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Women in Graduate Management Education: Sustaining the Growth Momentum

Posted by Rahul Choudaha
Dr. Rahul Choudaha is Director of Industry Insights & Research Communications at GMAC. As an evangelist of graduate management education, he analyzes, presents, and writes to help business school professionals inform their admissions and marketing strategies. He has delivered over 150 conference presentations and has been quoted over 300 times in global media. Choudaha holds a doctorate in higher education administration.

Posted on Mar 2, 2021 8:00:00 AM

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Over the years, women are increasingly pursuing graduate business education and assuming management and leadership roles. Findings from the GMAC™ snapshot survey of prospective female students show variations in decision-making processes by program types (MBA vs. business master’s) and study destinations (domestic vs. international). This suggests that sustaining the momentum of enrolling women in graduate management education would require a deeper understanding of their diverse career aspirations and journeys.


The theme of “Choose To Challenge” for 2021 International Women's Day highlights that change comes from challenges. Business schools are a force for a positive change in creating a pipeline for future women leaders through graduate management education (GME). Former Dean of Kellogg School of Management, Sally Blount, noted that getting more women into the leadership roles requires us to keeping them in the talent pipeline.

The journey for pursuing a graduate business degree begins early and is shaped over time. According to the data collected through Prospective Students Survey, more than half of female candidates reported that they first considered graduate business education while completing their undergraduate degrees or high school (52%). Nearly one-third (32%) of the female candidates considered GME after two years in the workplace.

Access a related infographic on women and management education


Female candidates report pursuing GME for a range of reasons; however, career advancement is one of the key determinants. Nearly 84 percent of prospective female students say that "having opportunities for promotion or advancement" is extremely or very important. And, they see GME as a route to achieving career advancement; 85 percent of prospective female students agree that "a graduate business degree helps you stand out at work."

The onset of COVID-19 created barriers for all GME candidates with varying levels of intensity. However, the impact of COVID-19 has been more severe on working women as they felt they were more likely to face the risk of job loss and were required to shoulder more responsibilities of remote education and work. Early data suggested that female candidates were more concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on their plans to pursue graduate management education (GME).

The pandemic intensified concerns and challenges for women candidates reported in prior research, such as the opportunity cost of attending school full-time, wanting to complete a program in the shortest possible time, or balancing familial expectations. Women are also more likely to work in lower-paying sectors and face a gender pay gap. This may increase their reliance on external sources of finances such as parents or scholarships for pursuing graduate management education. Additionally, preferences for program types (MBA vs. business master’s) and study destinations (domestic vs. international) illustrate variations among female candidates.

The data from Prospective Students Survey shows that business master’s candidates were more likely to report support from parents as their funding sources than MBA candidates. This is reflective of the younger age of business master’s candidates. In particular, female international candidates who are planning to pursue business master’s reported 41 percent of their financing coming from parents. For women preferring to pursue an MBA, international candidates were expecting one-third of their funding to come from grants, fellowships, and scholarships, while domestic candidates expected 39 percent of their budget to come from other sources, which includes personal savings and earnings.


Despite these challenges, many female candidates recognize the opportunity of overcoming this pandemic by pursuing graduate management education. The 2020 Application Trends Survey shows this confidence among women candidates. A higher proportion of GME programs reported growth in applications from female candidates in 2020 (60%) as compared to 2019 (41%). This growth in demand was seen across regions and programs.


As the global economy continues to suffer from health and travel concerns, female candidates are adapting their journeys. The GMAC survey of prospective students planning to enroll in 2021 shows that nearly half of domestic female candidates report that they are changing their original plans—compared to one in three international female candidates. Data suggests that domestic female candidates are slightly more likely to prefer online learning over considering a business school closer to home. In contrast, international female candidates are considering alternatives at a lower rate than domestic candidates. This suggests the preference for global mobility as one of the critical drivers for international candidates, and they do not see online as an adequate substitute. For those international female candidates who are considering alternatives, there seems to be a slightly higher preference for staying closer to home instead of choosing online learning. In other words, international female candidates are still favoring mobility—global or regional—over online learning.



Despite the heightened concerns raised by the global pandemic, many women candidates are pursuing GME as a part of their career advancement goals. This reflects the confidence women candidates hold in the potential of graduate management education for emerging out of the crisis with a career advantage. The systematic challenges and concerns about gender parity in management careers are not over. A deeper understanding of female candidates’ diverse career aspirations and journeys would aid in sustaining the growth momentum of the future talent pipeline of women leaders through graduate management education.


Related posts

New Directions for Business Master’s Programs

The Future of Full-time MBA Programs

Shaping 2021 Enrollment Strategies

Reconfiguration of the Enrollment Funnel

Related resources

Forte Foundation: Why An MBA?

Catalyst: Women in Management

Barriers & Bias: The Status of Women in Leadership, AAUW

BusinessBecause: Women and Management Education Women in Business Schools

About the Survey

The analysis reported in this blog is based on nearly 1,088 responses collected through the Prospective Students Survey between July and December, 2020. This data is filtered for female candidates indicating their preference to enroll in 2021. A total of 455 domestic and 633 international candidates responded to the survey. In this analysis, international candidates are defined as candidates whose preferred study destination is not their country of citizenship. The data reported is not of the same candidates, however, a new set of candidates every month. These findings are reflective of the users visiting and should be interpreted with caution in the rapidly evolving context of COVID-19.

Topics: Research Insights

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