Women Take the MBA Plunge

No More Gender Gap in the Business Arena

April 1st, 2014

Female names are listed more and more often as leading figures in some of the hottest global business ventures and influential deals – IBM appointed its first female CEO, Ginni Rometty, Facebook went through a historical important IPO lead by Sheryl Sandberg, Google’s top executive Marissa Mayer became Yahoo’s CEO… Forbes’ list of influential women is overflowing and indicates that women are speeding up every year.

MBA women applicants are on the rise

The cliché that the Master of Business Administration is male-tailored and male-dominated has become officially obsolete. During the past decade women have braved their way into the business degree and have gradually become men’s equals – both in number and academic excellence. In 2012 the number of female applicants skyrocketed.  The trends for 2013 were similar. Recent data from the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) revealed that 101,336 women sat the GMAT exam in 2013, accounting for 42.5% of all tests taken - both record highs. This marks the 5th consecutive year in which women took more than 100,000 exams. 

The US, Russia and China lead the way with female applicants amounting to more than 53%, yet countries such as Brazil and South Africa are also seeing a rise in women aspiring to an MBA degree. According to GMAC data, the two most popular programmes for women are Master’s of Accounting, in which women represent a majority (59%) of applicants for 2013-2014. Also, a greater percentage of Master’s programmes in IT management reported higher representation from women this year (45%) compared with 2012 (40%).

Besides, for several programme types, the growth in application volume for women exceeded the equivalent figure for men. For example, more than half (53%) of Master in Management programmes reported increased applications from women, compared with 43% from men. Executive, flexible and part-timeMBAprogrammes also showed a similar trend—a greater percentage of these programmes reported volume growth in female applicants that outpaced the volume growth in male applicants.

Of the top US programmes, Wharton had the highest percentage of female students in the 2010 – 2011 class (44%). The 2010-2011 classes for the top ten non-US MBA programmes were 30.3% female. Out of this top ten, the programmes with the highest and lowest percentages of women are both Canadian. Schulich had the highest percentage of female students (35%) and Queens University had the lowest (17%).

So, by and large, things are looking up for women. The positive stats reflect the determination of women to get into the world of business and stay there, but are also a result of a change in outreach policy for many grad schools.

Women are on the radar of Business school recruiters

The significant rise in female MBA applicants in recent years is not due to some miraculous force, but is the result of the concentrated efforts of many top MBA schools to attract more women within their ranks. It is no secret that business schools have a highly targeted approach when it comes to recruiting MBA candidates. Also, they are eager to promote gender equality by securing a more or less equal ratio of male and female applicants. Hence, women have become a special target and many incentives have been created.

Harvard Business School, for example, has been experimenting with techniques to support female students. Other schools have professors who lecture on females in the workplace. Babson College runs the Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership, which is targeted at female students who wish to run their own businesses. Other organisations, aimed at fostering women’s business education and their consecutive careers have also been set up.

The Forté Foundation was created in 2001 as a non-profit consortium of leading companies and top business schools that work together to assist women in successfully completing their education and launching their careers. But does the investment pay off?  Are female MBA graduates fulfilling their professional aspirations and have they managed to change the business landscape?

The post-graduate benefits for MBA women

Regardless of whether or not they manage to fulfill their business goals within the short or longer term, the vast majority of female MBA graduates are happy with the choice of education they have made. Most of them are convinced that the degree will advance their career due to the skills attained, the knowledge acquired and the networks created.

According to the GMAC statistics for 2012, 86% of Canadian women agreed that the skills developed in business school moved them further along in their career. 64% of European women in the class of 2012 expect to move to mid-level positions upon graduation, 25% expect to move to senior-level positions, 35% of women in Central Asia want to start their own companies, 69% of US alumnae feel they have reached or are ahead of their career goals, while 85% of Asian-Pacific women graduates of the class of 2012, seeking jobs in the finance and accounting sector, acknowledged that their degree prepared them to meet the challenges of the market.

"My Queen's MBA has equipped me with the confidence and skills that will be invaluable as I build my career. I now work in an area that I'm passionate about and have the ability to chart my own course and make a difference", says Kate Dinham, a graduate of Queen’s School of Business and current senior marketing manager at Nestle Purina in Canada.

Basma Anabtawi, a Laurie MBA graduate, who is presently working as a senior demand planning manager at a big Cosmetics company, emphasises the importance of networking as one of the biggest advantages of her programme, “The MBA has given me numerous opportunities, most importantly the opportunity to network with successful business men and women from many industries and levels of experience. I graduated knowing these are lifelong friends.”

The Jobs and the Industries MBA Women Pursue

Many MBA women graduates make traditional career choices and go into finance, accounting or consulting, but there are also those who use their degree to tread new grounds or rise to the top of the corporate hierarchy.

Women have been breaking one glass ceiling after another and the number of female general managers or successful entrepreneurs worldwide has dramatically grown. Forbes magazine (which does a regular feature on the World’s Most Powerful Women) points out that the number of $10-million-plus women-owned firms increased by 57% last year alone. Also, according to a report by Dow Jones Venture Source, venture-backed companies that include females as senior executives are more likely to succeed than companies with only men in charge.

Part of the secret to their success is that MBA women are making clever choices and are going into industries they know best – consumer goods, health care, retail, nonprofit. (Consulting, energy, investment banking, private equity and IT are still considered more of a male domain).

Though it would be unwise to assume that female consumers would rush out and buy just about anything created by other women, facts point out that cosmetics companies, for example, run by women, are doing exceptionally well. The reason why? Because women understand other women – they know what service or product the customer desires. And that gives them an edge in developing products that better meet women’s needs. And there are a number of success stories that testify to the above. Other sectors, such as the food and retail industries, have also seen women rise to glory. The US female entrepreneurs Erica Bell and Katie Finnegan developed Hukkster because they missed getting employee discounts after working at J. Crew. Hukkster sends alerts when the clothing women want goes on sale.  Diana Lovett’s Cissé, on the other hand, is a line of gourmet baking and hot cocoa mixes that cater to the more socially responsible gender, women. It buys organic cocoa from small-production cocoa growers in the Dominican Republic at a fair price.

And finally, there are those MBA women who choose the creativity boost over the money stimulus and opt for fields like marketing and public relations. One such woman is Renae Placinski. While still on the MBA programme at DePaul University’s Kellstadt Graduate School of Business, she briefly considered going into finance, but ultimately decided she enjoyed writing and communications more. Plus, she wanted to work in a field she felt passionate about. After graduating in 2006, she briefly worked in television and then landed her current mid-level public relations position for North Shore. She is pleased to be pursuing a career that is the “right fit” for her interests and is convinced her degree will help her advance in the field. And she is no exception to the rule!

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