Top business school sets target for female MBA students

We have not been alone in humming and hawing about the continuing disparity between the numbers of men and women undertaking MBAs internationally, but one of the world’s most highly regarded business schools has now placed a number on its aspirations to see more women succeed.

London Business School shares pole position in the Financial Times’ 2011 international MBA ranking with the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. Ninety-five per cent of its MBA students are drawn from outside the UK, and the school has said it will ensure 30 per cent of its MBA students are women by 2015 at the latest.

Diane Morgan, associate dean of degree programmes at LBS, says the target came out of the school’s five-year MBA programme review.

“We, as a school, are committed to seeing more women in business, and when we looked at ways of achieving that, we thought ensuring our own MBA student intake was 30 per cent female could be one way of doing it,” she says.

The school’s highly competitive programme – this year saw 3,500 applications for its 400 places – currently has 26-28 per cent women.

“It’s not so much the percentage itself we have become concerned about, but the fact that in spite of various initiatives, we are finding it hard to push up beyond it,” says Morgan.

This resistance helped instigate a partnership with the 30% Club, the organisation founded by Helena Morrissey, chief executive of Newton Investment Management, to increase female board participation to 30 per cent by 2015.

“We felt there was a meeting of minds with Helena Morrissey,” says Morgan, “and we felt it important to commit to the same target as the 30% Club and Lord Davies’ committee.”
The Davies committee recommended earlier this year that a fifth of directors in the FTSE 350 should be women by 2013, with that proportion rising to a quarter by 2015.

Looking at the school’s own data, Morgan says LBS found national differences in the gender of applications. “We always have a lot of American women apply, and that’s not surprising. Also, we get high numbers of applications from Italian and French women, and from India and China, but not enough from Russia and Japan.”

She says she is not able to explain these discrepancies, nor why the school’s new one-year masters in management programme has been attracting a 36 per cent female student population.

“We see a wide range of average scores on the GMAT exam, but there is no difference in the population of men and women across those scores,” Morgan says.

“We don’t know whether women are finding it harder than men to get the sponsorship [from their employers] that is needed for an MBA or whether the lack of female role models is offputting. We don’t yet know at what point women are not applying,” she says.

LBS has yet to announce diversity data for its upcoming MBA programme, but Morgan is hopeful the school will achieve its 30 per cent target before 2015.

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