Women are applying to MBA programmes in greater numbers than ever before. GMAC reports that currently, 40 per cent of GMAT test-takers are women. This trend has been confirmed by the Forté Foundation, an organisation that promotes women in management. Forté found that for the first time in 15 years, the number of women in business schools has risen significantly.

"An MBA can transform your skill set, give you flexibility, and help determine what success means to you," says Elissa Ellis, Forté Executive Director. "It is a credential affording women optimal opportunities and flexibility in business."

At New York University Stern School of Business, for example, women make up 37 per cent of the MBA population. In a league of its own, the Simmons School of Management in Boston is the only business school in the world designed specifically for women. "Our mission is to educate women for power and principled leadership," says Deborah Merrill-Sands, the Dean of the Simmons school.

Why B-Schools Are Transformational for Women

Business schools want more women on their MBA programmes for two reasons. First, they want to provide women with the management knowledge to fast-forward their careers in the business world. Second, they want to break down the stereotypes about women in the workplace. According to Catalyst, an organisation that promotes women in business, the broad-based cultural stereotypes about gender can create difficult predicaments for women leaders. Catalyst findings suggest that, because of stereotyping, "women's leadership talent is routinely underestimated and underutilised in organisations—and yet organisations need women's talent in order to succeed."

Says Santiago Íñiguez, Dean of the Madrid-based IE Business School,says: "We are convinced that the successful business models of the future will be those that best know how to interact with an increasingly sophisticated and demanding social environment."

Taking Advantage of Your Gender

Women bring many assets to the table that make for a diverse MBA environment. When researching particular schools, women should look at the number and variety of women's organisations on campus. INSEAD, for example, invites women to join its Women in Business Club, which features prominent speakers at its meetings. Wharton, where women make up 33 per cent of the student population, organises an annual Women in Business conference, a highly rated event propelling women into positions of leadership.

In selecting the most appropriate business schools, candidates should ask school representatives how many female teachers are on the faculty. Another question involves whether business schools sponsor networking activities and community service run and organised by women.

Scholarships for women are also an incentive. A select number of b-schools have joined forces with the Forté Foundation to create opportunities for the advancement of women in management. As part of the Forté partnership, Forté member schools award scholarships to highly qualified women. In addition to financial support via scholarships, scholars gain exposure to leading companies in the Forté network.

Women Coaching Each Other

Women also need to make sure that their preferred business schools have strong and committed alumni networks, since an MBA creates valuable coaching opportunities for women, especially as they begin to look for jobs. Women turn to each other and to alumni for practice on case questions and mock interviews, and for coaching on phone interview techniques. Alumni can be very helpful in providing tips and explaining the hiring practices within a wide range of organisations.