Closed MBA gender gap – day one

As part of our MBA Gender Gap week, Jennifer Soffen, our blogger from Harvard Business School is taking part in this live interactive blog to share her experience of studying at business school with our readers. Find out firsthand what the gender dynamics are like in her classroom.

Why do you think gender equality is important in business education?

In today’s FT soapbox, Nitin Nohria, the dean of Harvard Business School, says:

Today the proportion of women in our programme has grown to 41 per cent. Yet there remain too few women in senior leadership roles in corporations. There are persistent inequities in wages and promotion opportunities. There is subtle and not so subtle bias in the workplace. What can we do to change that?

Viviane Reding, the first EU Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, has also joined the debate. In our Ten Questions Q&A she says:

Business schools are filling the pipeline with female talent. I have often heard the following argument from companies: “Yes, we would like to hire more women, but we cannot find them.” This is wrong. Qualified women exist. Through the Global Board Ready Women initiative, business schools have joined forces to shatter this myth and make female talent visible: 180 business schools in 70 countries have drawn up a list of board-ready, highly qualified women.

Jennifer: I think that’s an easy one! Gender equality is important in business education because gender equality is important in business.

Read this case study on how gender diversity (all diversity really) leads to good decision making.

Marilyn Parlett:

Do you think that there is a link between gender inequality in business education and the lack of women in executive positions?

Cranfield School of Management is monitoring the progress of the number of women on boards in the UK. Read School confident women on boards target will be hit

Jennifer: I think that might have been true back in the day when women didn’t normally receive as much education as men. However, today, in the US, more women graduate from college than men.

I think an MBA is a great degree on the path to becoming an executive but I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary. My professor the other day joked that HBS simply tries to “do no harm” to the students they let in for two years so they can go on to do great things in the world. Essentially, he poses the question, do good business schools make good managers? or would the good track record students be good regardless of what business schools did to / for them?

So, since I don’t think business school is absolutely necessary to be a good manager, I don’t think it’s a strong indicator of the lack of women in executive positions. I think that has to do with both the work environments women face (see this article on second generation bias) and personal decisions women often make.

All this being said, business schools provide a very powerful network, so I don’t think there is no correlation at all. We definitely still need to promote more women MBAs.

What are the gender dynamics like in your MBA classroom?

They’re pretty unnoticeable to me. I have one class in my Elective Course Year curriculum, Investment Strategies, that has noticeably fewer females than males. However, if you look at who is asking questions and participating, which is 50 per cent of our grade in almost all classes at HBS, it’s almost 50/50.

Last year, when we had all of our classes with the same section, I got to know my peers in Section D very well. We were all pretty open with our thoughts on both our careers and personal lives. Some of us had differing views on how we saw our family structures forming, but everyone seemed pretty supportive of one another.

I do think that I will face more challenges than my male colleagues post school in combining my career and life. I’ve found a good support network for that from HBS. I’ve also realized I don’t have to do everything at once if I don’t want to.

I hope that answers your question, but if it doesn’t, please reach out to me on Twitter @jsoffen.

How can women network to improve their chances of success?

Here is a great HBR blog post on what men can do to help women advance their careers

Here are five top tips on how women can move forward in their career from Jacqueline Brito, assistant dean at Rollins College Crummer Graduate School of Business.

Jennifer: Networking is one of the best things any business person can do to help his or her career – and I find it fun. Networking tends to be a “dirty” word in that it implies you are trying to get something from the other person you are reaching out to / meeting. However, I see it the other way. You should reach out to the people you want to meet but offer them something you can do for them. I wrote a post on that recently / here. It has a bit more to do with VC investing since that’s the field I was in this summer.

Here are some quick tips for networking:
1. Read everything on the web about who you are trying to get in touch with
2. Incorporate that knowledge into your reach out email
3. Show up with specific questions! (Don’t waste their time)
4. At the end of the meeting try to sum up what you learned
5. Follow up on ways you might be helpful to them

These types of meetings really help you get yourself out there. Then, the next time you are interested in learning about something the person you’ve “networked with” knows about, you are much more likely to get a warm, interested reply.

Come back to the MBA blog tomorrow at 3pm GMT to find out what it’s like to study for an MBA in the UK. Live blogs will be taking place all week. See the full schedule here.