What women want from academia: most prefer a business degree over an MBA

A new white paper examines motivations and the biggest challenges women face in the business school application journey.

Globally, women represent a greater share of the applicant pool than men in many of the business master’s programmes, such as marketing, accounting and management. Women, however, are still underrepresented in MBA classrooms in the United States and around the world.

A new white paper from the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) identifies drivers of this continued lack of gender parity in MBA programmes. Some of the biggest challenges women face in the business school application process are as simple as barriers to funding. Some are more complex than that, according to GMAC president and CEO, Sangeet Chowfla.

“Women have made phenomenal progress in attaining business master’s degrees, yet they have not yet caught up with men in the share of MBAs earned,” Chowfla explains. “Our extensive global segmentation research and market intelligence looked at several important underlying factors that contribute to this growing participation of women in business master’s and lack of parity in MBAs, with financial concerns being the number one issue cited by female applicants.”

The paper’s key findings draw upon insights collected from GMAC’s Global Graduate Management Education Candidate Segmentation Study conducted in 2016 in partnership with IPSOS, a global market research firm. The survey sample included a total of 5,900 female and male applicants representing 15 countries worldwide.

Motivations differ by world regions

Women in western countries differ in their motivations and approaches to the application journey from women in emerging economies like China and India, and the motivational profiles of western women differ noticeably from their male counterparts.

In India and China, women’s motivations and application behaviours more closely resemble those of male applicants from these countries.

Women plan earlier and are more outcomes-focussed

Women are more likely than men to begin considering graduate management education as undergraduates. Overall, women are more pragmatic and outcomes-focussed in their approach to pursuing graduate business education. They are more likely than men to apply to a specific school because it offers flexible programme formats and its graduates get better job opportunities.

Especially in western countries, women are more likely than men to be motivated by the desire to advance more quickly and earn more money.

Funding is a significant barrier

Globally, 29 per cent of female survey respondents cited financial issues as the key reason they had not yet accepted their admissions offer to graduate business school.

Seeking scholarships and financial aid were top of mind. Men, on the other hand (33 per cent), cited that they were waiting for an offer from additional schools as their reason for delaying acceptance.

The greatest gender difference on this issue was seen in the US. More than a third (38 per cent) of female survey respondents cited financial reasons as their number one reason for not yet accepting their admissions offer compared with 20 per cent of male respondents.

Yet, obtaining funds to pay for schools is a bigger challenge for men than for women in both India (8 per cent Indian women vs. 14 per cent Indian men) and China (9 per cent Chinese women vs. 11 per cent Chinese men).

MBA is still relevant to women 

Women are already achieving parity (52 per cent) in master’s programmes in fields like marketing, accounting and management, and the number of these programmes has grown exponentially in recent years.

The share of women in MBA classrooms, however, has consistently remained well below parity with men at 37 per cent. Despite greater shares of women choosing non-MBA master’s programmes over MBA programmes, the data show that women hold the MBA degree in higher regard than men, and view the degree as a passport to wider career advancement.

“It’s easy to make the mistake of thinking of women as a monolithic block and to view their lack of parity in MBA classrooms as a failure on the part of business schools,” adds Chowfla. “The insights in this white paper clearly reveal that women are distinct from men in what they are seeking from their business education experience, and their behaviors differ between countries and behavior types. In our opinion, business schools have made great strides in inclusivity and shaping their recruiting and admissions processes to ensure a diverse classroom. We hope that equipped with this paper’s data and insights, business schools can develop even bolder strategies for increasing the number of women in their classrooms and achieve the gender parity seen in other sectors of graduate education.”

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for GrowthBusiness.co.uk from 2016 to 2018.

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