Thursday, June 07, 2018 at 3pm

How to Encourage More MBA Moms to Enroll in Business School

How to Encourage More MBA Moms to Enroll in Business School main image

Moms should feel welcome at MBA programs. After all, business schools have been encouraging women to earn the master’s degree for more than 20 years. While the numbers have improved – some top schools have classes composed of 40 percent women – they still haven’t reached gender parity.

One of the reasons women feel held back is because child-bearing years and MBA programs often coincide. The timing really couldn’t be worse for women who want a career and a family. Schools have tried to combat this by talking about their desire to encourage more women to enroll and Women in Business clubs are active on campus. Even some men have demonstrated support by launching ‘men as allies’ groups at certain business schools.

Still, MBA programs could do much more to support women who have children or are pregnant at business school. Here are some ways they could make it easier for moms to earn their degree.

Provide on-site childcare

Daycare costs money, serious money, and full-time MBA students are forgoing salaries for up to two years while studying. The cost of childcare might be enough to turn away some moms and they also have classes and group projects, not to mention clubs and networking events, all of which keep them on or near campus and away from their kids.

The fact is that your babies are only little once. You can’t get back those days. On-site daycare would make it possible for moms to visit with their children in between appointments. The convenience factor can’t be underestimated. Of course, schools could charge for daycare, but perhaps they could have discounts or other ways to defray the cost.

Have places to pump breast milk

MBA moms tend to have little ones. This means, they might still be nursing. This might be true for faculty and others on campus too. When mom has to race back and forth between home and school to pump, she can easily get harried. In fact, a few MBA moms have said this out loud. Ideally, the areas for pumping should be peaceful, clean, and allow for privacy.

Business schools have invested in fancy group meeting areas and incubators. Why not provide women on campus a place to pump breast milk for their babies, so they don’t have to choose between going to class and their preference for the kid’s nutrition?

Cultivate a culture of flexibility

No one is suggesting women should be able to shirk their responsibilities in the classroom or in the office. Nor am I suggesting they should get special treatment. But professors and fellow classmates should be understanding of their situation. In fact, we should all be more understanding of people’s personal lives, not just those of moms.

However, moms have unique responsibilities, especially in the early days of their children’s lives. For instance, if mom has to go home to breastfeed, professors should understand if she’s a few minutes late to class. At the same time, if mom cannot make it back to campus for the club meeting, then let her dial in with Skype or a conference call. The point is to be willing to help mom fulfill all her responsibilities.

Be inclusive

Business schools have made great strides in supporting women on campus. Harvard Business School famously conducted its grand experiment to create more gender equity in its MBA program, and others have reached out to women and tried to show them the success they could achieve with an MBA degree. Few, however, have gone the extra mile to support moms who want to earn an MBA. As a result, moms are still the unicorns of MBA programs.

The problem is unicorns don’t always feel as though they fit in well. Many MBA students are networking at bars late into the evenings. They are socializing on campus between classes. Moms don’t always have that luxury. It’s not that they don’t want to hang out like everyone else does. It’s just that they have lots of other items on the to-do list in a given day.

So, reach out to MBA mom. Ask her when she can fit you in for coffee or to chitchat about her career goals. She will appreciate time with grown-ups and your thoughtfulness. After all, supporting diversity on campus should include moms too.   

Francesca Di Meglio has written about higher education for two decades. She covered business schools and all aspects of management education for what became Bloomberg Businessweek from May 2004 to December 2013. Di Meglio was the consultant editor for the book Admitted: An Interactive Workbook for Getting into a Top MBA Program (85 Broads Publishing, 2011), which was written by admissions consultant Betsy Massar. In addition, she is a family travel and parenting blogger at the Italian Mamma website

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