Enrollment Flags for Women Pursuing the MBA

As more and more business schools publish their MBA class profiles for the incoming class, it has become clear that despite all the discussion of women and MBAs of 2013, female enrollment numbers overall have stagnated.

While a few schools, such as UC Berkeley Haas School of Business and Emory’s Goitzueta Business School, heralded record numbers of female enrollment in the MBA Class of 2016, several notable programs—University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, Yale School of Management, and Michigan Ross School of Business—reported fewer women in this year’s entering class.

To find out why this may be happening, TopMBA.com‘s editor-in-chief Louis Lavelle spoke with Elissa Ellis Sangster, executive director of the Forté Foundation. This non-profit consortium of leading companies and top business schools works together to launch women’s careers through access to business education, opportunities, and a community of successful women.

Here is an excerpt from their interview:

LL: This year the forward momentum many business schools had been making on enrolling women seems to have stalled.  While there were a few schools with substantive improvements (…) 9 of the 14 schools I checked recently had made no improvement, or enrolled fewer women.  How are you interpreting that?

ES: I think that when I look at it as a trend we’ve been improving, but every few years we have a stagnation period. We’re at 34 to 35% now. I think what we’re seeing is there’s a limited applicant pool and that applicant pool can only produce so many women. The schools at the top are seeing the dramatic increases at the top…I think we’re going to continue to see progress but we’re going to have setbacks.

LL: Even though more women are applying to business schools, US business schools are stubbornly stuck, for the most part, at about 35% female enrollment. Why aren’t more female applicants making the cut?

ES: I think there are two things: we want to make the MBA more visible to women, but we also want them to present the best application they can. Often women will take the GMAT cold and walk away disheartened, or they’ll write an essay and won’t have anyone look at it. Through the Forte’ Foundation’s MBA Launch program, we work with women to prepare for the GMAT, assess school fit, and prepare their personal story for the applications and interviews.

LL: What can business schools do to fix this problem? Is the answer more female applicants – in the hope that a larger pool of female applicants would contain more qualified applicants who will be admitted – or is the answer somehow leveling the playing field for women in the admissions process?

ES: Obviously more women in the applicant pool is important. Schools are battling over a pool of women and those women are getting many opportunities. The problem is now we don’t have enough women to fill the demand. More women would be better for everybody. But to get women into the top 25 we have to make sure women are presenting the best applications, so that when admissions officers look at these profiles they see someone who is ready to make that MBA decision.

Lavelle and Sangster have much more to say about the state of women and business school, and I invite you to continue reading their extended Q&A here.

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