Posted by: Alison Damast on May 20, 2011
After writing a story recently about the growing number of Chinese women interested in getting their MBAs, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at what is happening with female enrollment in U.S. MBA programs. The last time we wrote about the topic was back in 2009, when we highlighted some of the innovative programs business schools were running to attract more women to campus.
In the U.S., the number of women taking the GMAT has risen incrementally for the last decade, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council. There were 50,053 U.S. women who took the GMAT in 2010, a 10 percent increase from a decade ago, GMAC said.
U.S. business schools have been benefiting from the uptick in interest among female applicants, said Elissa Ellis-Sangster, director of the Forte Foundation, a consortium of 36 business schools working to increase the number of women pursuing MBAs.
Female enrollment at Forte-member schools was 31.2 percent in 2010, up from 28.5 percent five years ago, according to Forte. About a dozen Forte schools saw female enrollment top 35 percent both in 2008 and 2009, a number that has since dropped to eight in 2010, a decline Ellis-Sangster said she attributed to the shaky economy and women staying closer to home for business school or putting off the decision to get their MBA.
"We are still only at 31 percent, which is nothing to jump on the bandwagon and scream success about," she said. "I think we still have a long way to go."
Some schools have had success at attracting women by ramping up admissions programming geared at women and organizing women's conferences and events, she said. About 54 percent of full-time MBA programs surveyed in 2010 reported special recruitment efforts to attract more women, GMAC said. At Forte-member institutions, the number of schools hosting women's outreach events has increased from about half in 2005 to 100 percent in 2010.
A campaign aimed at attracting more women has paid off for the Wharton School (Wharton Full-Time MBA Profile), which had 40 percent female enrollment in its first-year MBA class for the last two years, the highest number in the school's history, said Ankur Kumar, deputy director of Wharton's MBA admissions office. In 2009, the admissions office began to offer several events on campus that allow applicants to interact with women in the program, participate in discussions on women leadership and learn more about the application process. The admissions team also hosts women-only information sessions and connects applicants with women students, all efforts that have paid off for the school, Kumar said.
"When you talk about other graduate programs like medical school or law school, you find much more of a fifty-fifty split in enrollment, so business school really feels like the next frontier in that regard," Kumar said.
Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a Harvard Business School (Harvard Full-Time MBA Profile) professor who wrote the landmark 1977 book "Men and Women of the Corporation," said there has been much progress made in the number of women attending business school since she started teaching at Harvard in the 1980s. Women make up 36 percent of this year's entering Harvard MBA class, up from 25 percent in 1985 and 11 percent in 1975, according to the school.
"Clearly business schools have become a more welcoming environment for women than they might have been at a time when they tended to attract many people out of the military or with engineering backgrounds," Kanter said. "Now, many business schools are looking for people with leadership potential and that means they are looking more broadly beyond what had been the conventional sources."