For Female Faculty, a B-School Glass Ceiling

It’s lonely at the top. That adage could be the mantra of female faculty at business schools across the country who have reached the coveted and most prestigious step of their career ladder, full professor. The number of women who’ve obtained the full professor rank in B-schools remains dispiritingly low, with fewer than one of five women business school professors employed today as full professors, according to a 2010-11 salary survey of female faculty by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), one of the leading accreditation agencies for business schools.

Women may still be far from a majority at most business schools, but the overall number entering the field has been steadily creeping upwards. Over the past 10 years, the number of female business school faculty climbed from 23.6 percent of total faculty in the 2001-02 academic year to 29 percent this year, according to the survey. The uptick comes as more women are considering careers as business professors; in the 2009-10 academic year, women made up 35.4 percent of doctoral students at AACSB-member schools, up from 31.7 percent five years ago. Despite the growing number of women entering the business school world, many appear to hit a stumbling block on the path to promotion, says John Fernandes, AACSB’s president. Women make up 40.6 percent of instructors and 37.3 percent of assistant professors. As women move up the career ladder and obtain tenure, the gender gap becomes more pronounced. Women make up just 29.1 percent of associate professors and a paltry 17.9 percent of full professors.

"That is a huge drop-off rate," Fernandes says. "I see the number of women faculty members in the classroom continue to change and increase, but I’m not so sure it is increasing at a rate that is acceptable to the schools themselves and to society as a whole."

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For faculty themselves, tenure and full professorships mean higher salaries, fewer teaching responsibilities, and more opportunities to publish. For business schools and society, though, the stakes are even higher. At top business schools, where women account for about 30 percent of enrollment, the dearth of viable role models among faculty may be one reason why. And the lack of women attending B-school is one reason, among many, that the corporate world is dominated by men at the most senior levels. "The whole way we do business education is still this very male, competitive model," says Catharine Curran, an associate professor of marketing at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth’s Charlton College of Business, who has conducted research on gender issues in academia and business schools. "Women get really turned off by the whole manner in which business schools operate."

There appears to be no one simple explanation for why it is taking women so long to advance in their careers at business schools. The challenges that come along with balancing family life and academia, the structure of the tenure system, subtle sexual discrimination and bullying, and a lack of mentorship programs for female faculty are just some of the reasons women may be hitting stumbling blocks on the road to full professorship, according to interviews with more than half a dozen deans, women professors, and industry experts. Another complicating factor? There is less turnover in the full-professor pool than at other ranks, making it challenging for women to break into disciplines that are primarily male-dominated, says Denise Schoenbachler, dean of Northern Illinois University’s College of Business and chairwoman of AACSB’s Women Administrators in Management Education group.

"You still have a pool of folks who started way before women even started thinking about academia," says Schoenbachler. "At many schools, you still have full professors who have been there 20 years or more and until they rotate through, the percentages will remain diluted by that."

Read full story: BusinessWeek

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