Flexibility, Social Impact Among Top Ways To Attract Women to Business School

Posted by Teresa Hsu
Teresa Hsu is the Senior Manager of Media Relations at GMAC. She strives to promote the value of graduate management education and shed light on GMAC research, products, and services. Teresa earned a Bachelor’s degree in Management Science from National Chiao-Tung University in Taiwan and a Master’s degree in International Relations from Syracuse University.

Posted on Mar 13, 2024 9:44:07 AM

Two women look at a workbook outside at a college campus

In addition to the common skills and professional development that attract most candidates to business school, women have unique motivations and goals in their journeys to graduate management education (GME). While candidates are up against entrenched patterns of gender disparity in business and business education, schools are persistent in their objective to reach gender equity.

At a recent webinar Breaking Barriers: Navigating the Path for Women To Succeed in GME, panelists from GMAC and the Forté Foundation unveiled new research findings about women interested in graduate business school. The panel—and the latest studies from GMAC and Forté —offered foundational insights for programs to build a more inclusive and sustainable pipeline of women in graduate business school.

1. There have been some promising signs in the recruitment of female candidates, but most programs are still a ways away from parity. 

Late last year, encouraging news regarding women pursuing GME grabbed much media attention. The Financial Times reported two MBA programs ranked among the top 10 in Europe recorded at least 50 percent women in its incoming class, marking a major step for the drive to gender balance in European business schools. A report published by the Forté Foundation, a partner organization GMAC has supported over the past decade, found that women’s enrollment in full-time MBA programs reached 42 percent in 2023, with five of the Foundation’s member schools (also GMAC member schools) achieving gender parity.

GMAC’s research indicated similar growth. According to our 2023 Application Trends Survey, 48 percent of U.S. programs reported an increase in applications from women—a significant 10 percentage-point jump compared to last year. However, the median share of women’s applications to all GME programs worldwide has hovered around 40 percent for the last 10 years, indicating the need for continued efforts to advance gender equity in GME.  

2. Flexibility is key. 

One of the many illuminating findings from GMAC’s 2023 application trends survey is about online MBA programs. Fifty-one percent of these programs worldwide reported increases from female applicants, compared to just 24 percent in 2022.

A recent GMAC research brief about online and hybrid learning also speaks to this phenomenon. It found that women are more likely than men to indicate a preference to study in these more flexible programs. A closer look at the data showed that generation may play an even greater role in preferred program delivery. Millennial women, specifically, are the most interested in online and hybrid programs compared with their Gen Z and male counterparts. It is perhaps no coincidence that millennial women are likely to have greater professional responsibilities and family obligations, making maximizing flexibility a priority in their considerations and decisions around returning to school.

3. Women are motivated by higher salaries and social impact. 

Many have strived over the years to solve the puzzle of the persistent lack of women participation in GME. The Forté Foundation, for example, examined the post-MBA pay gap between men and women and found that an MBA, while boosting women’s salary by more than 50 percent, does not eliminate the gender or promotion gap. It proves to be a harsh reality that women degree-holders are compensated less than their male counterparts, a fact turning into a vicious cycle that discourages women from aspiring for future careers in business. When GMAC’s survey of prospective students asked about candidates’ professional, personal, and financial motivations for pursuing GME, three-quarters of women cited increasing their income as a primary motivation compared to 61 percent of men.

But women are interested in pursuing GME to achieve more than just higher salaries. Across their curricular and career preferences, women have an outsized interest in leveraging business and their graduate management education to make the world a better place. According to GMAC’s Prospective Students Survey, women are more likely than men to say topics like equity and inclusion, sustainability, and health and well-being are key to their learning. For example, 81 percent of women reported equity and inclusion are important or very important to their academic experience compared to 61 percent of male candidates.

4. Recruitment challenges present new opportunities.

GMAC’s survey of business schools found that 39 percent of programs conduct special outreach to target women candidates. To spread the word about the value of graduate business education and the wide spectrum of offerings available to women to fit their career ambition and lifestyle, GMAC Tours collaborates with the Forté Foundation and business schools to host Spotlight events that feature speakers and programs specifically tailored for women pursuing advanced business education.

GMAC’s GradSelect search service also offers schools the opportunity to connect with more than 550 thousand qualified GME candidates—48 percent of whom are women—along various stages of the candidate’s awareness, consideration, and decision journey.

In the context of persistent gender inequities beyond the scope of higher education, business schools must make concerted efforts to attract candidates with unique perspectives and diverse backgrounds. As more programs achieve gender parity, others can leverage their understanding of women’s unique motivations and preferences to build more inclusive and sustainable pipelines of talent.

Topics: Recruitment & Marketing, Application Trends, Research Insights, graduate management education, Student Survey, GME, MBA, candidate insights, candidate research, survey, research library, alumni

Recommended Posts for You:

Subscribe to Email Updates

Recent GME Jobs

Recent Posts

Posts by Topic

see all

Contribute to the GMAC Advisor Blog