Women in Business Education | TopMBA.com

Women in Business Education

By Laura Tucker

Updated August 12, 2016 Updated August 12, 2016

Business has long been a male dominated world and hand-in-hand with this is the world of business education. Today, enrollment figures from around the world still show a prominent gender gap, with women in business still playing a game of catch up with their male peers in terms of their share of leadership jobs and even wage packets, according to a recent MBA graduate survey by Catalyst Canada .

Business wear for women

It is often the little things that make life harder for women in business education. In order to be taken seriously in business, you need to dress the part. There is therefore the question of business wear for women, as business casual means two entirely different things for men and women. Clearly, some women will choose a suit for a smarter, and more businesslike, look (read masculine) – but if the constriction of a fitted women’s suit doesn’t appeal then you’ll have to navigate the unknown world of business wear for women, of which much of it is fitted and cut to show more flesh than all of the male workforce put together.

Obviously this is not the only factor tied to women’s success in business but even so, a woman who decides to wear a men’s suit or even, contrastingly, a low cut top at work or in her studies is a very brave woman indeed. Striking a balance with your own personality, feminine or not, and with what is considered acceptable for a woman in business education is not an easy task.

The mindset of women in business

Despite what society is told to think every day for fear of being seen as guilty of misogyny or misandry, it can be argued that men and women are different. It is possible to live equal lives while keeping that difference but first we must realize difference is a good and essential thing, both in business and outside. Often, though not always, women have points of view that can offer more empathetic views on business scenarios.

Jessica Toh, a current MBA student at Cambridge Judge Business School in the UK believes that in her personal experience gender diversity is beneficial for this reason. At Judge, she explains, some of the study groups are mixed while some are solely made up of male or female students. “I can’t say this for sure, but it seems like the ones that have females tend to get along a little better and there are certain issues where the outcomes tend to be a little stronger.”

Although Toh’s opinion may seem biased there is much research that would suggest she has a valid point. The University of Wisconsin-Madison recently completed a study that proved the positive effect mixed gender groups had in the productivity and learning of younger students. This evidence also goes to show that female work groups could benefit from a male input.

Toh goes on to talk of a Belbin studies personality test her class had to undertake to discover which team role is most suited to each student. She says that in this test they were encouraged to give feedback to their teammates about their positive and negative characteristics. She discovered that, having received feedback, only the female members of her group were inclined to discuss their negative traits. What she found was that talking through the criticism helped her discover things about her character that she hadn’t recognized before as well as clearing up any misunderstandings. In this case it seems that a female point of view and a willingness to talk empathetically, a trait Toh notices more in the female members of her class, is vital to developing good relationships in business.

Business education and motherhood

Being a parent and studying for an MBA is another hurdle women (and of course men) have to jump. Toh, also a mother, says, “It definitely forces me to prioritize a lot. If I had come to the MBA before I was a mother, my approach would be different. Once you have these other responsibilities… it forces you to think about what you really want to do, what’s just an okay thing to do and what you don’t want to do. And if it’s not something you really want to do then you just don’t do it.

“Before I was a mum I think I was much more averse to conflict and chaos and telling people that I didn’t agree. And, for better or worse, once you’re a mum you get a little bit more used to that and you get used to having to tell somebody if you don’t agree with something. Or, if there’s some chaos then you get used to that because that’s how little kids are. I used to be a lot more conflict averse, whereas now it’s a lot easier for me to bring things up and challenge people or challenge ideas to foster an open discussion versus just wanting to create a peaceful environment.”

From this perspective it’s clear that being a mother within business education is both a lesson in time management and a demonstration that mothers (and those with parenting experience in general) can bring something more to the table than your average student fresh out of university.

Manbassadors help bridge gender gap

The Women’s Student Association at Harvard Business School has begun a new initiative to help students rethink their role in bridging the gender gap. The initiative aims to provide an outlet for men who want to become more engaged in gender equality and gender dynamics. It is primarily for those who feel uneducated but interested in gender equality, although the scheme is wholly inclusive. The Manbassadors program now has 20 to 30 men on its leadership committee which runs alongside the main association which is made up of 750 female students.

Co-president Alexandra Dunn says of the association before the Manbassadors program was launched, “I think a lot of men felt it disenfranchised them from conversations about gender, equality, or about work/life balance issues.”

New member Michael Poku told the Harvard Gazette that “Gender equality ought to be important to everyone. Too often gender equality is framed or processed in a way that suggests only women ought to be attuned to the topic, but these issues impact all of us. At its core, gender equality is a human rights issue, and in order to effect positive change — from the standpoint of societal advancement and economic development — we all must do our part.”

This article was originally published in January 2014 . It was last updated in August 2016

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