Closed MBA gender gap – day two

As part of our MBA Gender Gap week, Ramesh Chander, our blogger from University of Oxford Saïd Business School, and Linda Groarke, our blogger from Open University Business School, are taking part in this live interactive blog to share their experience of studying at business school with our readers. Find out firsthand what the gender dynamics are like in their classrooms.

Welcome Linda, here is the first question:

What is the gender dynamic like in your MBA classroom?

In today’s soapbox, Elissa Ellis Sangster, executive director of the Forté Foundation, says:

Each year Forté researches and monitors female MBA enrolment at its partnering institutions, the leading business schools around the world. In the last decade the number of women students has increased, but only from about 28 per cent to 34 per cent. We still have a long way to go to reach gender equity. A multi-targeted effort is needed to encourage women to consider an MBA and a career in business. We must educate women earlier in the pipeline to consider studying for an MBA

Linda – For my first year, the gender dynamic was a fair split – 50:50 led by a female professor. That said, the women of the group were a lot more vocal in the forums (being online) than the men so you could at times, feel the split was more 70:30 female to men.

Now into my second year I’m in a much larger ‘classroom’ where the dynamic has shifted to 60:40 (men : women), led by a male professor.

Those who fell away or had to leave the course due to other commitments were nearly all women.

What do you recommend business schools do to improve (and retain) the number of women on their programmes?

Welcome Ramesh

Ramesh: Our school has 28 per cent women in the current class. This is probably at the low end of the spectrum. Schools could build in a lot more flexibility into the MBA programme to encourage a lot more women in it.

Ramesh: The average age of the MBA student is around 29. Women with families would need a lot more flexibility tied into the class schedules of the courses they take and other course requirements so that they can effectively split the time between their families and the MBA class.

Linda – I guess the question (for me) should be more – what is the problem we’re trying to solve? Why are women not signing up (or staying once they are signed-up)? Family commitments affect both men and women (in my classroom). I’ve been in a class with someone who sent a post to ‘apologise’ to us that she was just about to go into labour so wouldn’t be available for a day or two.

She kept to her word – a couple of days after having her baby, she was back with us – keeping up and getting stuck in. Should this be remarkable? Without realising it, she taught me a lot by her actions.

I realise it’s different for everyone.

I can’t help wondering if perhaps the value of an MBA is more in question than it’s ever been – and perhaps that would make women (anyone) reconsider the money/time investment.

Ramesh: With regards to gender dynamics in the classroom, in my current class it is quite good. Oxford is partnering with the Good Lad Workshop to make this dynamic even better. This set of workshops engages men and women to bring about a positive change in the men about their attitudes towards gender issues in the workplace.

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

Linda – Tough one! With lots of potential to debate. I know it’s only two (that I can think of at the mo) but look at Marissa Meyer of Yahoo and Ginni Rometty of IBM – neither of them hold an MBA and yet both are CEOs.

Executive, C-Suite, Board level roles (in my humble opinion) are looking for more than an MBA. They’re looking for the extra-curricular stuff you do; the causes you support, the boards you sit on as a non-exec director. It’s no longer all about the MBA.

I think there’s a distinct lack in women in these type of roles but I can’t say that it’s purely because of their bus ed. It’s the bigger picture. It’s everything else around gender equality that plays a part.

I work for a large investment bank and notice the divide in men to women. I also notice how I’m one of the few with an MBA.

What are your top tips for networking?

Polly McMaster, an MBA graduate of London Business School, shares her top five tips for networking here.

Linda – get across all types of social media – don’t be shy! Look out for events either at work or in the community. If you’ve read the book of an author you like, follow them (on social media, that is) and see where they go, what they sign up to.

It’s about constantly chipping away until one day a new opportunity lands at your feet, where people ‘looking in’ think this happened to you ‘overnight’ or was ‘luck’. Little do they know it takes months of networking, reading, and attending conferences and events.

Ramesh: I would highly recommend LinkedIn; this would help even if the person is quite shy.

Thanks Linda and Ramesh.

Come back to the MBA blog tomorrow at 4pm GMT to find out what it’s like to study for an MBA in France. Live blogs are taking place all this week. See the full schedule here.