Closing the gap: How far from gender equality are AMBA-accredited Business Schools?

It will take 257 years to fully close the economic participation and opportunity gender gap so that there are no differences between men and women in this area, according to the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Gender Gap Report 2020

The WEF’s economic participation and opportunity gender gap considers the number of women in the labour market, their income, and the level to which they are promoted, compared to men. The organisation’s estimation of slow progress towards reaching gender equality highlights the need for further improvement in the opportunities available to women, but how does this correlate with opportunities in education between genders?

Narrowing the educational gap

The educational gap between men and women – measured across access to primary, secondary and tertiary education, as well as differences in literacy rates – is not as wide as the economic and opportunity gender gap. The educational gender gap is predicted to close in 12 years – 245 years before the economic and opportunity gap – according to the aforementioned WEF report.

However, for Business Schools – and with particular reference to MBA programmes – there is a strong link between economic opportunities and educational opportunities because candidates will have needed to demonstrate their career potential (and by extension, their earning potential) to be accepted for admission to the world’s top programmes. So, it’s encouraging that progress towards gender diversity within the MBA sector appears to be happening at a rate closer to the WEF’s estimate of educational equality than that of economic participation and opportunity.

Since 2013, AMBA has been collecting data on gender ratios in MBA cohorts for its annual Application and Enrolment Report. Between 2013 and 2018 female participation in AMBA-accredited MBA programmes responding to AMBA’s reports has increased, and if this growth continues to increase at the average rate observed between 2013 and 2018, it will be 2028, eight years from now, before the average enrolled MBA cohort worldwide is 50% female. While a gender-balanced classroom does not necessarily denote full gender equality in the Business School environment, it would represent substantial progress towards this goal.

The AMBA team behind the newly released Application and Enrolment Report also collected and, for the first time, analysed master’s in business management (MBM) programme data from AMBA-accredited Schools. As is often the case for
pre-experience degrees, these MBM programmes were found to contain more equal cohorts of men and women than MBA programmes, with a female enrolment average of 46% worldwide – eight percentage points higher than the equivalent average of 38% found among 2018’s MBA cohorts at AMBA-accredited Schools globally.

There are a number of reasons why women tend to be better represented in master’s programmes than MBA programmes. MBMs do not require several years of relevant work experience (as is the case for AMBA-accredited MBA programmes), so women can enrol straight after their undergraduate studies, when they are most often younger and less likely to be constrained by family commitments, both current and planned for. Indeed, AMBA’s 2018 MBA Careers Research report found that women were more likely than men to undertake an MBA when they are in their early-to-mid-20s. By contrast, men were far more likely to undertake an MBA in their 30s than their female counterparts.

The pay gap persists

Research from PayScale in 2019 shows that wage gaps between men and women tend to be larger among those with advanced qualifications than those who have an undergraduate degree. Women with advanced degrees are ‘under-utilised and under-compensated to a greater extent compared to women who have only a bachelor’s degree,’ PayScale concluded. Perturbingly, the same research found that women with MBA degrees face the largest ‘uncontrolled’ pay gaps, where the ‘uncontrolled’ gap denotes the difference between the median salary for men or women in all occupations and at all levels.

The Forté Foundation, an NGO seeking to redress the workplace gender imbalance, found that pre-MBA women earned 3% less than their male counterparts, on average, but that this gap widens to 10% for the first job attained after completing an MBA, in a 2018 survey of 900 MBA alumni. Across the wider population, a woman was found to need one more degree than a man to be able to earn the same as them, according to a 2018 research report from Georgetown University.

While such findings reflect the decisions made by employers, Business Schools have a crucial role to play in conveying the value women offer after completing an MBA, or related post-graduate business education degree. Schools are also in a strong position to influence the business world, both directly – through industry research, partnerships and initiatives – and indirectly – through the future leaders they send into corporations across the world. 

Business Schools are moving in the right direction when it comes to reaching gender parity in their cohorts, but perhaps there needs to be a shift in focus. At a time when UK government statistics show that only a third of FTSE 100 board members are women, the task at hand is to ensure women have the same opportunities to reach the top roles in organisations as men.

Click here to read AMBA’s Application and Enrolment Report

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