Representation of Women in Business School Across the Globe

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Historically, business school programs have been notoriously male dominated. But in the past decade, the number of women taking the GMAT exam—the most widely used graduate business school admissions test—and enrolling in b-school programs has been on the rise. Last year, a record high of 47.1 percent of GMAT exams were taken by females and a higher percentage enrolled in MBA programs than ever before.

While it’s obvious there’s an upward trend in women’s interest in business school, we wanted to understand more about where—and why. To find the answers, we conducted market research across the globe. Here’s what we found.

Where women in business school programs are on the rise

In certain countries, a notable percentage of women are applying and enrolling in graduate management education (GME) programs. In 2019, 44.9 percent of female GMAT test takers were from China (47.1% including Taiwan), and that number has grown by 9.4 percent over the past ten years.

While China is leading the pack in terms of GMAT participation by women, many other countries are showing signs of strong—or at least growing—interest in pursuing GME. Take the United States and India for example. Following China, the United States made up nearly a quarter (23%) of GMAT female test takers. India, albeit a lower share, represented 9.5 percent of GMAT female test takers, but saw a 4.3 percent growth over the past 10 years.

Less populated countries also stood out as clear front runners in terms of female GMAT participation growth. Looking at their compound annual growth rate over the past ten years, the Netherlands (7.2%), Sweden (4.8%), Italy (4.2%), Morocco (3.9%), Argentina (3.8%), Kuwait (3.6%), Belgium (3.6%), and Austria (3.5%) all made the leaderboard.

Why women in business school programs are on the rise

Depending on their geographic location, women have different motivations for pursuing GME. The high number of female GMAT test takers in China, for example, could be attributed to not only the large population but also a significant interest among females in innovative leadership; 75 percent of female candidates in Central Asia say they are pursuing business school to develop their skills in managing strategy and innovation.

In Asia Pacific, on the other hand, 77 percent of female graduates agreed that business school prepared them for a specific motivation to work in culturally diverse organizations. While in Africa and the Middle East, an interest in entrepreneurship and international management, respectively, were compelling reasons for females to pursue a business school education.

But the bigger question remains: Why are more women in general investing in themselves through GME? In many cases, it comes down to a few leading factors, including:

  • Increased economic opportunities. The Financial Times estimates that the average salary for a recent business school graduate in the United States is roughly US$142,000 per year, which is significantly higher than the annual US$50,000 the average American makes. And based on input from recent female business school graduates, the return on investment is undeniable. Of those surveyed, 87 percent said their return on investment has been positive, and 94 percent rated the value of their education as good to outstanding.
  • Career advancement. Eighty-four percent of female business school graduates say their professional situation is better or much better as a result of their degree. Seventy-three percent agree business school prepared them for leadership positions, and 66 percent said it offered them opportunities for quicker career advancement.
  • Diverse program offerings and formats. Now more than ever, business schools are offering a wider variety of program types and formats. The range of options affords women the freedom and flexibility to find a program that suits their needs and interests. In 2019, the full-time one-year MBA program proved to be a popular choice for women—45 percent of students were female. Women are also taking advantage of programs designed to accommodate people with full-time jobs, families, and other obligations. As evidence of that, 21 percent of students enrolled in part-time MBA programs were female, and another 20 percent enrolled in flexible MBA programs were female. Women are also pursuing expanded GME options, such as a Master of Science in Data Analytics. Last year, 20 percent of those candidates were women. Unsurprisingly, globalization has prompted an increased interest in Master of International Management programs, and 17 percent of those students were women last year.

How schools are supporting more women

With research showing the benefits of gender diversity, and gender equality becoming more of a hot-button issue, business schools are eager to close the gender gap. Add to that women’s aptitude to excel in business, and it’s no surprise that business schools are striving to increase women’s representation in their applicant pools and classrooms.

In an effort to level the playing field, business schools have taken measures to support women in the business school recruiting process and beyond, including:

  • Hosting women-specific recruiting events. More than half (58%) of full-time MBA programs responding to GMAC’s Application Trends Survey said they have a special outreach initiative focused on women applicants, which includes women-specific events. These events are beneficial because they give women an opportunity to connect with an array of interesting female alumni and ask questions they may not be comfortable asking in a mixed-gender environment.

  • Connecting candidates with an alumni network. Understandably, prospective business school students want to hear firsthand from female alumni about their experience. To facilitate this, schools are making a concerted effort to make female alumni more accessible to applicants. Of course, candidates can turn to admissions professionals for important information about the program and how to apply, but interactions with current students and alumni provide opportunities for candidates to learn about what it’s actually like for women in the program.

  • Educating women on enhanced career opportunities. To help women fully appreciate the value of a business school degree, schools are actively promoting the broad spectrum of career possibilities to female students. And it’s paying off. Among full-time MBA alumni, women graduates are more likely than male graduates to say they are currently working in an industry they had not considered working in prior to business school (45% vs. 39%) and currently in a job function they had not considered working in prior to business school (32% vs. 27%).

How could business school benefit you?

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