How Top Business Schools are Successfully Recruiting More Women |

How Top Business Schools are Successfully Recruiting More Women

By Niamh O

Updated August 22, 2018 Updated August 22, 2018

More than ever, top business schools have been tenaciously and effectively recruiting more women in their MBA programs.

During the early 2000s, many top business schools stalled at 25 percent enrollment of women. When the schools reached 25 or 30 percent, they celebrated, but the thought of ever reaching gender parity in the classroom didn’t seem possible.

Today, this milestone seems well within reach for female MBAs. In November 2017, the Forté Foundation announced promising new statistics about the enrollment of women in MBA programs.

In the last five years, its member schools have shown signs of progress. 17 of these schools reported 40 percent or more women in their MBA class, compared to only two schools having accomplished this feat in 2013.

Beating the rest

SBS Swiss Business School released data to showing the business school has not only reached gender parity but crashed through the barrier.

The school boasts 80 percent of female students on its MBA program.

Founded in 1998 as a private institution, SBS Swiss Business School has come a long way in terms of female participation.

And as the b-school celebrates its 20th anniversary in September, a lot of changes have been made not only at SBS but in Switzerland too.

Izabela Karanfiloska, Head of Master’s Programs thinks it isn’t just SBS that has attracted more women to the program.

She says, “I think it’s to do with society in Switzerland, and that we have a lot of ex-pats here, because officially Zurich is a very international canton.

“It’s quite a male-dominated society but the government and companies are trying to change that.

"The law has changed in some cantons, so there’s equal pay in most cantons, in the public sector – in public companies and in admin.

“I know many companies already follow that and I think that’s probably the reason why women would like to study more.

“And of course, there are tax cuts for the MBA program, so up to CHF12,000 ($US12,214) is tax deductible. I think all of this plays a factor.”

Societal changes

Swiss society is becoming a more neutral place according to Karanfiloska. She says, “Society wants to empower women to be more engaged in management because it’s been a really male-dominated country.

“In the private and public sector at CEO level it’s mostly male – of course that’s the case everywhere – but in Switzerland it has been really extreme.

“In the 90s, it started to change a little bit but, before that, most women were staying at home with the kids so now society is changing.”

Taking matters into their own hands

SBS looked at ways to enhance the number of female students on its MBA programs. Karanfiloska says, “We encourage women and would like to attract more to the school. Last year we introduced a scholarship which is directed at women.

“The scholarship has attracted more women, but it’s really societal and political changes that have happened in Switzerland. I think it’s more to do with moving away from a traditional, male-dominated society to one that’s more gender equal.”

Famous for its neutrality, Switzerland was once a closed and rigid country in terms of gender equality according to Karanfiloska.

She says, “Women were the last to be able to vote here in Switzerland and, in some cantons, they still couldn’t vote up until the 90s.

“So now there are political and society changes happening. I think that was the next step the country needed to take, so they did.”

Understandably, she’s happy these changes are finally happening in society, saying, “all the best teams are gender diverse teams. I think many companies will benefit from it.”

The Class of 2020

Not all business schools have released their class profiles for the graduating class of 2020, but Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management is ahead of the game.

Kellogg’s Class of 2020 will welcome a record 46 percent of women to its program – increasing four percent from last year’s incoming class.

Kellogg Dean Sally Blount will leave her post on August 31 – a role she has held since July 2010 – with a record achievement during her tenure.

The percentage of women at Kellogg has steadily increased since 2016, when women represented only 38 percent of the full-time MBA class.

MBA programs have always encouraged diverse perspectives so it’s great to see the classroom becoming increasingly representative of wider society. With women in business being offered more equal opportunities than ever before, it hopefully won’t be long before gender inequality in the classroom is a thing of the past.

This article was originally published in August 2018 .

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Written by

Niamh is Deputy Head of Content at QS (;, creating and editing content for an international student audience. Having gained her journalism qualification at the Press Association, London and since written for different international publications, she's now enjoying telling the stories of students, alumni, faculty, entrepreneurs and organizations from across the globe.  

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