On Being a Woman


The average full-time MBA program is below 40% female. Some programs have higher percentages, some have much lower- The University of Southern California Marshall became the first T25 program to cross 50% with women representing 52% of their Class of 2020 while Brigham Young University is 19.4%.


As of May 2019, there were 33 women running Fortune 500 companies, this represents 6.6% of CEOs on the list. In a remarkable discovery a few years ago, the New York Times noted the number of men named John who were Fortune 500 CEOs was almost equivalent to the number of women at the helm of such companies. Welcome to being a woman in business in the 21st century.


A good friend of mine produced a Freakonomics podcast series, The Secret life of CEOs. The episode on the Glass Cliff is particularly fascinating. Are women (and minority) CEOs only brought in when a company is on the verge of collapse just so companies can say they tried a new bold approach? When it fails do they just revert back to white male leadership? Are women brought in to fix a company because we have a 'mommy' complex? All excellent questions which are discussed with current and former female CEOs as well as researchers.


The #MeToo movement has been both heartening and depressing. I cheer the fact that women can FINALLY be vocal about the deep-seated injustices we have endured from the moment we entered the cold world, but I am appalled at how far we still have to go. We celebrate these incremental victories towards equal pay and equal representation, but the statistics are still horrifyingly low.


You’ve probably seen the numbers: depending on race, women make anywhere from 54-90% of what (white) men make.


This is despite the fact that women have earned the majority of:

  • Associates degrees since 1978

  • Bachelors Degrees since 1982

  • Masters Degrees since 1987*

  • Doctoral Degrees since 2006


Digging into Masters Degrees a little bit, although the MBA is the most popular graduate degree (MBAs represent 66% of all graduate degrees conferred with 250k enrolled and 100k graduates a year in 2010- I assume that figure encompasses FT, PT and Online), only ~37% of MBAs were female, compared to the approximately 60% of all graduate degrees women receive each year.


Even worse, the number of women earning MBAs has stayed flat for the 5 year period of 2012 through 2016! That means that the MBA class of 2018 will essentially have the same number of women as the class of 2014.


Women pursue MBAs differently than men. Most women who pursue MBAs opt for flexible (44%), online (43%) or PT (41%) programs. 30% of women struggle to obtain funding for their MBA programs (as compared to 9% of men).

Enter The Forté Foundation.


The mission of the Forté Foundation (Forté) is to advance women in business. In order to accomplish this mission, they provide an impressive network of opportunities to connect prospective female MBA students, current MBA students and women in the business world with seminars, conferences and webinars. Each year, female students at partner universities can be named Forte Fellows which provides them with a fellowship (ranging from $10k up to full tuition). All women in MBA programs are able to join the free network which provides access to job listings with well-regarded companies and access to the Forte network.


Many years ago I read Lean In and even attended a local chapter meeting of other women looking to fight for their seat at the table. That was all back in 2013, eons ago. Change certainly does not happen overnight and there have been some advancements, but there have also been so many setbacks. I will also note, my feelings on Sheryl Sandberg today are more mixed than favorable.


Ultimately I am hopeful. While I am sure we will still be having these conversations in 10 years, I like to imagine the statistics will be slightly improved. Social media has continued to reveal the cracks in the system and changes are afoot. Admittedly I am impatient and want there to be more women throughout the business world right now. I am hoping that a ton of women jump into the CEO role before the next Forbes list is released this summer and that there is a huge pipeline of women are being groomed to head companies at this very second.


It is one thing to increase the number of women in business and something completely different to ensure they have opportunities to lead and succeed. Arguably, that is the most difficult part.