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ForbesWoman Views

Why Business Schools Are Failing Women

Selena Rezvani and Sandie Taylor , 04.12.10, 04:06 PM EDT

B-school administrators must take responsibility for elevating women's status in the business world and growing the female leadership pipeline.


Business schools teach students that companies most often falter when they lose insight into their customer. When sales drop, a corporation must respond swiftly and adeptly, finding creative ways to get into the minds of consumers by matching or surpassing existing offerings to meet customers' needs. Pretty commonly held business know-how, right?

Not for business schools. The very universities that espouse business basics aren't practicing what they preach when it comes to engaging women. For decades, M.B.A. programs have failed to attract a critical mass of female students, even as admissions offices scramble to target their recruiting practices at women.

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It's not that B-schools are blind to the problem. Rather, the few outreach actions they do take--including depicting female executives on their promotional brochures or Web sites--aren't enough.

Organizations such as the Forté Foundation and the National Association of Women M.B.A.s (NAWMBA), which are partially funded by member business schools, do help bolster the resource pool from which business students can draw. These organizations offer students virtual and in-person learning to aid the female M.B.A. in navigating her career--including articles, podcasts, annual conferences and job fairs. What's more, these groups fund scholarships for women and hold information sessions and events on and offline to make the case for investing in an M.B.A.

Still, the numbers of women pursuing business education remains low. While law and medical schools have nearly reached gender parity, M.B.A. programs admit only about 30% women annually.

Business schools are missing the perfect opportunity to offer female professionals something they didn't receive as undergrads: gender-specific leadership training. After the admissions cycle ends and school begins, women M.B.A.s start to face the very issues that deterred them from applying to an M.B.A. program in the first place.

Common questions posed by woman M.B.A. students include:

--Can I be liked and respected?

--How do I project a firm, credible presence so that I'm taken seriously?

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