AMBA welcomes growing inclusion of women on MBAs; but more needs to be done to fully redress the gender balance
On International Women’s Day 2019 (8 March), AMBA celebrates the increasing presence of women on MBA programmes, while also recognising that there is further to go in terms of reaching gender parity.
During the past five years, there has been an increase in the proportion of women enrolling onto AMBA-accredited programmes globally (36% in 2017 compared with 32% in 2013). Among programmes in China and Hong Kong, almost half (48%) of MBA enrolees were women in 2017. Nevertheless, it cannot be overlooked that women remain a minority within MBA programmes, and in some notable regions female students make up only a fraction of the intake. For example, in India women comprised just 16% of MBA cohorts in 2017.
This highlights the significance of regional variations when measuring the degree of progress towards gender-balanced cohorts, and the potential influence of the traditional roles held by women in business and society.
A theme behind these imbalances may lie in the ages at which women are able, or willing, to enrol onto an MBA. 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.
However, there are further signs of optimism. New AMBA research, due to be released in April, reveals that women are often as likely to believe they will reap as much from their MBA as their male counterparts. Conversely, it also points to areas where more can be done to enable and empower women further.
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 (72% of both men and women say they feel equipped to reach their desired salary in the future). 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.
However, it is difficult for personal impact to be maximised if female graduates don’t hold sufficient self-belief about their ability to make a difference.
Here, AMBA’s survey suggests areas in which more can be done, by business and Business Schools alike, to ensure that 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).
Finally, it should be noted that there are 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%).
From expectations about future pay to graduates’ ability to resolve problems by finding new solutions, AMBA’s study finds that similar proportions of men and women agree with a range of perceptions about the value and impact of an MBA degree. Nevertheless, it also highlights significant differences between genders that are part of the MBA and business landscape, and should be challenged or harnessed by Business Schools and within MBA programmes, as appropriate.
The full study exploring the views and experiences of women who have recently graduated from AMBA-accredited programmes will be published in April 2019.
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. Regardless, it is important for Business Schools to understand this dynamic and make provisions to ensure women feel they can take an MBA at a stage which is conducive to their career ambitions.’
‘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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