For those of you who are unfamiliar with the numbers, most MBA students are male, and most top MBA programs work to raise and maintain their female applicant and student numbers. According to various data points, female MBAs comprise ~1/3 of their classes.
I recently compared notes about female MBA students with a friend who works at a top U.S. business school. We both agreed on one thing even though we come at the issue from different angles (me, in my capacity of building Fairygodboss and her, from an Admissions and outreach/recruiting point of view). Anecdotally, it seemed to us that women in top MBA programs were not aware — nor did they particularly care — about a bias in the workplace. Their goal was simple and short-term: obtain the best post-MBA position possible (which means the most prestigious, option-enhancing one). Considerations about everything from work hours, company benefits, office culture, their future advancement and work-life balance, etc would all be things they would get to later. This is a generalization, but it also makes sense. A young woman at a top MBA program has invested a serious amount of time and money into a degree whose prestige is designed to help her get to the next step. She doesn’t need to think about anything else and there is nothing wrong with that. She’s young and has the energy to focus exclusively on her career at the expense of everything else in her current life (which typically doesn’t involve any family commitments, yet).
This also made me think about all the commentariat and initiatives around “improving the pipeline” of female talent. Sure, it sounds, and is logical to say that if you have more women interested and applying for positions early in their careers, there will be larger numbers of them around later on in their careers to serve as senior management and directors. But a lot of years and life happens after age 28 (MBA diploma in hand). For better or worse, its hard to believe the same single-mindedness around job prestige and optionality stays at the same level for most women because, well, things just become more complicated. One software company recently surveyed 1,000 professional women and men (of all ages) and found that 5 times as many women felt they had been discriminated against in the workplace because of their gender, for example:
It would be interesting to see how and whether this percentage (52%) changes as a woman rises through the ranks at her company or career. I don’t have this survey data (yet!) but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the percentage grow as careers advance. For female MBA students: this means you should reconsider the importance that office culture and gender bias may make, especially if you have any desire for a long-term career there, or just want to advance through a promotion cycle. For HR departments: this means you don’t get a panacea to a diversity problem by simply recruiting higher numbers of women out of university or MBA programs.