November 17, 2013 9:01 pm

MBA gender gap: tackling the imbalance

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Business schools worldwide are increasing their efforts to attract women to their management education programmes in recognition of the competitive advantage this brings.

But the number of women at business school and in senior management remains low. In the Financial Times 2013 global MBA ranking, Fudan University School of Management in China reported the highest number of female students with 54 per cent. Close on its heels are the University of Bath School of Management in the UK and TiasNimbas Business School in the Netherlands, which both have 50 per cent women students. But the majority of schools in the ranking (86) have yet to pass the 40 per cent mark. The Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad has the lowest number of female students with seven per cent.

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In the workplace, there are still very few large companies with a female chief executive officer. The announcement that Angela Ahrendts will move from Burberry to Apple next year, triggered a series of laments over the loss of another female in the FTSE 100, where there are now only two – Carolyn McCall at easyJet and Alison Cooper at Imperial Tobacco. While in a recent speech to the Women’s Foundation in Hong Kong, HSBC chief executive Stuart Gulliver described the banking institution as being “too pale and male for our own good”. In national central banks, men account for more than four out of five members of the most important decision-making bodies and women for fewer than one in five on average across the EU, according to a report published last month by the European Commission.

Equal wages, benefits and promotional opportunities for women also remain elusive.

To encourage debate the Financial Times has invited academics, alumni and students to share their views on our Women at Business School page. How can business schools increase the number of women students? What else can they do to help improve the number of women on boards?

Nitin Nohria, the dean of Harvard Business School, recommends conducting more research and encouraging more men to invest in the issue. Read his soapbox for more details.

Christie Scollon, an associate professor of psychology at Singapore Management University, would like to ramp up recruitment and create more role models for women.

“It is important for women to see other women succeeding in business roles, as chief executive officers and as [teaching] faculty in business programmes,” she says.

“Research by Penelope Lockwood, a professor at the University of Toronto, shows that women, more so than men, are inspired by outstanding same-sex role models. I think in the coming decade as we see more Sheryl Sandbergs, Carly Fiorinis and Marissa Mayers, we will slowly see the demographics of business schools and the business world change.”

Throughout the week, experts will share their top tips for women on career advancement, networking, juggling an MBA with motherhood and finding a mentor. Participants include Polly McMaster, an MBA graduate from London Business School who now runs her own fashion business called The Fold, and believes that an MBA is a worthwhile investment.

“The MBA can seem like a big time commitment out of a career, especially for women who might be considering time out to have a family in the future,” she says. “But the best piece of advice I was given around this was to think not just about the short-term impact of an MBA on your career, but the long-term impact.

“Having an MBA is a stamp on your CV forever . . . If you come back from having a family, you have a benchmark for companies to see your experience level and a boost to your confidence when returning to work.”

Viviane Reding, the EU Commissioner of Justice, also features in our Ten Questions Q&A. She has set an EU target of 40 per cent female non-executives by 2020.

“Our proposal seeks to address the indefensible gender imbalance in Europe’s company boardrooms today. Despite various voluntary initiatives over the years, progress has been glacial: women still only make up 16.6 per cent of board members on average across the EU. At a time when 60 per cent of university graduates are female and at a time where Europe’s population is ageing and birth rates are falling, we simply cannot afford to waste any talent,” she says.

What are your thoughts? Are you a female MBA student facing gender stereotypes? Are you keen to tackle the gender equality issue?

Join the debate on Twitter #FTMBAwomen and follow our live blogs.

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