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Closing the Gender Gap in Business Schools

28 Apr Rebecca Low 0 Blog

The workplace gender gap is now widely known and widely discussed. While improvements are being made, the disparity between men and women in leadership roles persists. For every 100 men working in managerial positions, only 85 women are promoted to the same roles. This is despite the fact that women are consistently more likely to hold bachelor’s degree qualifications. This disparity is even wider amongst Black women and women of colour.

According to the Women in the Workplace Study 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic risks worsening these outcomes. If companies don’t step up their efforts to improve, they risk setting progress back fifty years. This applies to the broader business landscape, including business schools and universities. What does the gender balance look like in the higher education sector? What can institutions do to improve and ensure equality for both its students and staff?

Closing the gender gap on campus

The Forbes 2020 Business School Gender Balance Scorecard gives us a good indication of the gender balance across the world’s top business schools. More than 50% of the Top 20 institutions have achieved a gender balance amongst their current intake of MBA students. This parity hasn’t just happened by accident, of course. Business schools have been making a concerted effort to attract female candidates. As a result, nearly two-thirds of global business programmes have seen an increase in female applicants. This increase will hopefully then lead to a similar increase in the number of women represented in businesses at executive level. Of course, this impact isn’t yet being seen in the workplace. With the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on everyone’s minds, what can business schools do to ensure this positive change doesn’t lose momentum?

Redressing the gender balance should start before candidates even make their application. Representation is invaluable and business schools should be looking to highlight their female-led success stories at every opportunity. From showcasing the work of female staff in annual reports to sharing testimonials from female students across its marketing, business schools should represent the true diversity of the student and faculty bodies.

The Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC) recommends instigating connections between female candidates and current students and alumni. By creating a supportive network, perhaps led by bodies such as the Student Council, candidates will be able to get a ‘real’ sense of the experiences of their fellow students. This approach can be especially valuable to women from the LGBTQ+ community, Black women and women of colour.

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Moving from learning to earning

Increasing emphasis has been placed on how universities and businesses can support students through work-based learning opportunities. When it comes to female students, the opportunities afforded by business education can have a significant impact on their future career choices and earning potential.

Studies show that women tend to plan their education and career paths much earlier in life. Unfortunately, the barriers to gender equality in the workplace can impact negatively on women’s chosen career prospects. When it comes to female business graduates, however, the opportunities presented by business-related degrees seem to mitigate these negative effects. According to GMAC, ‘women graduates are more likely than male graduates to say they are currently working in an industry they had not considered working in prior to business school (45% vs. 39%) and currently in a job function they had not considered working in prior to business school (32% vs. 27%).’ Undertaking a business-related degree not only increases women’s career options. It could also increase the representation of women in sectors that previously may have seemed inaccessible or too male-dominated.

University courses can also be structured in a way that is more accessible for female candidates. Flexible degree programmes, such as those offered by UBIS, mean that students can fit their studies around their lives. With women still more likely to hold caring responsibilities, full-time and in-person learning options can present barriers for some female students. However, short courses, distance learning and flexible module-based programmes can remove these barriers for all students.

The faculty gender gap

While business schools are taking steps to close the gender gap amongst students, there is considerable work to be done when it comes to parity amongst faculty staff. Recent research from EMFD Global found that in the top business schools in Europe the average proportion of full-time faculty staff who are female is just 33%. This disappointing statistic is compounded by the fact that in recent years the percentage of women faculty members has only increased between 1 and 2% – or not changed at all.

Why should business schools be concerned about this? Just as representation is important within the student body, gender balance in teaching staff positively impacts the student experience. According to Harvard Business Review, when female students are taught by female professors, their academic performance improves by 7.7%. The research found that female teaching staff increase their students’ expectations of their own performance. Female students view them as role models. Gender balance within senior staff teams enhances the quality of education and in turn improves an institution’s reputation.

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Commitment to culture change

As we’ve seen within the workplace in recent years, representation is just the first step to closing the gender gap. Creating a permanent culture shift and meaningful inclusion of women at senior levels is imperative. As a university, UBIS celebrates the inspiring women across our faculty staff and student body. We want to ensure our students flourish during their time with us and go on to successful career paths. As our CEO Cathleen Rafaelli recently said, ‘education is the key to thriving communities, healthy families, personal empowerment and self-determination’.

We are working to support our students with flexible learning options, world class teaching from a wide variety of male and female business and academic experts and opportunities for real-life, practical business experience. To further quote Cathleen Rafaelli, ‘education is the means to achieve that goal and the freedom to live your best life’ and at UBIS, we’re here to enable our students to do just that.