Women less likely to do Executive MBAs

Women are less likely to apply for Executive MBA programmes for a range of reasons from financial to personal and academic despite the fact that such programmes increase their likelihood of career progression, according to research commissioned by the University of Cambridge Judge Business School.

Cambridge Judge scrutinised the latest GMAC (Graduate Management Admission Council) reports, finding that women showed a higher degree of hesitation than men to take on an EMBA in all the categories listed in GMAC’s ‘2013 Application Trends Survey’. Reasons cited were financial (“It may require me to take on large financial debts” and “It may require more money than I have available”), personal (“It would severely limit the time I have for people who are important to me” and academic (“My scores on admissions tests may be a barrier”).

University of Cambridge researcher Monica Wirz found that one of the most significant barriers was connected with the time of life when women consider applying for an MBA. “Men tend to be both older and more senior in their career,” says Wirz. “The consequence is that they are usually in a more comfortable financial position when they apply and at a stage in their careers when the MBA more easily translates into a significant promotion or salary increase. Women are applying when they’re younger, have less work experience, and may still be saddled with the debts of an undergraduate programme at university.”

A barrier pertinent to women considering applying to Executive MBA programmes may be caring responsibilities, continues Wirz: “With EMBAs you have a slightly older applicant pool, which coincides with the period in their lives when women have additional caring responsibilities. Whereas both men and women report that ‘competing interests’ are a consideration, in most societies this translates into more of a challenge for women.”

Wirz’s research also looked at what prompted women to apply for MBA programmes, and how they managed the decision-making process. The top three motivators were increased job opportunities (a reason cited by 73% of women against only 64% of men), higher salary potential and the chance of more challenging and interesting work. The data further suggest that women spend far less time than men in deciding whether to invest in a business qualification. On average, it takes 3.4 years for women (against 4.75 for men) to cover the main decision-making stages between finishing an undergraduate degree and submitting an application for business school. Wirz says: “This clearly dispels some of the common
myths about women and career ambition: women are looking at their careers in a logical and strategic fashion, with the long term in mind.”

The gender imbalance within Executive MBA cohorts is something that has been widely noted. Across all MBA programmes, women accounted for just 36% of the applicant pool in 2013 – a significant drop on the 2012 figure (43%). Gender distribution is skewed yet further in certain territories: among applicants from Latin America and Central Asia, women made up just 27% and 13% respectively.

“Business schools are failing women,” says Simon Learmount, Director of the MBA and Executive MBA programmes at Cambridge Judge Business School. “We have an important role in enabling individuals to reach the highest levels in their organisations and we’re complicit in producing a secondary discrimination if we’re not giving women the education and training to enable them to be shortlisted for the highest roles in business.”

Among women who do complete a graduate management degree, the majority report a high level of satisfaction with the return on their investment. In Europe, the GMAC’s Alumni Perspectives Survey 2013 showed that 96% of women (against 93% of men) rated their programmes as having provided outstanding, excellent or good value. In addition, 57% of female EMBA graduates between 2000 and 2012 received a promotion after earning their degree, and 86% of women connected their postgraduate business education with subsequent career advancement.

Furthermore, a significant number of business schools – a third to a half in total – reported a higher quotient of applications from women in the most recent round. This was mirrored in the composition of the 2013 EMBA cohort at Cambridge Judge, with women accounting for 22% of students (up from 17% the year before). The latest GMAC figures strongly suggest that demand for these qualifications is accelerating: 80% of companies plan
to hire an MBA graduate in 2014, up from 73% last year and compared with only 50% in 2009.


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