How we can put more women in the MBA pipeline

May 12, 2015, 7:00 PM UTC
Courtesy of FleishmanHillard

A recent story in the Wall Street Journal reported that business schools are concerned that “the pipeline of young women may be running dry,” thanks to a drop in the overall number of students who are interested in getting an MBA. According to the Journal, some schools are reacting to the potential shortage of female applicants by reaching out to undergraduates, and in some cases, even high-school or grade-school students.

While I was pleased to read about these efforts, the reality is that business schools can’t do it alone. In my experience, parents, professors and college career officers are not speaking to women early enough about considering a career in business. When young women start thinking about a future in business early on, they can smooth their path to success. Thinking ahead will help them pick the right major, get the right internships, and take other important steps that will set them up for a promising career.

Here’s what I recommend for young women who think they may have an MBA in their future: take at least six to 12 hours of business coursework; build a network of MBA students and alumni; and take the GMAT before you graduate from college (research has shown that women who do so tend perform better on the test).

Women don’t have to major in business to take business courses. The University of Texas at Austin, for example, offers the McCombs Business Foundations Program, a certificate program from this top-rated business school, which is designed to give undergraduate students of any discipline a fundamental business background. These types of programs help prepare women for the working world and build connections that will be helpful, should they decide to pursue an MBA.

The Forté Foundation is hoping to help support college women with a new pilot program we will announce this fall. We have developed a curriculum for undergraduate women of all majors to help inform them about the steps they need to take to pursue career opportunities in business, and better position them to compete for top jobs and an MBA. The program includes coursework guidance (for example: take at least one quantitative class), networking with MBA students and alumni, advice on how to build a business network, and more.

Standout undergraduate women who participate in the program will be recognized as “Forté Rising Stars,” a professional development, networking, and mentorship designation that will help them stand out in the MBA application process. Undergraduate programs that have signed on so far include the University of Michigan, Indiana University, Carnegie Mellon University, Cornell University, and the College of William and Mary.

While we have gender equity in U.S. law and medical schools, women still represent only about a third of MBA applicants. By helping business programs build up the pipeline of potential female MBA candidates, we can support companies that are looking to enhance diversity and, most importantly, give young women the tools they need to succeed.

Elissa Sangster is the Executive Director of the Forté Foundation, a non-profit consortium of leading companies and top business schools working together to launch women into fulfilling, significant careers through access to business education, opportunities, and a community of successful women.



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