Closing the Gender Gap

What business schools can do to increase the number of women in the corporate world.
BUSINESS SCHOOLS SHOULD not only prepare women to succeed as leaders, but also lead the way in helping organizations welcome and support gender diversity. Yet business schools themselves are characterized by significant gender gaps at all levels, from administration and faculty to doctoral candidates and MBAs. Male and female business students lack role models of successful women in business schools, and women increasingly are opting to earn bachelor’s degrees in fields other than business. Even as some business schools actively recruit more women, women still are underrepresented in business programs.

We recently conducted research on gender at business schools that highlights the extent of the problem. We found that many gender gaps can be traced back to pipeline issues. For instance, certain business disciplines such as finance and economics generate few female doctorates, which constrains the pool of potential faculty who pursue leadership positions. But the problem of gender inequality goes well beyond the pipeline. After being hired as full-time business faculty, women are less likely to become full professors than men. And, women hold relatively few associate dean and academic department chair positions, both major stepping stones to the dean’s office.

The fact that so few women are deans, full-time faculty, or tenured faculty is likely to reinforce gender inequality in business schools. This scarcity creates an organizational culture that might deter women who graduate with BBAs from enrolling in master’s and doctorate programs in business, because they fail to see how careers in business and academia will benefit them (see how one school is addressing the problem in "Balance in B-Schools").

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Here, we share some of our data, as well as steps business schools can take to bring more women into business and management education. A scarcity of data on business school faculty and deans outside the United States restricted our ability to analyze these key global trends; however, we have good data on student graduates around the world. We conclude from our research that if business schools are to achieve gender equality, they must honestly assess their track records in supporting gender diversity. Then, they must implement policies and procedures that will make them role models for gender equality in business.


To achieve gender parity, we believe that business schools must acknowledge a problem exists, move away from the way things were done in the past, and take these actions in their programs:

This includes developing more case studies that feature women managers and leaders and portray them as positive role models across the curriculum.

NURTURE THE PIPELINE FOR FEMALE FACULTY. Business schools can expand the pool of female doctorates—especially in fields where women are scarce, such as finance, economics, and strategy. They can hire more women as full-time faculty and offer them more support throughout their careers. Women on the tenure track, for instance, would benefit from guidance on how to quire research funding, spend their pre-tenure time most productively, and evaluate the benefits of different types of institutional service to their careers.

ENCOURAGE AND APPOINT MORE WOMEN AS ACADEMIC LEADERS. Educate women faculty on the rewards of academic leadership and encourage them to apply for positions such as department chair and dean. Provide both men and women with mentors and professional development opportunities in areas such as fundraising, negotiation, and social networking.

FOSTER AN INCLUSIVE EDUCATIONAL ENVIRONMENT. That means developing programs that train deans and department chairs—both women and men—to better challenge stereotypes, as well as creating and implementing best practices for hiring, promoting, tenuring, and supporting women faculty. Faculty across all departments should be coached on how unconscious gender bias can affect their teaching, advising, and service on committees for hiring, promotion, and tenure. Similar coaching and training should be provided to recruitment, placement, and other administrative staff who will support women in their career development.

Ultimately, business schools that create positive and balanced gender climates will achieve one of management education’s core missions—to promote positive change in the practice of management and leadership.

One key source of materials that integrate gender issues, gathered by faculty worldwide, is the Global Repository launched by the United Nations PRME Working Group in Gender Equality. Visit Repository.


37.1% of new business doctorates awarded in the U.S. and 36.4 percent of those awarded outside the U.S. in 2012-2013 were earned by women. From 2009-2010 to 2012-2013, the number of new business doctorates awarded by business schools shrank by 11.6 percent in the U.S. and expanded by 34.5 percent outside the U.S.

