Posted by fmba
on Oct 13, 2014 in Women MBA
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Much has been said about MBA programs unfriendliness toward women, but evidence suggests female students voices are gradually being heard.
Last week, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella advised attendees of a womens computing conference that they shouldnt ask for pay raises. Nadella retracted his comments almost immediately after they left his mouth, but not before they spurred many conversations about the at-large treatment of women in the business.
A microcosm of the corporate world, MBA programs too have been subject to considerable scrutiny for their treatment of women. The New Yorker published a highly compelling case for why women should skip business school. Sparked by an article in The New York Times highlighting Harvard Business Schools efforts to improve gender equity, The New Yorkers account warned of staggering costs, lost wages, lost time and a frat-house culture.
Yet there are a few visible signs of improvement. In January, Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria pledged to double the percentage of female protagonists in the schools ubiquitous case studies over the next five years. (At the time the announcement was made, only about 10 percent of those cases included women in prominent roles.) Then theres the fact that this fall MITs Sloan School of Management welcomed an MBA class with a historic makeup: 40.7% of the students are women.
Still, women dont need a B-school degree to be successful in business. 63% of the women on the 2014 Fortune Most Powerful Women in Business list have climbed the corporate ladder without MBAs. So schools are working extra hard to attract and create positive experiences for female students.
Professors have started tweaking their classroom behavior. MIT Sloan encourages its faculty to have teaching assistants track their patterns of calling on students in class discussions. We talk with the faculty a lot about implicit biases they may not be aware of, Maura Herson, director of the Sloan Schools MBA program, explains. At least one faculty member has her teaching assistant generate a heat map as comments are made during class sessions so she can ensure everyones voice is heard.
Team structure is getting a facelift, too. Its become common practice to try to divide up the relatively small number of women in a given MBA program class among project teamsresulting in one woman per group. The research has shown that this is not effective for those women, says Joyce Russell, vice dean at University of Marylands Robert H. Smith School of Business. It becomes increasingly more difficult for them to get heard when surrounded by others who are not like them. A better strategy, she says, is to have at least two women together in group, even if it means some teams are all men.
At the University of Pennsylvanias Wharton School, students are leading an effort of their own. Just this year, the Wharton Women in Business student organization launched a group called The 22snamed for the wage gap per dollar in mens and womens earningsto elicit male support for work on gender equality, says Maryellen Reilly Lamb, deputy vice dean for Whartons MBA program.
Programs with more flexibility also help support women balancing work and family demands. We have an online executive MBA program and a blended part-time program, both of which are very popular with women business students, says the Smith Schools Russell.
Business school can also be a confidence builder. Julia Yoo, a recent graduate from MITs Sloan School, admits there were moments she realized she was a minority. Oftentimes, the sexism she experienced was due to cultural factors. (Nearly 50 percent of Sloans MBA class body was born outside the United States, she notes.) Yoo says some foreign male students assumed leadership for group presentations out of habit. Yoo learned to speak upit was a two-way processand felt comfortable with her newfound assertiveness.
They talk about a confidence gap, where men wait until theyre 50 percent qualified to apply for something new and women wait until theyre 100 percent qualified. I was really uncomfortable with that before, but now Ive realized youre never 100 percent qualified to do anything you just have to jump in, Yoo says.
But business schools still have plenty of critics. We make a mistaken assumption that if we get gender parity fixed in business school and reach 50/50 enrollment rates, all we have to do is water-slide these credentialed women right into U.S. businesses, says Selena Rezvani, an author, speaker and consultant on women and leadership. But what about the outmoded work cultures these women will be joining that still tend to favor and reward male styles of leadership?
Rather, business schools should be more future-focused and take a proactive approach that looks beyond the cues currently given off by the corporate world, Rezvani says. Given the incredible smarts and talent at the typical university, schools need to teach students something that businesses and workplaces may not yet realize they need, Rezvani adds. They cant teach from the past or even the present; they need to ask themselves what the future requires from leaders and then be brave enough to teach it.
The takeaway? Business schools are getting better for women. But, much like corporate America, they still have a long way to go.