to think that once hired women eventually catch up to men on the career ladder, but you'd be wrong. Catalyst also found that at the time of the survey men were twice as likely to have reached the CEO/senior executive level, and had higher salary growth. Even among men and women who started in entry-level positions and were otherwise identical in all ways that matter (received their MBAs in the same year, had the same amount of experience), men still outpaced women in terms of promotions and pay.
The numbers are depressing, and the authors of the report, Nancy M. Carter and Christine Silva, were as depressed as anyone by the findings. They wrote:
Companies pinned hopes on these on these highly trained graduates from elite MBA programs to help navigate through the white-water of the global economy. With the same prestigious credentials, one would expect these women and men to be on equal footing in the pipeline and their career trajectories gender-blind. What emerged, however, is evidence that the pipeline is in peril--one that, for women, is not as promising as expected.
While the overall results of the study are not all that surprising (who hasn't heard the statistic that women earn only 75 cents for every dollar men earn?), what is surprising, at least to me, is that this pay gap doesn't disappear when examining groups of "high potentials" who are virtually identical except for gender. After all, the typical rationales for the pay gap are things like career choices, interrupted work histories caused by motherhood, and other factors specific to women. Correct for them, and at least theoretically, you should get perfect parity. But you don't. So something else must be at work--either something nefarious, like discrimination against women, or something we haven't thought of yet.
I also find this interesting in connection with the statistics about the number of women pursuing MBAs, which now hovers somewhere around 30% at top full-time MBA programs. The usual explanation for this has always been that women are reluctant to enroll in full-time programs in their late 20s because they're busy starting families. But maybe something else is at work. If you take the Catalyst research at face value, then maybe some women already knew what Catalyst is just now discovering and are making a rational economic choice instead. If pay and career trajectories for women really are not all they're cracked up to be, then maybe forking over $300 grand for a top-tier MBA just isn't worth it.
Food for thought. Are there any female MBAs who feel that they've been passed over for raises or promotions in favor of men, or who feel the game is somehow rigged in men's favor? Please tell us your stories.