Profiles in Disruption: Inspiring Women to Get Their MBA

September 17, 2015Catalyst’s #DisruptTheDefault campaign is a call to action for individuals and companies to make bold moves that forge meaningful change for women and men in the workplace—and the world! And our Profiles in Disruption blogs showcase how others are doing this in their lives and their companies. Today, our guest blogger is Erika James, dean of Emory University's Goizueta Business School, who tells how business schools and corporate America should partner to improve the working environment for women.

Almost every morning I read a story on gender imbalance in the workplace. It’s easy to get discouraged by media coverage depicting the lack of women in senior positions or in influential industries like finance and technology, and stories highlighting the negative experiences of women in corporate America.

Business schools have faced similar problems for decades, and, by and large, we have a poor track record at advancing female students and faculty.

Women make up more than 50% of the US population, and almost half the applications to graduate programs in law and medicine. But in business education, MBA programs regularly enroll classes of approximately 38% women. 

We celebrate when a school achieves 40%.

This is more than a pipeline issue. It’s also about how we prepare women for the business world.

We’ve made great strides at Goizueta Business School by leveraging our small, highly collaborative community to create an environment where women can take immediate leadership roles. We have also increased our female population in the one- and two-year MBA programs over the past three years, and are working mightily to enhance the representation of women faculty across all ranks.

Our end goal is no different from that of other business schools, but our approach may contrast greatly from a school with a large MBA class or a different focus or teaching style.

But we’re in this together. And I believe we’re at an important crossroads.

We can choose to do things differently and yield different outcomes, or we keep the status quo and generate the same results that lead to leaky application pipelines, challenging cultures, limited role models, and pay inequities for women. In May, The Wall Street Journal highlighted the problem, its probable sources, and the various solutions currently on the table.

I’ve had the great fortune of spending 20 years in business education and the past academic year as Dean at Goizueta. I’ve seen firsthand how corporations and universities strive to improve the environment for women in business. We have to normalize being a woman in business. I believe doing that requires a commitment from higher education and the business community to work together to bring women into all facets of business.

Business schools solve problems; we are servants to business. If we don’t do something now, our partners in corporate America may begin to see us as unhelpful at best and irrelevant at worst.

I believe we should encourage business schools to take a hard look at how they influence the success of female students, faculty, and staff. At Goizueta we’ve developed a framework for the approach,  including assessment, collaboration, and accountability. When a leader becomes self-aware, I believe he/she immediately becomes a better leader. Schools taking a hard—and honest—look at their offerings to women are much the same.

But how do we go further?

I believe schools should take their findings and partner with a business to create programing and refine approaches to create the best environment for women. Maybe it’s a scholarship. Maybe it’s a speaker series, class project or recruiting agreement.  More than likely it is a multi-faceted approach.

We have much to learn—and benefit—from one another.

Schools will always have different efforts to recruit, retain or educate female talent. Our cultures are too different for a common approach. But we all have companies at our doorsteps, eager to partner.

I believe combining the tried-and-true education methods of a business school with the tested models, resources and processes from corporate partners is the best approach to lasting success. Schools provide the knowledge while businesses provide the mechanism to get things done.

When this becomes the norm, maybe I’ll start my day with some better reading.




The views expressed herein are solely those of the guest blogger and do not necessarily reflect those of Catalyst. Catalyst does not endorse any political candidates. The post and the comments are presented only for the purpose of informing the public.