Push for Gender Diversity

STUDY AFTER STUDY HAS SHOWN that companies with more women in leadership positions outperform those with less diverse leadership. And yet, women’s participation in business still lags behind their participation in other industries.

In August, senior administrators from the U.S. White House and deans from 47 AACSB-accredited U.S. business schools convened in Washington, D.C., to discuss barriers that women face in business. The White House unveiled 25 best practices, which all 47 schools committed to adopt. The proposed strategies are divided into four categories

  • Improving access to business education and business careers.
  • Designing educational experiences that teach students to appreciate diversity.
  • Developing career services for nontraditional students.

Serving as role models for 21st-century organizations in their leadership; research and cases; and faculty hiring, promotion, and compensation policies.
During a conference call prior to the meeting, Betsey Stevenson, a research associate with the National Bureau of Economic Research and a member of the Obama Administration’s Council of Economic Advisers, discussed survey data that suggested why fewer women than men choose business careers. The discrepancy starts in childhood and adolescence, she said, when girls are afraid to be criticized as “bossy” if they demonstrate leadership ability—and that fear continues into their undergraduate studies. Women undergraduates are 30 percent less likely than male undergraduates to major in business. Women who major in business often study in areas with lower earnings potential, such as tourism and hospitality, rather than those with higher earnings potential, such as finance. Stevenson noted, “in 2014, only 5 percent of CEOs at Fortune 500 companies were female, and in 2013 only 17 percent of board seats in the Fortune 500 were held by women.”



Sally Blount, dean of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management in Evanston, Illinois, discussed Kellogg’s commitment to increase women’s enrollment in its MBA program and appoint more women to administrative positions. This fall, Kellogg welcomed a full-time MBA class that was 43 percent women—“a record high for us,” Blount said, and well over the industry average of 38 percent.

The school has achieved that mark through concerted efforts to recruit women over the last decade, explains Beth Tidmarsh, director of admissions for Kellogg’s full-time MBA, in a separate interview. Kellogg holds an annual two-day Women’s Leadership Workshop; now in its tenth year, the workshop introduces high-potential women to business careers, helping them polish their professional materials and define their goals. Each fall, the school holds a Women’s Preview Day for women considering MBA study at Kellogg; they attend classes and panel discussions, ask questions of current students, and meet with admissions officers.

The school’s administration has fostered a close partnership with the Forté Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to women in business, and works closely with the Women’s Business Association (WBA), an active Kellogg student club. With the dean’s support, the WBA introduces women to Kellogg’s culture. It sends an email of welcome to incoming students, holds coffee chats, organizes networking events, and manages a peer mentoring program. Each year, the WBA also holds a welcome event where men and women can get acquainted and build the foundation for future collaboration. The club’s membership and leadership positions are open to men and women alike.

A 2002 graduate of Kellogg’s MBA program, Tidmarsh was part of an MBA class that was only 29 percent women. She notes that Kellogg’s progress shows what schools can accomplish by adopting the White House recommendations. “We want women to know that we have a collaborative culture, that we promote a spirit of ‘pay-it-forward’ teamwork that helps everyone succeed,” says Tidmarsh. “That kind of atmosphere is appealing to women. They want a top-notch education and a rigorous program, but they don’t want a cutthroat environment.”

Other U.S. business schools have made similar progress. The Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley—represented at the White House meeting—recently announced that women’s enrollment in its full-time MBA had reached 43 percent as well.

Also represented at the meeting was the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business in Iowa City. It has announced its creation of the Kathleen Dore-Henry B. Tippie MBA Women’s Leadership Program. Tippie’s dean, Sarah Gardial, notes in a school statement that the program will foster women’s leadership development through scholarships, pre-MBA orientation training, a mentorship program, skills workshops, and awards for accomplishments related to women’s leadership. With these efforts, she says, the school hopes to address the fundamental question: “What’s holding women back?”

During the call, Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to President Barack Obama, noted that businesses can do their part to attract and retain more women by adopting policies such as paid sick days, paid parental leave, and equal pay for equal work. Business schools can have tremendous impact early in the talent pipeline, emphasized Christine Clements, AACSB’s chief diversity and inclusion advocate. She encouraged all business schools to adopt the White House best practices and “be a part of this important dialogue.” She added that AACSB will champion this effort by showcasing those practices in its accreditation process, events programming, and periodic reports.

Documents related to the White House initiative and proposed best practices are available at www.aacsb.edu/diversity.