Management for the boys

The Unesco Global Education Digest shows that in Europe and North America, women have outnumbered men on undergraduate courses for five years. In US medical schools, women make up half of students – and 47 per cent of law schools. Not so when it comes to business schools, though.

The Economist’s ranking of full-time MBA students shows under 33 per cent are women, a percentage that has remained fairly consistent over the past eight years. (Click to enlarge.)

The article looks at the reasons why there are so few women MBA students. Is it because MBA courses demand five or six years’ prior professional experience, which may be awkward for women who might want to have children? Is it because of the macho, competitive culture of financial services firms where most MBA grads head? Or is it because women are more concerned to see a pay-off for the time and money invested in an MBA?

These are all good questions, but perhaps it also reflects something about the nature and content of MBA programmes. Every two years CrainerDearlove, the consulting firm, publishes its Thinkers 50 list of the top management gurus in the world, based on a survey of 3,500 people and a panel of experts.
The last edition, September 2009, was headed for the second time running by the University of Michigan professor, C.K. Prahalad, who died in April.

The list includes a number of working chief executives such as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Ratan Tata and Eric Schmidt as well as academics, consultants and writers. What is conspicuous is the lack of women on the list. London Business School’s Lynda Gratton makes a good showing at No 18 ahead of fellow academics Rosabeth Moss Kanter (28) and Barbara Kellerman (48). Just three of the 50 Thinkers are women.

A quick glance at Amazon’s bestseller lists for business books confirms this is male territory. The books here are universally authored by men: Malcolm Gladwell, Stephen R. Covey, Tom Peters, Stephen D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner, Michael Lewis … the list goes on.

An MBA student will need to look long and hard to find a female guru or management thinker who is at the leading edge of business theory. In academe, as in real companies, we need role models.

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The 'Women at the Top' blog is part of a series of online and print publications that focuses on women's achievements in business. With up-to-date news and incisive analysis, the blog will provoke discussion on the role of the world's most prominent businesswomen.

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About our bloggers

Liz Bolshaw

Liz Bolshaw is a business journalist and editor. She has been a successful book publisher, online editor, magazine editor and publisher.

She was launch editor of the Europe-wide online community Entrepreneur Country, has published magazines for PwC, 3i, dunhill and Bafta, and launched The Sharp Edge, a magazine for and about entrepreneurs, with Duncan Bannatyne. She is a regular contributor to Thomson Reuters’ Venture Capital Journal.

Her last project for the Financial Times was as editor of the paper’s Business Education magazine.

Rebecca Knight

Rebecca Knight is a freelance journalist based in Boston. She writes regularly for the FT on business education, entrepreneurship, and management.

Andrew Hill

Andrew Hill is an associate editor and the management editor of the FT. He was City editor of the FT and editor of the daily Lombard column on British business and finance from September 2006 to December 2010.

He was the FT’s financial editor from June 2005 to September 2006, with overall responsibility for coverage of companies and markets. Before becoming financial editor, he was the FT’s comment & analysis editor, in charge of the paper’s opinion and features pages.

From 1999 to 2003, he was the FT’s New York bureau chief. He joined the FT in 1988 and has also worked as foreign news editor, UK companies reporter and correspondent in Brussels and Milan.

Pino Bethencourt

Pino Bethencourt is a professor and leadership expert at IE Business School in Madrid. She is also an author and executive coach.

Lynda Gratton

Lynda Gratton is professor of management practice at London Business School.

Linda Tarr-Whelan

Linda Tarr-Whelan, former ambassador to the UN commission on the status of women, is a Demos distinguished senior fellow.