How Business Schools Can Help Rectify the Imbalance of Female Representation in the Corporate World


This article is a guest post by Kristen Fanarakis. She was a member of the inaugural cohort for the MBA@UNC program, graduating in 2013. She earned her BA in economics and political science from UNC-Chapel Hill, and an MS in international economics. Tired of the lack of fashion-forward clothing for professional women, Fanarakis recently launched the high-end clothing line Senza Tempo. Developed and produced entirely in downtown Los Angeles, the brand focuses on classic silhouettes with a modern, ladylike polish. Prior to this entrepreneurial venture, she spent over a decade on Wall Street working in foreign exchange sales and trading at firms such as Merrill Lynch and Citibank.

 

Timing is everything.

One of the ongoing conundrums of the business world is a lack of female representation in senior leadership positions in the corporate world. Working in financial services, I have seen first-hand the corporate world’s attempts (or lack thereof) to rectify this imbalance. In a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, authors Nikki Waller and Joann S. Lublin explored why more women are not present in the upper ranks of corporate America. Using a study of women in the workplace conducted by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company they wrote that worries about balancing work and family life are among the biggest deterrents for women interested in an executive role. This same fear is among the major hurdles for women pursuing an MBA – timing is often called into question. 

A typical MBA student works for four to five years, exits the workforce to attend a two-year program, re-starts their career in their late 20s and then spends their 30s building that career (and potentially a family, which results in a re-exit from the workforce). When you factor in lost wages and tenure at a company when attending a full-time program or leaving to raise a family, you don’t need an MBA to figure out the return on the investment doesn’t add up.

If an MBA is one of the key conduits to top positions in the Fortune 500 and the time versus investment trade-off tips the scale against pursuing the degree, then what is the solution?

Flexibility.

Top business schools need to offer programs that fit into a woman’s life and career. Many top business school programs offer part-time or executive MBA programs, but these programs can take three to four years to complete and students are still required to live in a specific location. MBA@UNC is geographically neutral and can be completed in two years due to its intensive course design.

The study highlighted in The Wall Street Journal notes that corporations must work harder to funnel more women into line roles, which lead more directly to the C-suite rather than staff roles like HR or information services where there are typically many senior women. Almost every major corporation has some mentorship program in place to promote diversity and help women find internal sponsors to help them move up the ranks. However, in any given year, approximately 40 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs have an MBA. Education is clearly one of the keys to staying on the path to the C-suite and colleges and universities must do their part to address one of the root causes of this disparity.

Women still only make up about 25 percent of the business school population. Business schools need to provide advanced degree programs that allow women to fit education into their lives rather than having to fit their life around education. The MBA@UNC program is UNC Kenan-Flagler’s bid toward creating the virtuous circle of training women for leadership positions that will hopefully reset the balance of the top ranks of Fortune 500 companies.