Wharton is first top MBA program to welcome class with more women than men

BY Sydney LakeJuly 28, 2021, 04:29 pm
University of Pennsylvania campus, as seen in Fall 2020. Jumping Rocks/Education Images/Universal Images Group—Getty Images

For the first time in its 140-year history, the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania will welcome an MBA class composed of more women than men this fall, making it the first M7 school to reach this threshold.

Only 7.4% of Fortune 500 CEOs and 27% of Fortune 500 board members are women, according to Pew Research Center. But nearly 52% of Wharton’s class of 2023 are women—and that’s a 10% increase over the class of 2022. 

“As a female leader, I understand firsthand the significant impact that experiencing meaningful gender representation can have on women as they chart their careers,” Erika James, Wharton’s dean and the first woman to hold the position, said in a statement. “I also note the sobering reality that, even in 2021, women still command a small percentage of leadership positions in the corporate arena.”

By comparison, Harvard Business School and Stanford Graduate School of Business in 2020 admitted classes were composed of 44% and 47% women, respectively.  Neither school has yet to release class profile information for their classes of 2023, however.

The Forté Foundation, a nonprofit focused on gender parity in business, reports that just 38.5% of full-time MBA students are women. The foundation partners with 52 schools including top MBA programs like Wharton, HBS, the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, Columbia Business School, MIT Sloan School of Management, and Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business.

Finances can be a barrier for women pursuing a full-time MBA program, according to a 2016 Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) study. Other factors include a lack of female role models, work/life balance, and a lack of encouragement from employers, according to a Catalyst report. To combat these barriers, many MBA programs are making a concerted effort to recruit and retain more female MBA candidates. 

“Diversity, equity, and inclusion are central to our efforts, and while we are extremely proud to welcome this record number of women to our MBA community this year, we do hope that equitable gender representation soon becomes the norm among business schools, rather than the exception,” Maryellen Reilly, deputy vice dean of Wharton’s MBA program, said in the statement announcing the achievement.

MBA programs focus on gender parity

While gender parity remains a focus in admissions, GMAC data shows that 62% of business schools in 2020 reported growth in the number of full-time MBA applications from female candidates. Elissa Sangster, Forté Foundation’s CEO, previously told Fortune that “it’s hard to separate the pandemic from a trend at this point,” so it remains unclear what the future for women in MBA programs will look like.

Wharton is one of the most competitive MBA programs in the U.S. and is ranked as having the third best full-time MBA program by Fortune. The school also announced Wednesday it had reached its highest average GMAT score for its incoming class at 733 (up from 722 last year) and its highest-yet LGBTQ+ representation, at 7% of the class. More than 7,300 people applied for a spot in Wharton’s full-time MBA class of 2023 and 897 enrolled. The average incoming student in the class of 2023 has a 3.6 undergraduate GPA and five years of work experience.

“If industry truly desires its organizations—and the leadership within them—to reflect the world around us, we must improve the diversity of the pipeline of future business leaders,” James said. “In short, this crucial work must start here.”

See how the MBA programs you’re considering landed in Fortune’s ranking of best full-time and online programs.