by Avivah Wittenberg-Cox and Lesley Symons
You might expect organizations that teach the latest in leadership theory to practice what they preach. It ain’t happening. There is a raft of research showing that improving gender balance leads to enhanced business performance. But business schools, which serve as talent pools for companies that are working on their own gender balance, seem stuck in yesterday’s statistics.
Women make up 60% of university graduates, but that number falls precipitously at business schools. Female faculty are in even shorter supply. Our Gender Balance Scorecard on Business Schools, the first scorecard we’ve done for B-schools, gives an overview of the top 100 schools (Financial Times ranking, 2015). It also takes an in-depth look at the top 12 business schools and how they have evolved since 2010. Based on research by one of us (Lesley), it focuses on the gender balance achieved at two levels: among MBA students and among faculty.
- Better MBA balance: Most of the Top 100 business schools show some improvement in the gender balance of the MBA student body since 2010.
- Static faculty balance: Gender balance on the faculty side, however, seems more challenging.
- Most balanced: Star performing schools with female student numbers over 40% and female faculty numbers over 30% include the University of Hong Kong, Imperial College, Lancaster, Bath, Queens, Birmingham, and Fudan business schools. Two have a female Dean. None are in the FT’s “Top 12 tier” of schools.
- Some of the best are most balanced in MBAs…: Four of the top 12 schools now have student participation at 40% and above: Harvard, Wharton, Stanford, and University of California at Berkeley.
- …and least balanced in faculty: Only one school in the top 12 has female faculty numbers above 30% (IE Business School) and fully one-third of them have lower than 20%: INSEAD, Columbia Business School, University of Chicago Booth, and CEIBS.
MBA programs attract the future leaders of the world’s largest companies—of the 500 largest public companies worldwide, 31% are led by an MBA graduate. Over the past decade, significant efforts have been made to gender balance the world’s best MBA programs. Depending on where you look, those efforts have been more or less successful.
We’ve observed that having an MBA gives neither men nor women the skills they need to build and lead gender-balanced teams. No wonder. As Lesley has shown in her research on business school case studies, the learning tools used in MBA programs feature case studies dominated by men. The faculty are mostly men (tenured faculty even more so). And executive programs are even more male-dominated than MBA classes. If you add all this up, neither women nor men are getting much experience of gender balance at the world’s top business schools.
Business schools could play a crucial role in educating both men and women about gender-balanced companies and leadership. They are an ideal place to develop talent that is twenty-first-century-ready—i.e., that is both meritocratic and “gender bilingual.” How seriously have these schools embedded this culture change themselves? Have they created balanced learning environments? And how attractive are their rather masculine cultures to today’s more female-dominated pools of college graduates? 36.4% of MBA degrees awarded in the U.S. in 2012–2013 were awarded to women. The balance improves slightly outside the U.S. (38.1%). But the number of students earning MBA degrees is actually declining across the globe, and that should alert business schools that they need to urgently adapt to the needs and expectations of today’s talent.
The first phase of this transformation seems fragilely underway, with schools recognizing the need to attract more female students. But Phase 2, creating balanced organizations and addressing the cultures and styles that dominate in most leading schools, has hardly begun. Even schools that have managed to improve their faculty balance discover that the balance is limited to certain disciplines, like organizational behavior. Is this really serving the companies, most of whom are trying to improve their gender balance, that are the key customers of these schools?
As Harvard has courageously confessed, even when gender ratios improve, cultures don’t automatically become more gender bilingual. There is still a lot of work to be done in this area, and it will take leadership. It’s time for business schools to deliver on their purpose—access to the world’s best talent. All the talent.