By Santiago Iñiguez de Onzoño, Executive President of IE University.
Almost everyone will agree that gender diversity in the composition of the different groups of stakeholders at business schools enriches the learning experience and promotes innovation.
However, there is still ample room for growth in gender diversity, as current data show.
The compiled figures below show the average of women participating in three major groups of stakeholders at top business schools offering MBAs, according to information collected by the Financial Times.
Gender Diversity at Business Schools (MBA rankings, Financial Times 2017 )
The good news from these stats is that the percentage of women at the top 25 MBA programs has increased by ten percent over the past decade. The other two magnitudes, though, remain flat.
These and similar statistics lead some analysts to say that there is still a glass ceiling at business schools, particularly at the level of postgraduate programs. Unfortunately, this also has consequences in the number of women at top management positions in corporations, given the correlation between holding MBAs and climbing the corporate career ladder.
The two main reasons frequently mentioned to justify why women do not pursue MBA programs, as often as their male counterparts, are the lack of inspiring role models in business, and that increasing business career demands seem to disrupt the desired work/life balance, particularly at critical phases in life associated to childhood and growing up a family.
In the past years, many business schools have implemented proactive schemes to increase the number of women across business degree programs. However, AACSB data show that the progress has been meagre. Between 2010-11 and 2014-15 the percentage of women at MBA programs experienced flat growth from 36.3% to 36.9%. Something similar happened at the doctoral programs where the percentage of women over the same period increased only from 37.6% to 38.9%.
The key question here is whether this trend may be reversed, which is desirable. In order to foster a wider presence of women students at business schools, I would suggest the following measures:
1)Developing further scholarship programs targeted at women candidates for MBAs.
2)Dedicating more resources to research to better understand the obstacles of women in management.
3)Offering more on-line and blended educational offerings that adapt to the circumstances of women to better conciliate their private/professional aspirations.
4)Enhance and communicate role models of successful women in business, that may serve as inspiration for future candidates.
5)Expand mentorship programs for women, particularly over the early years of their careers when they confront the most critical circumstances for development.
The case of Women Faculty: My experience
Maximising diversity to foster innovation has been a key strategic initiative for IE Business School over the years, as reflected in the wide diversity across all our main stakeholder groups: Faculty, Students, Staff and Board.
In particular, I am happy but not at all complacent that women represent the 39% of our Faculty, the highest percentage in our cluster of the top 25 business schools worldwide.
Over my mandate as Dean, that finalized this year, I promoted gender diversity at IE’s Faculty through different initiatives including the following:
-Searching for women graduates at prestigious PhD programs and recruitment events. This requires careful search given the reduced percentage of women at PhD business programs.
-Systematically hiring women when candidates for the faculty showed similar or comparable conditions. I would not call this positive discrimination but it certainly entails some form of affirmative action.
-Providing a flexible working environment, including blended and online teaching formats that are deliverable from home.
-Appointing women to key faculty positions: e.g., Vice Dean for the Faculty, Head of Associate Faculty, Department Heads, Doctoral programs.
-Actively communicating our commitment to diversity in writing and verbally at any possible occasion.
Even if all those initiatives represent a big effort, they are not enough, and we will continue implementing imaginative and effective measures in the future to achieve a more gender balanced faculty.
Indeed, there is still a long way to go. Could we reasonably expect a balanced class in our MBA programs, as well as across the rest of business school’s stakeholder groups, in five years time?