How Male MBAs hold the keys to the Boardroom for Female MBAs

Women in the boardroom

Are business school efforts to attract more women into their programmes missing the point? A guest post from Rachel Killian, Client Services Director at 360 Education.

The latest statistics on the number of women who have reached an executive board position in 2012 make grim reading.Within the UK’s FTSE 100, just 17% of directorships are held by women.  Yet with so much research showing that organizational performance is improved when there is a more equal balance, it is difficult to understand why businesses haven’t been quicker to put this right.

What does this have to do with education, you might ask? Well, clearly women must have the relevant training, experience and skills in order to reach senior management roles. And as educators preparing people for the world of work, this is where universities and business schools have a part to play.

We know that girls achieve higher grades coming out of high school, and are more likely to study for an undergraduate degree.  And yet a few years later when people aspiring to senior management roles are joining MBA programmes, women seem to have almost disappeared.  The average percentage of female students on the UK Executive MBA programmes ranked by the Financial Times in 2012 is just 24%.

A number of business schools are working hard to rebalance their MBA programmes through targeted outreach and financial aid packages.  Others have introduced women-only leadership modules into their curriculum or entered into partnerships with female-led organisations such as Catalyst, the Forte Foundation and the 30percentclub.

But might it be that business schools are missing the point?  Instead of focusing solely on their female MBAs, could it be that their role should be to educate and inspire their male MBAs so that they can begin to effect change in their own organisations?  After all, men do tend to have the greater social capital.  They therefore hold the power to transform our workplaces into environments that are suitably designed and structured to enable everyone to succeed in equal measures.

A good start would be for business schools to take a step back and conduct a critical review of their MBA programme culture and curriculum.  At what point does diversity get discussed with the whole class?  When do their students learn about the ways in which organisations might change structurally and culturally to support people – of either gender – who want to take a less traditional route to the top?

This review should also include an honest discussion about the type of behaviours which are being subconsciously encouraged, especially in syndicate work.  For example, do your teams get marks for inclusiveness? Are they required to critically reflect on their team performance afterwards?  If not, it is easy to see how the result could be a project or strategy which either didn’t really exploit the talents of every single member of the team or left particular individuals feeling totally excluded.

Just like boardrooms in the UK and elsewhere.

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