The University Record, May 22, 2000

Study finds ‘opportunity gap’ for women in business schools

From the Business School,
Center for the Education of Women and Catalyst

Ninety-five percent of women and men graduates from 12 of the nation’s top business schools report being satisfied with the business school experience and their post-MBA studies, according to a study released May 12.

However, despite high satisfaction among women who have earned an MBA, female enrollment at top business schools averages just 30 percent. The study suggests that there are obstacles to more women taking advantage of the opportunity an MBA provides, including a disconnect between young women’s perceptions of business careers and the actual experiences of women MBAs surveyed for the project.

A 30 percent enrollment of women at top-tier business schools compared with 44 percent at top-tier law and medical schools prompted the study of more than 1,600 male and female MBAs. The study was designed to shed light on the business school environment, career outcomes of MBA graduates and why women do not pursue MBAs in greater numbers.

The joint study was conducted by the Business School, Center for the Education of Women (CEW) and Catalyst, a non-profit research and business advisory organization designed to help women achieve their full professional potential and to help employers capitalize fully on women’s talents and abilities.

“Women and the MBA: Gateway to Opportunity” indicates that the business school environment is better for women than conventional wisdom suggests, but that survey respondents believe that business school and business careers are not perceived by many women to be in line with their personal and professional goals.

“We have an opportunity gap—high satisfaction among women who attend MBA programs but few women investing themselves in those programs in the first place,” said Business School Dean B. Joseph White. “Getting more women into MBA programs means better access to the total talent pool for business, and can mean greater economic empowerment and influence for women themselves.”

CEW Director Carol Hollenshead noted that, “Partnerships among business schools and businesses are critical to attracting more women to the MBA. In this competitive environment, businesses that draw upon 100 percent of the talent pool and advance women have a potentially competitive edge.”

Hollenshead said that key strategies to accomplish this include “aggressively recruiting women to business schools, providing additional financial aid, developing more inclusive business and business school cultures, and addressing work/life balance issues. It’s also in the interests of business as well as women employees to mentor and foster women’s advancement in business organizations.”

The report also cited as an important strategy the need to increase the number of female faculty and women involvement in recruitment.

“Both men and women graduates say their MBA was worth it and they are living the benefits,” noted Catalyst President Sheila Wellington. “They report that their employer puts value on their MBA, they are satisfied with the job opportunities in their industries, and both men (84 percent) and women (81 percent) generally see themselves as having job assignments that provide visibility with senior management.”

The women graduates, however, do cite barriers that they believe steer women away from pursuing an MBA. These include lack of a female role model (56 percent), incompatibility of careers in business with work/life balance (47 percent), lack of confidence in math skills (45 percent) and a lack of encouragement by employer (42 percent).

Survey respondents said the most rewarding experiences of business school are the interaction with other students, curriculum and class size. In open-ended responses about the problematic aspects of the business school experience, men and women both agree that the area most ripe for improvement is the environment. Their comments included “lack of focus on learning, overly competitive, and lack of diversity in class.”

Nearly one-third of all women MBA graduates and 46 percent of African American women MBAs find the business school culture to be overly aggressive and competitive. More than one-half of the women cannot relate to people in case studies, and nearly 40 percent say they do not have an adequate opportunity to work with female faculty.

While 86 percent of the women say they are satisfied with their careers overall, nearly 30 percent report greater difficulty with career advancement and less access to options that facilitate advancement, such as mentoring, sponsorship from senior management and working in positions with opportunity for advancement.

More men (42 percent) than women (33 percent) indicate that finding mentors has been easy at their current job. Forty-six percent of all currently employed men MBA graduates hold upper level jobs with advancement potential jobs, compared with only 37 percent of women MBA graduates.

Among the study’s detailed recommendations for business schools and business organizations are improving women’s awareness of their opportunities in business; educational and professional preparedness for business school; and countering negative images of business held by women.

Business schools, the study suggests, should highlight the value of a top-tier business program and improve the environment. Organizations should provide structured career support to women and support work/life balance programs.

Hollenshead noted that CEW and the Business School “have been working collaboratively for several years both on this study—the farthest ranging of its nature done to date—as well as on other efforts to attract and advance women in business.” CEW annually awards up to 35 scholarships and fellowships for women interested in advancing their careers, and for the first time this year will award Ford Motor Fellowships for Women in the Professions, including engineering, business and natural resources.

The research was supported by a consortium of 13 companies: BP Amoco plc, The Chase Manhattan Corp., Citigroup, Cummins Engine, Deloitte & Touche LLP, Eli Lilly, Equity Group Investments, Ford, Kraft Foods, McKinsey & Co., Motorola, Procter & Gamble and Whirlpool.

The survey findings are based on a written survey of MBA graduates of the U-M; Columbia University Graduate School of Business; Amos Tuck school, Dartmouth College; Fuqua School of Business, Duke University; John E. Anderson Graduate School of Management, University of California, Los Angeles; Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Stern School of Business, New York University; Stanford Graduate School of Business; Haas School of Management, University of California, Berkeley; University of Chicago Graduate School of Business; Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania; and the Darden School, University of Virginia.

Survey respondent profile

Gender:53% women,47% men
Race:75% white,14% African American,11% mixed racial/ethnic groups
Average age:40
Within 1–3 reporting
levels of the CEO
60% of the women57% of the men
Married:69% of the women80% of the men
Have Children:55% of the women66% of the men
Primary age earner:55% of the women89% of the men
Have a spouse
who is employed full time
89% of the women39% of the men