Charlotte Clarke, Communities Editor Closed MBA gender gap – day four

As part of our MBA Gender Gap week, Marco Biava, our blogger from Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business, and Ekta Malhotra, our blogger from EMBA-Global Asia, 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.

Moderated by Charlotte Clarke in London.

Charlotte: Welcome Ekta and Marco. Here’s the first question:

What is the male to female ratio in your MBA classroom and how well does everyone interact?

Ekta: A third of the students in my class are women. I’d say we all interact very well together. With such cultural diversity, gender is just an added element to the fusion – adding a greater perspective and depth of experience to our classroom discussions.

Do you think gender equality is important in business education? What can business schools do to improve the numbers?

In today’s FT soapbox, Jessie Ting from Credit Suisse Investment Banking Division says:

Everyone is talking about increasing gender diversity in senior management, but we should also be paying more attention to what is happening on campus. If banks want to attract the few female MBA graduates who are interested in banking, they need to make their own MBA recruiting teams more diverse.

Marco: At Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business, the ratio is exactly 50/50 (20 females and 20 males). I am glad our MBA programme has such gender parity. The interesting thing is that more female students have taken on responsibility roles than have male students. The class environment has been very enjoyable thus far.

Ekta: Gender diversity is very important. We know that it brings benefits to business and therefore business education institutions have a role in helping to provide that diversity. Also, the benefits of having a diverse workforce apply in the MBA classroom. Women can often bring a different perspective, adding richness to debate, and thats a valuable element.

Ekta: I think schools will naturally see a rise in female applicants as the business world continues to be proactive about attracting women to senior roles. However, helping to allay fears about work / life balance is a first step to encouraging numbers, and then when on the programme continuing to offer support, advice and mentoring is key.

Ekta: A lot of very successful women have managed to balance demanding careers, executive education and family life – business schools should showcase their success in doing so and make sure their lessons learnt are shared amongst ambitious women considering an MBA.

Marco: Gender equality in business education makes the class environment better off. Why? I think that generally speaking there is a difference in the way females and males read into an issue and eventually try to solve it. None of the two ways is necessarily better than the other, but when a balanced team works on the issue, the two approaches will mix together to make a recipe for a successful solution.

Marco: Most business schools are already trying to make their programmes as equate as possible. The problem, I would say, lies in the gender ratio upon application.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced so far at business school?

Ekta: Without a doubt, the biggest challenge is managing conflicting demands on my time. I’m a woman that likes to make the most of opportunities, and business school offers many. On top of the class sessions, independent study and of course socials, there are a number of talks, trip and events that I want to attend. Doing everything is impossible and I’ve just had to become very good at prioritising.

Marco: After reading the question about banks’ recruiting teams, I realized that almost every company that came to our school to recruit students had at least one, if not two, women in the team. It may seem strange, but here in China I tend to see more women at the higher levels than in the US or Europe.

Ekta: With regards to gender diversity, I think there is an opportunity for business schools to be more flexible about the MBA programme and allow women to manage family life at the same time. Courses run in different formats (e.g. block weeks), providing women with children the chance to spread out their class time over a longer period, could help to increase numbers. For those women looking to work / continue to advance their career while having children, it offers the perfect chance to stay involved in the business world.

Marco: The biggest challenge I am facing so far lies in time management. It is very hard to find some free time to dedicate to extracurricular activities. I am mostly at school all day, either attending classes, doing group work on case studies, or attending school-related activities that are part of the programme. Furthermore, the heavy workload of assignments does not allow much time to sleep.

What are your top tips for networking to improve career success? And should women take a different approach to men?

In an FT soapbox, Laura Tyson and Saadia Zahidi, co-authors of the Global Gender Gap Report, say:

For the world as a whole, the report shows that 96 per cent of health gaps, 93 per cent of education gaps, 60 per cent of economic gaps and only 21 per cent of political gaps have been closed. Globally, women are almost as healthy and as educated as men. Unfortunately, women are still far from full integration and parity in economic and political decision-making. This is a waste of talent and a missed opportunity to build prosperity. A wide array of studies confirms that countries with large gender gaps tend to be less competitive.

Marco: Of the 20 women in my class, six of them have kids. This makes it even harder for them to stay up to speed with the programme. But they are still able to perform as good as their peers thanks to their strong motivation.

Ekta: If you are looking to meet people who can support your career ambitions then make sure you know what your career ambitions are, who you would like to meet and what you want from them. In short, have a strategy. Talking to everyone you meet in the hope that one day that will be useful is not productive. Also, understand what you can give back and be prepared to give something first. There is nothing wrong with wanting support from people but it needs to be a two-way street.

Ekta: With the number of women’s groups and female networking events around, I think women are quickly bridging any unfair advantage men may have had. Also, women naturally tend to have a different approach to meeting and getting to know people – this can often work to their advantage. Women should look to meet other people through engaging in activities they enjoy rather than feeling they need to emulate male networking techniques.

Marco: Networking can be a very natural, easy process for someone and a very tough, challenging task for someone else. Still, men usually outnumber the number of women at networking events, and this gives us an unfair advantage. I suggest that women get out there and network with each other more. As long as women do not show up they won’t have the opportunity to meet other female peers.

Charlotte: Thanks Ekta and Marco.

Come back to the MBA blog tomorrow at 12pm GMT to find out what it’s like to study for an MBA in Australia and discuss the MBA gender gap with Susan Hart, dean of Strathclyde Business School in Scotland. Live blogs are taking place all this week. See the full schedule here.