‘More to be done’ to address MBA gender balance

Publishing data relevant for global talent and HR managers, the Association of MBAs (AMBA) welcomes the increasing numbers of women on MBA programmes, but says more progress is needed.

Image of back of supportive group of graduates
International MBA accreditator AMBA’s data shows how in recent years the proportion of women enrolling in AMBA-accredited programmes globally has increased to 36% in 2017 from 32% in 2013.Further analysis reveals MBA programmes in China and Hong Kong enrol the most balanced cohorts, with almost half (48%) of those studying for an MBA in 2017 women. Globally, women remain a minority within MBA programmes. In India for example women comprised just 16% of MBA cohorts in 2017.

Insights for career pathing and talent pipelines

For global mobility and HR directors managing international talent pipelines, AMBA’s figures highlight the importance of assessing regional variations when measuring progress towards better gender balance, and the potential influence of the traditional roles held by women in business and society.With International Women’s Day drawing global attention to how better-balanced boardrooms and workplaces mean better business outcomes, AMBA’s data also spotlights how gender differences in MBA enrolment are often because of differences in how women are able or willing to enrol onto an MBA. The findings also come as another new study finds falling graduate recruitment is driving new graduates to apply for multiple roles while recruiters are having to hone selection methods to attract, recruit and retain the best-quality candidates.Women are more likely than men to be aged 25-29 when they graduate with an MBA (21% of women compared to 14% of men). This pattern reverses with age (42% of male graduates are aged 35–44 compared with 38% of female graduates).Given women make up a minority of graduates overall, this would suggest that additional efforts might need to be made to encourage and support women taking MBAs as their careers mature, says AMBA. More new AMBA research due to be released in April 2019 also reveals that women are often as likely to believe they will reap as much from their MBA as their male counterparts. It points to areas where more can be done to enable and empower women further.

MBAs as valuable to men as to women

Male and female graduates tend to hold similarly positive views about their MBA experience, the value of their degree and their wider career prospects for the future:
  • Female graduates are as optimistic about the salaries they will achieve in the future as men. Here, 72% of both men and women say they feel equipped to reach their desired salary in the future. This is a noteworthy finding given the wider, systemic gender pay gap.
  • Furthermore, 43% of women say that they expect to make at least 50% more in salary within the next three years as a result of their MBA, which is just slightly lower than the equivalent proportion of men (48%). This finding does not necessarily point to comparable post-MBA income, since the starting salaries of pre-MBA men and women may be different, but it does suggest that men and women have similar projections about the impact of an MBA on their salary. 
When it comes to the perceived value of an MBA, AMBA’s research reveals that women feel its impact on them as much as men:
  • Women are more likely than their male counterparts to say that they received ‘a lot more’ from their MBA than anticipated (46% of women vs 41% of men).
  • Nine in 10 women and men (88% and 89%, respectively) would speak favourably about taking an MBA to someone seeking to complete one in the future.

Does confidence play at part in the gender gap?

AMBA also notes the role of self-belief about MBA-holders’ ability to make a difference. Its survey suggests areas where can be done by business and business schools alike to ensure female graduates believe they can be as impactful with their MBAs as men.Female graduates are less likely than their male counterparts to agree with the following statements about MBA outcomes:  
  • ‘I am likely to make better business decisions’ (74% of women vs 84% of men)
  • ‘I am more prepared to work in a highly competitive environment’ (62% of women vs 69% of men)
  • ‘I am more likely to contribute towards a more profitable business’ (54% of women vs 60% of men)
  • ‘I am better placed to start my own business’ (34% of women vs. 42% of men).
On the other hand, women who graduate with an MBA have greater belief in being able to make a difference in society and to be better leaders of people. The latter is an area which is regularly highlighted by employers as a skills gap.
  • Two-thirds (66%) of women say that they are more likely to make ethically sound decisions that consider the potential impact on producers or consumers connected to their organisation, compared with 62% of men.
  • Almost three-quarters of women say that they are likely to make their teams operate more efficiently (74% compared with 70% of men).
AMBA’s figures also identify many areas in which men and women hold almost identical levels of belief in what they are capable of as MBA graduates. Women and men are equally likely to:
  • say that they are more confident about themselves (71% and 72%, respectively)
  • believe they can make decisions which consider the wider implications outside their organisation (66%)
  • believe that they are an asset to the business community (41% and 42%).

Making MBAs an equally impactful experience

Will Dawes, research and insight manager at AMBA and Business Graduates Association (BGA), said: “Despite progress in recent years towards more equal participation among women on MBAs, there is still a notable gender gap on MBA programmes across the world and more needs to be done to close it further."The findings relating to the age at which women graduate suggests that they are more likely to take an MBA earlier in their career, potentially before family commitments, or because they feel less able to further down the line."While it is encouraging that the gender mix in intakes is improving, achieving more balanced MBA cohorts is only credible if they are genuinely inclusive. This means that men and women must have equally impactful experiences and come away from their MBA with similar aspirations."Our findings offer a mixed picture, demonstrating that in many respects women hold equally strong beliefs about what they can achieve as men. However, they also show that there are some areas where women’s confidence around the impact they can have is slightly lower."

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