Starting this month, the website for Cornell University's business program will display a photo of a female executive, as part of an initiative to attract more women. Schools around the country are following suit.
Universities have begun to notice that women are greatly underrepresented in business programs. Only 20% of most executive M.B.A. classes are female, and for certain top programs, the percentage is even lower- sometimes as small as 5%. To put this in perspective, women currently make up nearly 30% of the class at full-time M.B.A. programs and more than 40% in part-time programs.
Several reasons have been given for this disparity. Experts say that fewer women attend E.M.B.A. programs because of the time commitment, and that "some women are deterred because the programs' formats interfere with raising a family, something experts say men don't worry about as much." The Wall Street Journal also cites another reason fewer women are tempted to enroll in E.M.B.A. programs: they are discouraged by the glass ceiling. Women who perceive that they have already climbed as far as they possibly can on the corporate latter are more likely to believe that a degree won't help their careers.
Mori Taheripour, vice president of corporate diversity at the American Red Cross and outreach coordinator for University of Pennsylvania's Wharton west coast school of business, says that schools have a difficult time reaching women because they don't factor in the difficulties of balancing family and career:
(You must) be able to show women that even though they have all of these other commitments in their lives, this is something that others can do, and others have done it. We ask for about 10 years work experience, so the average age of our students is 35 and that's a point in their life where most of them have families and have senior level positions or are entrepreneurs. So it's a challenge to get them to say "I can add one more thing to my plate."
Taheripour has organized many events designed to bring in female students. She says spending face-to-face time with the candidates is also useful; fostering relationships between the prospective students is important, she says. Since Taheripour started her outreach efforts in 2006, the number of women enrolling in the executive program has risen by more than 10%. Columbia University has tried a similar tactic: through launching a women's outreach group and mentoring programs, Columbia has so far reached hundreds of potential female applicants.
Some schools have even changed the program's format to be more appealing to women. Emory University's has started a modular E.M.B.A. program, which meets for nine residency periods over 21 months. And it seems that their efforts are working. The program's current class is 33% female, as compared with Emory's traditional E.M.B.A. program, which is still at only 20%. However, some aren't so positive about the change. Susan Ashford, associate dean of the executive M.B.A. program at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business says that the glass ceiling is still in place for many women on the executive track. She points out that although 50.6% of U.S. women in business hold management or professional positions, only 15.7% of Fortune 500 corporate officers are women.