Why business schools need more women at every level

The last few years have seen some notable milestones for business school gender equity – in particular, the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania naming Erika Hays James not only the first woman but also the first person of colour to serve as dean in 2020. In her own words that will resonate with many: “Gender is the least of what I have to offer.”

It is no secret that the higher education sector suffers from a lack of gender and racial diversity in relation to business school deans, although there has been a marked improvement over the past 10 years.

A far greater achievement than James being made dean at Wharton was the fact that for the first time in its 140-year history, the school this year enrolled more women in its incoming MBA class than men.

Its MBA class of 2023 includes a record high of 52% women, making it the first of the seven elite business schools to have a class that consists of a majority of women, according to the Wall Street Journal.

“This landmark achievement demonstrates Wharton’s commitment to providing a diverse and representative community for our students,” James said in a statement. “As a female leader, I understand first-hand the significant impact that experiencing meaningful gender representation can have on women as they chart their careers.”

In James’s short tenure, the school’s numerous efforts to increase the representation of women is paying dividends. Efforts include its partnership with the Forté Foundation, a non-profit that works to increase women’s enrolment in business schools, fellowships for women students, and conferences and networking opportunities via student clubs like Wharton Women in Business.

Would this have been possible without James at the helm? Only time will tell if other ‘elite business schools’ can match and surpass female enrolment at Wharton.

Not the rule

Unfortunately, Wharton’s achievement is far from the norm and female-led business schools are not presently enrolling more female students than schools led by men.

Research from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) found that over the past five years, the number of business schools with female deans has crept upwards, from 17% in the 2007-08 academic year to 18.5% this year.

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