World Reimagined

Women Enrollees Top Men for First Time at This Elite MBA Program

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While COVID-19 has disrupted the careers of women in a disproportionate way, there might be hope on the horizon. The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, this fall, will have more women beginning their MBA candidacy than men.

That’s the first time one of the country’s top business schools will see that ratio shift. Some 52% of the fall cohort will be female, the school has announced. And while other major MBA programs haven’t equaled those numbers, they’re getting closer.

The Forté Foundation, a non-profit consortium of leading multinational corporations and top universities and business schools, notes that the percentage of women enrolled in the top MBA programs in the U.S., Europe and Canada, hit 39% last year. Fifteen years prior, the number was just 30%.

Seven U.S. schools – the George Washington University School of Business, Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business, The Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis, Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, the University of Maryland’s Smith School of Business, Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business and the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business – reported women made up 45% of incoming classes.

“An MBA, or another advanced degree, can help more women crack the glass ceiling in business and help build the leadership pipeline at companies,” said Elissa Sangster, Forté’s CEO. “Myriad research over many years has clearly shown that having a more diverse leadership team at companies contributes to better financial performance, which is needed more than ever in the current economic climate.”

Wharton is the most prestigious business school to enroll more women than men, but it’s not the first to do so. The Marshall School of Business at University of Southern California, in 2018, boasted a class that was 52% women. And in 2020, George Washington University’s School of Business enrolled a class that was 58% female.

“As we do every year, we made a conscious effort to ensure female applicants felt wanted and welcomed at Wharton, and showed them the many resources and communities in our program where they can connect, collaborate and feel supported,” said Maryellen Reilly, Deputy Vice Dean of the Wharton MBA Program. “While we are extremely proud to welcome this record number of women to our MBA community this year, we do hope that equitable gender representation soon becomes the norm among business schools, rather than the exception.”

The Wharton Class of 2023 is the most diverse in the school’s history. Beyond its record setting number for women, LGBTQ+ representation reached 7%, which was also an all-time high. Additionally, the class makeup is 36% international students and 35% Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC). All totaled, 897 candidates were admitted, out of 7,338 applications.

 A report from McKinsey & Company and Lean In published last October found that one in four women – as many as 2 million – are considering leaving their job or stepping away from their careers due to the pandemic. But that doesn’t mean they’re dropping out of the workforce forever.

Some 62% of full-time MBA programs say they saw a surge in applications from women last year, compared to just 42% in 2019, according to the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC). Applications by men to two-year programs nationwide were more voluminous than those by women, but women applied more to part-time, executive, and online MBA programs.

That can help close the salary gap. The median salary for someone with an MBA (pre-pandemic) was $115,000, compared to just $65,000 with a bachelor’s degree – a 77% difference, says GMAC. And an MBA graduate could earn up to $3 million more than someone with a bachelor’s over the course of their career.

And it can, of course, help women into executive roles, where they’re dramatically underrepresented. (Just over 6% of the CEOs of S&P 500 companies are women.)

“As a female leader, I understand firsthand the significant impact that experiencing meaningful gender representation can have on women as they chart their careers,” said Erika James, Dean of the Wharton School. “I also note the sobering reality that, even in 2021, women still command a small percentage of leadership positions in the corporate arena. If industry truly desires its organizations—and the leadership within them—to reflect the world around us, we must improve the diversity of the pipeline of future business leaders.”

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

Chris Morris

Chris Morris is a veteran journalist with more than 30 years of experience, more than half of which were spent with some of the Internet’s biggest sites, including CNNMoney.com, where he was Director of Content Development, and Yahoo! Finance, where he was managing editor. Today, he writes for dozens of national outlets including Digital Trends, Fortune, and CNBC.com.

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