The annual Forté Foundation report released today brings, as always, mixed news. But this year, the good far outweighs the not-so-good.
Forté’s report shows that at their 58 member business schools in the Unites States, Europe, and Canada, a record 42% women enrolled in full-time MBA programs in fall 2023, up from 41% in 2022. Five years ago, that number was 38%; 10 years ago, it was only 34%.
On a school-by-school basis, the news is even better: Five of Forté’s member B-schools — four in the U.S. and one in the UK — reached gender parity, with three more schools close behind. A year ago, three schools achieved gender parity; five years ago there was only one.
Helping to bring into sharper relief the overall picture of the state of gender equality in graduate business education are class profile data for the top full-time MBA programs in the United States and globally. These, collected by Poets&Quants, show many steps forward at the leading B-schools — though, notably, a few big steps backward.
34 OF 58 FORTÉ MEMBER B-SCHOOLS ENROLLED 40% OR MORE WOMEN IN 2023
Research by Forté, a nonprofit dedicated to increasing opportunities for women through access to business education and professional development, has shown the indisputable value of an MBA to the upwardly mobile woman in business. Among the many data points they have published proving this: 45% of women CEOs of the S&P 500 hold an MBA or equivalent advanced degree in business. But for decades, opportunities have been hard to come by — see, for example, the fact that only 8% of those CEOs are currently women — which makes the sometimes incremental progress Forté has helped manifest toward achieving gender parity in the leading MBA programs both encouraging and frustrating.
In part because of the lingering effects of the coronavirus pandemic, 2022 was one of the years of incremental progress. But Forté’s 2023 report contains much that is encouraging. Thirty-four of the 58 Forté member business schools reported 40% or more women enrolled, a big jump from 27 B-schools in 2022 and an even bigger jump from 19 in 2018. The five schools that achieved gender parity this year include three that never managed it before, led by George Washington University’s School of Business at an astonishing 65%, and including the UK’s Oxford Saïd Business School (51%) and Penn State Smeal College of Business (50%). John Hopkins Carey School of Business (51%) managed the feat for a second straight year, and The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania — Poets&Quants‘ No. 1-ranked B-school in the U.S. in 2023 — did it for a third consecutive year.
Forté’s report was not entirely positive: Just 15 B-schools enrolled 45% or more women this year, down from 17 in 2022. Yet that is still substantial progress from only four schools with 45% or more women enrolled five years ago — and it comes with the caveat that five more schools this year came close at 44%.
WOMEN AT THE LEADING U.S. MBA PROGRAMS, 2018-2023
|2023 P&Q Rank||School||2023 % Women||2022%||2021%||2020%||2019%||2018%||2-Year Trend||6-Year Trend|
|5||Harvard Business School||45%||46%||46%||44%||43%||41%||-1||+4|
|7||Columbia Business School||44%||44%||41%||40%||38%||39%||Even||+5|
|15||New York (Stern)||43%||45%||41%||43%||37%||35%||-2||+8|
|26||Georgia Institute of Technology (Scheller)||37%||24%||39%||33%||NA||NA||+13||NA|
|24||Carnegie Mellon (Tepper)||36%||31%||21%||25%||33%||28%||+5||+8|
|17||Southern California (Marshall)||35%||46%||36%||40%||42%||52%||-11||-17|
|19||North Carolina (Kenan-Flagler)||33%||38%||34%||31%||29%||28%||-5||+5|
SINCE 2018, 19 OF THE TOP 25 U.S. B-SCHOOLS HAVE GROWN THEIR SHARE OF MBA WOMEN
Class profile data collected by Poets&Quants (see table above) largely supports the view that the top MBA programs in the U.S. and globally are moving — gradually and with notable exceptions — toward greater enrollment of women. Of the top 28 schools in P&Q‘s annual ranking, 11 increased their women’s enrollment year-over-year, 11 are down, and six are even with their 2022 numbers. The biggest gainer is Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business, which jumped 13 percentage points to 37%, with Indiana Kelley School of Business also reporting a noteworthy increase of 12 points to 38%.
But while the two-year window offers mixed results, there are reasons for optimism: The number of schools with 40% or more women has been steadily climbing, growing this year to 16 of the top 25 schools, from 15 last year. And taking a longer view, over the last six years going back to the fall of 2018, 19 of those same schools are up, and only five are down. The biggest gainer in that span is Cornell Johnson Graduate School of Management, whose MBA program has grown its women’s enrollment by 10 percentage points to this year’s total of 43%.
Wharton, of course, is the big success story. As Elissa Sangster, Forté’s CEO, said in 2022 on the occasion of Penn’s B-school reporting its second straight parity class despite a steep downturn in applications to its MBA program, “In terms of reputation and rankings, Wharton is always at the top, and when you’re that brand that Wharton has in the business school space, you’re going to weather the storm a little bit better. So year to year you’re going to have more control over how you craft your class, because your application pipeline is so strong. Even the economy didn’t weaken their application pool so much that they’re struggling to craft or create their class.”
