Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Percentage of Women Attending Top MBA Schools

I earned an MBA from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in 1980. Last night here in Los Angeles I attended a reception for the new dean of Wharton. Dean Thomas S. Robertson has been on the job for eight months, and he gave us a delightful overview of Wharton on the home campus and Wharton in the international arena.

At the end of his talk he asked for questions. I raised my hand. “What is the percentage of women in the incoming Wharton MBA class for next year?”

Thirty-nine percent was the answer. And the dean assured us that this was a good number – a high average. He went on to explain what I already knew – that top business schools have a hard time getting 50% of qualified women in a class because of the work requirement before getting an MBA. This is not a requirement for law school or medical school, where top schools in both fields routinely have classes of 50% women.

I always find this answer amusing because, when I entered Wharton in the fall of 1978 at the age of 30, I was almost the oldest person there except for the military men attending Wharton. In those days work experience was not the holy grail requirement that it is today. But I don’t disagree with the current work experience requirement.

What bothers me is that I haven’t heard of any large-scale top business schools initiatives in the same vein as what engineering companies and engineering schools undertake: Offer programs in elementary and secondary schools that introduce engineering concepts to young people and get them excited about such careers. The same could be done about business concepts and careers.

There is a tiny ray of hope in the recently announced special MBA program at Harvard, known as Harvard’s 2+2, in which liberal arts majors who are juniors at colleges throughout the U.S. apply to Harvard Business School. If accepted, these students are assigned a mentor to help them obtain a job in the business world for two years before enrolling at Harvard. But this is only at Harvard.

While I was pleased to hear Dean Robertson announce a Wharton initiative to train 10,000 women in Third World countries about micro-business, I would have been more pleased to hear that Wharton planned an initiative to disseminate information throughout the U.S. on what a business career can mean. Because even with Harvard’s 2+2 program, if you don’t truly understand the endless possibilities offered by a graduate business degree, you won’t apply for that special program.

Today I’m offering a challenge to Dean Robertson and The Wharton School: While you are engaged in setting up a new interactive media center at Wharton and helping Third World countries, consider what you can do here at home to promote graduate business school education to young women (and young men).

Wharton, graduate business school for women

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Phyllis - I hope it is OK that I respond to your blog with my Wharton cap on :) I will warn you, I work in the Communications office for the school and just stumbled upon your blog doing a search for news coverage of our latest press release on the Wharton Interactive Media Initiative ... (I spend a lot of time on Google ...)

Wharton is doing a lot in this direction, especially in the Undergrad division. Former Vice Dean of Undergrad, Barbara Kahn, set up an initiative to go into high schools to talk with guidance counselors and students about just what you mentioned, "What is Business?" In fact, here is a link to something that was added to the UG Web site: http://www.wharton.upenn.edu/what_is_business/index.htm; and also check out this one: http://www.wharton.upenn.edu/undergrad/. We've also partnered with other UG bschools in the past to put on events for high school students and their parents called "Discover Business Now." NONE of this is from an admissions stand point b/c Penn handles Wharton UG admissions - it's more from an awareness building perspective. Shortly, we will be announcing an exciting Wharton initiative with high schools around the world. And, also, there are several summer programs that Wharton runs for high school students to introduce them to what business school is all about. I'm sure I'm leaving some things out.

Yes, because of the nature of my job, I do happen to know a lot about all that is going on at the School, but I just wanted to write back to give you this info in case you'd ever like to talk more about this.

There is a lot more we can be doing but we do think we are off to a good start.

Thanks for your interest. Email me anytime.

Tracy Simon
Wharton Communications