Business schools, and their portfolio of MBA, Masters and executive programmes are a powerful career accelerator, often enabling their graduates to subsequently take on senior leadership roles. So is the diversity and talent mix of the MBA classroom a solid indicator for future trends in the C-Suite?
Sixty years ago, the all-male faculty at Harvard Business School voted to allow women to apply to the full-time MBA program. Eight women were accepted in the following admissions cycle, and began their studies in August 1963.
By 2004, 35% of the HBS MBA class were women. The same year, the proportion of leadership roles held by females worldwide stood at 19%, according to the Women in Business report published by professional services network, Grant Thornton. In 2021 this figure had reached 31%.
There is still a long way to go to, but it is encouraging to see that Wharton’s latest MBA class is more than 50% women for the first time in the school’s history, with Northwestern’s Kellogg at 49% and Duke Fuqua at 48%.
A number of European business schools can also claim among the most gender balanced MBA programs. ESSEC Business School in France matches Wharton at 51%, with Italy’s MIP Politecnico di Milano at 49%. The percentage of female students at Alliance Manchester Business School, Oxford Saïd, RSM and Imperial College Business School are a match for Dartmouth Tuck, MIT Sloan and Chicago Booth.
But a recent GMAC study investigating diversity in graduate management education, found that in Europe women only account for around 38% percent of graduate business degrees in the region.
To help boost the numbers of women studying business, institutions across the region have introduced scholarships to help provide a greater equality to the field.
The 30% Club
When it comes to providing women with opportunities to pursue business education, the 30% Club have helped pave the way. The charity is a global gender diversity campaign, with the aim of increasing the number of women in board seats and executive leadership of companies all over the world. It started in the UK in 2010 and has expanded to fourteen other countries or regions. They aim to develop a diverse pool of talent for all businesses through the efforts of its Chair and CEO members who are committed to better gender balance at all levels of their organizations.
As part of this initiative, the 30% Club have partnered with numerous business schools to provide scholarships for women in graduate management education. Germany’s ESMT Berlin is among them, offering full and partial scholarships for women looking to advance in their career through their partnership with the 30% Club.
Carina Brehm is an industrial engineer and VP of Strategy, Sustainability and Technology Office for Siemens Energy Transmission, pursued the Postgraduate Diploma in Advanced Management and General Management at ESMT Berlin, and acknowledges the importance of the ESMT Women’s Scholarship to develop her career.
“ESMT scholarships are open and accessible to woman everywhere. This brings an enriching diversity into the teams at ESMT. As a decision-maker, you will only succeed if you embrace others’ opinions, perspectives and be open-minded about controversial standpoints.
Pursuing her studies at ESMT through the scholarship allowed Brehm to meet inspiring people who have support her on a development journey to become a better leader and entrepreneur. “I found it very encouraging to have access to those valuable ESMT resources via a scholarship,” she says.
Trinity Business School have a similar partnership with the 30% Club, providing one full scholarship and six bursaries worth €5,000 across the full-time and part-time MBA programs. The Dublin-based school introduced this scheme as part of a conviction that gender balance at the senior leadership level not only encourages better leadership and governance, but further contributes to better all-round board performance, and ultimately increased corporate performance for both companies and their shareholders.
Alliance Manchester Business School offers one full scholarship and mentorship with the 30% Club for a candidate who can demonstrate both depth and breadth of work experience, as well as academic excellence and high potential for senior leadership roles. The recipient must also show their determination and commitment to act as a role model for other women.
To provide further support to women outside of their work with the global campaign, Alliance Manchester also offers Alliance MBS Women in Business/Forté Foundation scholarships, contributing up to 50% of the student’s tuition fee, along with other benefits that come from being a Forté Fellow. This scholarship offers the chance for a larger number of female students to receive help with their tuition, rather than simply one student receiving full financial aid.
The Forté Foundation has a mission to launch women into fulfilling, significant careers through access to business education, professional development, and a community of successful women. Since its creation in 2001, $334M in Forté Fellowships have been awarded to women MBA students, and partner schools have seen more than 11% increase in women’s enrollment.
Imperial College Business School is another leading institution to offer women scholarships through partnerships with both the Forté Foundation and the 30% Club, including two scholarships of £25,000 towards their Executive MBA. For Michelle Tang, the Forté Fellow Scholarship covered 50% of her tuition fees, and has made a tremendous difference to her full-time MBA studies.
“The scholarship has helped me unload some of the financial burden so that I can keep focused on other important aspects of the MBA journey – to be fully immersed into a new life in London, meet new friends, learn from different cultures and fully enjoy my studies at Imperial.”
The award also connected her with other like-minded professionals and alumni who had previously received the scholarship. “It was a great ice breaker to be able to introduce myself as a scholarship holder this year, and this has definitely expanded my professional network within and beyond Imperial College Business School.”
Different schemes on offer
UCL Global Business School for Health (UCL GBSH) offers female postgraduate students, who demonstrate leadership potential, a sum of up to £5,000 to help with their education.
Professor Julie Davies, Director for the MBA Health programme at UCL GBSH, expresses the importance of such schemes to help support women: “The FT Global MBA Rankings clearly indicate slow progress toward equality in business schools world-wide in terms of female students and faculty. It is vital, therefore, that business schools offer scholarships for women and members of other underrepresented groups.”
For Davies, business schools need to embed the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs) of achieving gender equality and reducing inequalities in their own operations. “They should practise what they profess! We hope that UCL’s dedicated scholarships for MBA Health and other GBSH MSc degrees inspire more women to apply for graduate management education programmes to advance their leadership journeys and improve global health systems.”
NEOMA Business School has used strong ties with industry to support women students. The French school with a campus in Paris, Rouen and Reims has partnered with luxury champagne company, Maison Veuve Clicquot, to finance tuition for 10 female Master in Management (MiM) students per year.
Florette Richard, a current MiM student at NEOMA Business School, explained how the support has helped her focus on her studies: “The scholarship allows me to continue my studies in a more peaceful atmosphere. Indeed, I did not want the financing of my studies to be an obstacle to my ambition and my will to succeed. Without this scholarship, I would have been forced to work more outside school and home to do a lot of part-time jobs.”
Vlerick Business School in Belgium offers a Women in Finance Scholarship, in which female students with an outstanding academic record and leadership potential can get up to 70% off the tuition fee for the school’s Masters in Financial Management. Similarly, the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management in Germany awards either a 25% or 50% reduction in tuition fees as part of their BSc and MSc Diversity Scholarships for female students with a proven motivation in business.
The UK’s Durham University Business School also independently funds their own funding support, supplying up to five students with the Executive Dean’s Women in Business scholarship of £17,500. Camila Sant’Ana, an MBA student at Durham University Business School and recipient of the scholarship, explained how important scholarships like hers are to overcoming inequality.
“Women’s scholarships are important for improving gender equality and overcoming gender barriers in employment. In many areas men are disproportionately the majority in leadership roles, however, recent studies have demonstrated the importance of diversity for successful businesses. Therefore, having dedicated scholarships provide financial stability, an essential requitrement to encourage many women to defy the status quo.”
The future benefits of female business scholarships
While scholarships are demonstrably encouraging more women to pursue graduate management education, only time will tell whether their increased presence in business school classrooms will further strengthen the number of women in leadership roles.
And of course the number of female faculty will make a difference too. Sixty years later, 30% of the faculty at Harvard Business School are women.