36.4% of MBA degrees awarded in the U.S. in 2012-2013 were earned by women. Outside the U.S., that number was 38.1 percent. The number of students earning their MBA degrees actually is declining across the globe. In the U.S., 16.8 percent fewer MBA degrees were awarded in 2012-2013 than in 2009-2010; outside the U.S., the number of MBA degrees dropped by 10.2 percent.

46.7% of graduates with specialized master's degrees in the U.S. in 2012-2013 were women, compared to 50.5 percent outside the U.S. In contrast to MBA degrees, the number of specialized master’s degrees conferred at business schools worldwide is steadily increasing, up by 12.9 percent in the U.S. and 26.6 percent outside the U.S. from 2009-2010 to 2012-2013.

42.7% of bachelor's degrees in business in the U.S. and 50.4 percent of those outside the U.S. went to women in 2012-2013. The number of bachelor’s degrees in business granted between 2009-2010 and 2012-2013 increased by 5.5 percent at business schools in the U.S., and rose by 55.2 percent at schools outside the U.S.

*Data on business graduates are based on surveys of AACSB member schools worldwide.


The numbers show that women are still a minority among business school students, faculty, and administrators. But those numbers only scratch the surface of a deeper problem—that business schools promote an ecosystem in which administrators, faculty, case study protagonists, guest speakers, and even textbook authors are predominantly male, says Dianne Bevelander, professor of management education at the Rotterdam School of Management at Erasmus University in the Netherlands. “Students get the impression that intellect and leadership are male-driven,” she holds.

While women make up 40 percent of the students at RSM, only a quarter of its faculty are female, of which only 10 percent are full professors, says Bevelander. In addition, “women constitute 77 percent of administrative personnel, but senior administration remains largely Dutch male.”

Photo: Dianne Bevelander

To address the disparity, last September the university opened the Erasmus Centre for Women and Organisations (ECWO) as part of a university-wide effort to bring more women into academic leadership positions. That effort has been driven largely by Pauline van der Meer Mohr, Erasmus University’s president. “Since her appointment we now have the first female dean of the Erasmus School of Law, and the pipeline of female academics and researchers has significantly improved,” says Bevelander, the ECWO’s executive director.

The ECWO will serve as the official umbrella for many activities at RSM, including career coaching, workshops, and customized leadership programs for executive women. It also is actively channeling faculty research to organizations—through workshops, consulting, and master classes—to help them improve their understanding and handling of gender in the workplace. For example, one workshop, Women in Leadership, helps both men and women understand how “executives of both genders often swim in a sea of unrealized professional gender bias,” says Bevelander.

For instance, because women are seen as more caring than men, women often are expected to show more concern for others in the workplace. Those who don’t risk being perceived as cold or bossy; those who do often spend too much time on activities that don’t advance their careers. Men and women can choose either to ignore this bias or to respond to it, says Bevelander.

Now under the aegis of the ECWO are the Successful Women in Business program and the MBA Kilimanjaro Leadership Project. Launched in 2013, Successful Women in Business is a suite of workshops designed to help women learn to trust their intelligence and creativity and empower themselves in the workplace. The Kilimanjaro project, started by Bevelander in 2011, challenges a group of women to climb to the top of Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro. While the climb accommodates only 18 women each fall, the project has had a “multiplier” effect, inspiring discussion about gender issues throughout the school, she says. Bevelander also has been asked to speak about the project at companies, resulting in requests from several female executives to join the group. Best of all, the school has seen an increase in the number of female students taking leadership positions in student clubs. RSM also has adopted a diversity policy for administrative staff and plans to appoint a diversity officer.

"A diversity policy without commitment, concrete goals, and some form of accountability does not drive execution.”


Bevelander would like to see more business school deans, department chairs, and search committees address gender diversity in concrete ways, she says. “A diversity policy without commitment, concrete goals, and some form of accountability does not drive execution.”

In the end, Bevelander believes that business schools have not achieved gender parity because they simply have been focused on other areas. “Business schools that are committed to the cause of gender-based equality of opportunity have achieved an amazing amount,” she says.

For information about the ECWO, visit