US Schools Sign Gender Diversity Pact at the White House

White House agreement between US schools

Following a meeting at the White House on Wednesday August 5, 46 of the US’s leading business schools have signed a pact outlining how they intend to perform better with respect to international inclusion and gender diversity.

Signatories, which include HBS, Wharton, Stanford, Kellogg, NYU Stern and Columbia Business School, have all committed to a set of best practices that, according to the White House, offer “concrete strategies for business schools to help women succeed throughout school and their careers and to build a business school experience that prepares students for the workforce of tomorrow”.

One of the business school deans in attendance at the White House was Soumitra Dutta of Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management:

“It is imperative that we provide educational experiences that effectively encourage and promote women in business,” Dutta said.

In support of the White House meeting, the Council of Economic Advisers – which hosted the event along with the Council on Women and Girls – issued a brief that outlined some the most damning statistics concerning women in business. For example, the fact that women made up just 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs in 2014, or the fact that female MBA graduates were found to earn 30% less than their male counterparts five years after leaving business school and 60% less 10 or more years on from graduation, in research from 2010.    

Another signatory, the University of Maryland's Smith School of Business - which has pledged to reach 50/50 enrollment in all its graduate programs by the year 2020 – emphasized the purpose behind enrolling more female MBAs:

“Drawing more women into the pipelines of business schools can change our companies and get more women into higher levels in our firms," said the Smith School’s vice dean, Joyce Russell.

So, what have US schools agreed to? Well, the terms are divided up into categories on matters of access, the experiences of both underrepresented minorities and women in business school, careers services and organizational culture. Here’s a quick selection from each of these:  

Women in business school – improving access 

Measures here concentrate on making program options at business school more amenable to what researchers believe prospective female students are looking for. This means recognizing "life-cycle challenges" and looking at their capacity to accommodate greater flexibility in their learning programs. Another measure is more specific, and promises the development of programs – developed in conjunction with companies – that encourage women who have taken time out of the labor market to pursue EMBA qualifications as well as what is termed “robust relaunch programs”. Alternatives to the MBA, such as the master’s in management (MIM) are also mentioned as being programs that should be offered in order to “attract a wider range of students".

Business school experience

Measures here, which extend to curricula as well as the business school experience, are about bringing the content and culture in schools’ learning environment in line with the realities of life in the 21st century and of the changes taking place in modern workplaces. In this, there is specific reference to ensuring that succeeding and thriving at business school is not easier if you are a certain gender and come from a particular background or heritage:  

“Inclusion is an imperative and business schools are in a privileged position to facilitate the advancement of women and historically underrepresented minorities,” noted Eugene Anderson, dean of a further signatory, the University of Miami School of Business Administration.

The business school experience section also makes mention of case studies, whose protagonist and significant roles need to be “more representative” of women and people of diverse origin. This has been a strong source of debate in the world of business education of late, as you can read about here.

Further points in this section include involving both men and women in any dialogue on matters of the relationships between family, childcare and work and striving to instruct all students as to “gender-based differences in negotiation strategy, communication,  and  assertiveness” with the aim of showing them how a wide variety of professional styles and approaches can all yield success.

The role of career services in advancing gender diversity

This section focuses on the potential influence a business school’s career services team can have on gender diversity in recruitment and the continual support of high-potential business people.

The signatories have therefore agreed that their career services teams should: encourage employers with which they engage to discuss flexible working options during the recruitment process; keep greater contact with those who have already left the school and try, as far as possible, to provide the same level of support for alumni as they do for current students; make students and alumni who have taken time out of the workforce aware of programs designed to facilitate their return.

Organizational culture and its effect on the school experience

This final section permeates all three of the earlier segments – for, how can you profess to provide gender diversity and an inclusive culture if your own team isn’t up to scratch?

This section includes recognition of this fact in making business school campuses a place where people from both genders and all walks of life have the potential to thrive. Intriguingly, there is also agreement that the “gender gap in faculty hiring, promotion, and pay” must be “investigated and addressed”. It also mentions the need to be aware of, and work to identify, instances of “implicit discrimination”.  

These examples of best practice in inclusion and gender diversity have been drawn up on the back of discussions that have been taking place since April 2014, and will now be housed with accreditation body, AACSB.

We await what impact these measures will have on business school policy in the near future and indeed, whether or not the White House, or for that matter, the AACSB, will be checking up on their progress.

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Written by Tim Dhoul

Tim is a writer with a background in consumer journalism and charity communications. He trained as a journalist in the UK and holds degrees in history (BA) and Latin American studies (MA).

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