WOMEN AT THE TOP B-SCHOOLS OUTSIDE THE U.S., 2018-2023
|School||2023%||2022%||2021%||2020%||2019%||2018%||2-Year Trend||5-Year Trend|
|London Business School||NA||37%||38%||36%||38%||40%||-1||-3|
Note: For LBS, 2021-2022 and 2018-2022 are used
IN EUROPE, ONE SCHOOL’S ‘VISIBLE DEDICATION’ TO REACH GENDER PARITY
Europe and Asia have traditionally lagged the U.S. for women’s enrollment. But that changed in 2023. Outside the U.S., B-schools saw an increase of more than 3 percentage points in women’s enrollment in full-time MBA programs, Forté reports, bringing them into close alignment with U.S. schools for the first time since the nonprofit started reporting in 2011. Non-U.S. schools had nearly 42% women enrolled in 2023, up from less than 39% in 2022.
Among the leaders in this group is Toronto Rotman School of Management, which enrolled 49% women this fall, and Oxford Saïd, which became the first non-U.S. B-school to achieve parity, enrolling 51% women in its one-year program.
Amy Major, director of MBA programs at Oxford Saïd, says the school “had a visible dedication towards reaching gender parity. The establishment of the Laidlaw scholarship two years ago has made a big impact. The scholarship gives ten awards to women that otherwise wouldn’t have been able to undertake an MBA. Most scholarships are about academic merit; this one also takes into account women that wouldn’t have otherwise been able to afford a degree. It is difficult to quantify the impact of something like that.
“If you look at the gender pay gap and where that deepens in different parts of the world, women are disproportionately affected and typically need funding more often than men. That’s where the Laidlaw Foundation scholarships are really important. This year we welcomed the third cohort of Laidlaw Scholars.”
USC MARSHALL’S WOMEN’S ENROLLMENT HAS FALLEN 17 POINTS IN SIX YEARS
There have been setbacks, as there always are. Both UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business, ranked No. 10 by P&Q, and UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, ranked No. 19, dropped 5 percentage points in their women’s MBA enrollment, the former to 41% and the latter to 33%. UC-Berkeley’s decline came one year after the school had a remarkable 7-point jump to become one of the global leaders in women’s enrollment.
But neither Haas nor Kenan-Flagler have had as rough a time enrolling women as USC Marshall School of Business — the pioneer that in 2018 became the first B-school in the world to achieve gender parity.
It’s been a topsy-turvy few years for USC, which dropped 11 points this fall to 35% women in its MBA. This came one year after Marshall gained 10 points to regain its stature as a leader in women’s MBA enrollment, with 46% women in its MBA Class of 2024; but that achievement came after three years of declines following the school’s historic 52% in 2018. Since making history six years ago, USC’s women’s enrollment has declined by an astonishing 17 percentage points.
YEARLY PROGRESS: ‘TRUST ME, IT’S NOT EASY TO ACHIEVE’
When Forté was founded 21 years ago, law and medical schools largely enjoyed near-gender parity even as MBA programs averaged fewer than 28% women. The nonprofit has helped to bring B-schools into alignment with those pillars of academia — and with societal expectations — through a host of initiatives and actions aimed at breaking down the barriers women have always faced in business, and by extension business education. Among them are the Forté Fellows Scholarships, which between 2003 and the fall of 2023 saw Forté partner schools award about $400 million in scholarships; the Forté MBA Women’s Leadership Conferences, attended by women MBAs and leading companies annually; and the Forté Professional Development Programs, which provide support and guidance for women as they navigate business school and the workplace.
Forté also organizes an Undergraduate Campus to Business Leadership Conference, College Fast Track to Finance Conference, Women of Color Leadership Symposium, and Undergraduate Leadership Summit — events that help thousands of college women to build leadership skills, explore career paths, and network with leading companies and business schools.
“Given economic and other headwinds, including diversity, equity, and inclusion challenges, we are thrilled to see women’s MBA enrollment continue its slow but steady climb this year,” says Forté’s Elissa Sangster, who has overseen the organization’s growth from 12 B-schools and eight corporate partners in its early years to 66 corporate partners and 58 top MBA programs in North America, the UK, and Europe.
“Our efforts over the past two decades, along with our member schools and companies, have significantly impacted the increase in women interested in business careers and advancing to leadership. Every year we see about a percentage point gain in women’s enrollment and trust me it’s not easy to achieve.
“Getting to gender parity in MBA programs is an uphill climb but it’s critical to drive change and help more women lead in the C-suite, on boards, and as business owners.”
DON’T MISS LAST YEAR’S STORY ON WOMEN AT THE LEADING U.S. & GLOBAL B-SCHOOLS and HISTORIC: OXFORD SAÏD ENROLLS 51% WOMEN IN ITS MBA
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