Having a gender-balanced MBA class is important. Here’s why

MBA gender

Source: Women's Agenda

The further up the workplace ladder you climb, the more you will be asked about whether you have considered doing an MBA.

Since the 1980s, doing an MBA has increasingly been considered the key to being an executive. In analysis I undertook in 2019, 27.5% of ASX200 CEOs had an MBA. The MBA is the most popular degree of an ASX200 CEO, slightly ahead of engineering.

It makes sense then, for people ambitious for leadership to be told to do an MBA. For women, it becomes another thing that people will tell you that you “should” do. I disagree with the assumption that anyone, particularly women, “should” do anything, but it’s important to consider what an optimum MBA experience is.

The challenge is that MBA classes can be masculine environments, where competition is valued over collaboration. Statistics are hard to come by, but men tend to comprise two-thirds of MBA students in Australia.

Men with something to prove and wanting to show how smart they are plague these classes. They can be exhausting and exclusive environments.

So, what makes a good MBA class?

Economists Menaka Hampole, Francesca Truffa and Ashley Wong from Northwestern University in America looked at this. Using LinkedIn data, their research found that men with MBA’s were 24% more likely to enter senior management within 15 years of graduation.

However, when an MBA class has more women, women are more likely to enter senior management, but it makes no difference for men in that class. Their results show that a 4% increase in the share of female peers increases women’s likelihood of attaining a senior management position by 8.4%.

Their research suggests that this is because of the social interactions in MBA classes, which help connect women to peers in workplaces that are more likely to support women into senior management.

Chief Executive Women’s mission centres on women leaders helping women leaders. This strikes me as women MBA students helping women MBA students.

In more good news, there was no penalty for men in more gender equal classes. Yes, the benefits quantified were entirely for women, but the exposure to different experiences enriches the knowledge of everyone.

Professor Allan Trench, the director of the MBA program at the University of Western Australia, says that more gender-equal classes “certainly improve the quality of discussion massively”. MBA cohorts at UWA tend to be 40% female.

As Professor Trench sees it, the career benefit of an MBA is that it is a good launchpad for people wanting to more into general management or change fields by moving into consulting or investment banking, especially after time as carers. “A number of female MBAs in recent years have successfully sought to augment their qualifications and CVs after a period of being the principal carer for young children and a time away from a professional career.”

If you are thinking about further study know that the content matters, but so does the classroom.

The opportunities grow when you collaborate.

This article was first published by Women’s Agenda.

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