Closed MBA gender gap – day five

As part of our MBA Gender Gap week, Karen Allardice, our blogger from Melbourne Business School, and Tristan Tucker, our blogger from University of Queensland Business School, are taking part in this live interactive blog to answer questions from our readers.

Susan Hart, dean of Strathclyde Business School in Scotland is also joining us as a guest expert.

Moderated by Charlotte Clarke in London.

Charlotte: Welcome Karen, Susan and Tristan. Here’s the first question:

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

Karen: Our class is approximately one third female, two thirds male. The women in our class are very strong participants in class discussions and often have a different perspective to bring to the conversation, so it is not so noticeable that the ratio is not 50/50. That said, I would say there is more diversity across cultures and work experience backgrounds among our cohort than what you could attribute to gender differences.

Tristan: The male to female ratio is about 30 per cent female and 70 per cent male. I can see over the past year I have been studying, the ratio of females is increasing. I agree with Karen, the biggest noticeable diversity is cultural backgrounds as well as diversity of industries that everyone comes from.

Tristan: The class interaction I feel works really well as smaller mixed groups allow people who may normally not be comfortable to share ideas.

Susan: Hello. On the current full-time MBA cohort at Strathclyde (who started studies in September), 44 per cent are female, which I would say is higher than average. All of our course members interact well, irrespective of gender, given our focus on group-work.

Marilyn Parlett asks:

Why do you think less women enrol to business school than men? And do you think there is a link between gender inequality in business education and the lack of women in executive positions?

Tristan: I feel the number of women enrolling in MBA’s is increasing and in the next few years the split of men and women doing MBA’s could reverse. In my industry, I believe there is a gender inequality in business however it is also slowly changing. The lack of women in executive positions especially in Australia I believe is closer linked to the business culture than with the inequality in MBA enrollments. It should also be noted that the MBA is not the only pathway to the executive boardroom.

Susan: We have seen an increase in the number of females coming on board the MBA, encouragingly on our full-time study route, but also via our executive MBA.

We find that women students have a comparable level of entry into the job market post-MBA. Those who do particularly well by traditional career standards tend to have come from professions, such as law, financial services or engineering, often demonstrating strong quantitative skills.

Karen: I think for some women the decision to take time out of the workforce to go to business school is complicated by the expectation that at some time in the future they will also need to take time out to have children. That said, the rise in shorter, more intensive MBA courses (e.g. 12 months) with flexible study arrangements is making the MBA an easier pathway to follow.

Regarding the lack of women in executive positions, this seems to me to be partly due to the way that working hours and career structures have yet to adapt fully to the needs of the modern workforce. As we see companies innovate in this area, and focus on building support networks and policies that enable strong female (and male!) candidates to find both rewarding career opportunities and work/life balance, we will see an improvement in the proportion of women keen to work at the executive level.

Susan: The issue of work/life balance continues to be more of an issue for female participants, particularly those who are working mothers. The ability for business schools to make their MBAs and masters portfolios more flexible and adaptive to participants’ lifestyles is very important.

Do you have a mentor or sponsor? What are your tips for finding one?

Charlotte: Kathryn Bishop, associate fellow of the University of Oxford Saïd Business School and co-director of Women Transforming Leadership programme, shares her top five tips on finding a mentor here.

Tristan: This is a subject I have blogged about previously. I have a mentor however I don’t believe it is essential to have one. An interest in self learning and watching business leaders you respect can replace a mentor and give you the ability to get the best parts of many people.

My tip is to work out exactly what you want from a mentor and then find people who have those qualities. Often they can work in a separate industry but have qualities you like. Cold calling people to ask if you can meet and pick their brains sounds scary however most people are very pleased to help.

Karen: Speaking to successful women in leadership positions on this topic, I was advised that the best approach is to have multiple mentors, rather than focusing on one, to get the benefit of multiple perspectives. Secondly, the mentor relationship must be two-way. You need to be as willing to give to the relationship and provide feedback as you expect from your mentor.

My advice for finding one is to seek out many different types of relationships. Take an interest in the journeys taken by successful people and engage with them. Some of them will click well with you and you will have a natural friendship that lends itself to regular conversations. However, it is also important to seek out mentors who will challenge you, disagree with you and point out the weaknesses in your decision making and behaviour, as friends may tend to be too agreeable!

Susan: If you are thinking about finding a mentor or sponsor during your MBA, then it really helps if he/she has been through a similar experience and really appreciates the value of an MBA. We have a mentor network, largely comprising MBA alumni, whom we encourage students to engage with pre and post MBA and during their studies. This particular relationship can be developed, or students can choose to engage with our Strathclyde Business Fellow Network – a committed group of business people who work with us to enrich the overall MBA experience.

What type of networking events do you enjoy most? How would you advise others to behave?

Tristan: Networking events can be hit or miss and it really depends on who else is attending the event. I have been to some great events where the conversations and meetings were really worthwhile. However, events whereby people are trying to embellish their work history or make everyone uncomfortable with impressive work stories usually don’t go down well. I believe being friendly and honest is the best way to enjoy yourself and meet people who you can connect with. Its also helps to be a few drinks behind everyone else!

Susan: Personally, I enjoy networking events which are of business value. Like my colleagues, you can spend a lot of time attending networking events, and not gain an awful lot out of them!

My advice is the old adage – be prepared! Be selective in the events you attend or they will fast become a chore. If at all possible, get the guest list in advance and target individuals you would like to touch base with. Ensure you have some key messages about yourself (or your company) you want to get across – get that elevator pitch down to a fine art. Above all, smile, listen and enjoy as best you can.

Charlotte: Thanks everyone.

Here is the full list of transcripts from all our live blogs this week, featuring students from China, France, the UK and the US.