Gender equality on MBA programmes is one step closer – but there is still a long way to go, new research shows

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The proportion of women applying and enrolling for MBA programmes between 2017 and 2018 increased by 1% and 2% respectively and, in 2018, 39% of those applying and 38% of those enrolling on to MBA programmes were women, research from AMBA & BGA reveals.

AMBA’s annual Application and Enrolment research measured the application, enrolment, diversity and graduation figures for the 2018 calendar year at 236 Business Schools (232 of which offered MBA programmes) and compared the figures for 202 identical accredited Business Schools between 2017 and 2018.

Research from AMBA & BGA taken from its Application and Enrolment report, to coincide with international Women’s Day on 8 March 2020, finds that despite there being continued gender inequality in terms of MBA applications and enrolments, the proportion of women applying and enrolling onto AMBA-accredited programmes has increased by approximately six percentage points in the past five years. Meanwhile, the global application to enrolment conversion rate was two percentage points higher for men than women (40% vs 38%).

Will Dawes, Research and Insight Manager at AMBA & BGA, said: ‘The findings show that the representation of women in overall MBA applications and cohorts continues to be on the rise, following on from similar progress in recent years. This demonstrates that AMBA-accredited Schools are continuing to focus on more diverse and gender-balanced intakes. We should, however, remain mindful that women are still in the minority and that the good work that has led to these positive steps should not make way for any complacency in the goal of reaching gender diversity.’

MBA Applications and enrolments by gender

Looking at all 232 Schools that responded, in 2018, 39% of those applying and 38% of those enrolled onto MBA programmes were women. This represents a one percentage point increase in the proportion of women applying and a two-percentage point increase in the proportion of women enrolling onto programmes compared with 2017.

While this is a positive increase, women were still a minority group in MBA cohorts globally. This was most significant in India where just 16% of MBA cohorts were female. In contrast to this, the most equal MBA cohorts were found in China (including Hong Kong, China) and Asia and the Middle East where almost half (46% and 45% respectively) were women.

Globally the application to enrolment conversion rate was two percentage points higher for men than women (40% vs 38%). Regions with the lower levels of female conversion rates also typically had lower levels of male conversion rates. In Asia and Middle East and China (including Hong Kong, China) the conversion rates of women were significantly lower than men (five percentage points and four percentage points lower respectively). On the other hand, in Oceania and Europe the conversion rate was higher for women, indicating that there were regions where there were positive strides for more equal gender cohorts.

Female and male applicants have been analysed in the application and enrolment study since 2013. Overall, the proportion of women who applied and enrolled to AMBA-accredited programmes has increased over time. Women have become increasingly more likely to both apply and enrol on to MBA programmes across this period (a 6% increase in the proportion who have been applied and enrolled).

More women from Africa and North America Caribbean are applying for MBAs

The study also explored trends based on 202 like-for-like Schools that participated in the study for cohorts in 2018 and 2017. At a global level there was a one percentage point increase in the proportion of women applying to MBA programmes between 2017 and 2018. The largest proportionate increase in applications from women was in Africa and North America Caribbean (+4 percentage points increase in each area). The only region where the percentage of women decreased was in India, where female applications dropped by 9 percentage points.

Overall there was a one percent increase of women enrolled in MBA programmes globally. The regions with those most significant increase in the proportion of women enrolled was  Africa, in which the percentage of women rose by 4%. This correlates exactly to the proportion of women applying.

It is notable that despite the proportion of female applications made by women in India dropping significantly, there was no change in the proportion of women who enrolled. This would suggest that Schools in India are still keen on diverse cohorts, but more focus is perhaps needed to encourage women to apply to MBA programmes.

China (including Hong Kong, China) had the most balanced MBA cohorts (45% who enrolled were women), although this was three percentage points lower than in 2017. The conversion rates of men and women was unchanged globally (40% for men and 38% for women).

Dawes concluded: ‘When looking for solutions to improve gender diversity it is important to note the regional variations. This perhaps provides the clearest indication of where in the world the need to improve female participation really lies. In contrast, there are also some examples of regions in which the gender-balance is much better.

‘International Women’s Day offers an opportunity for Business Schools to properly reflect on the inclusions of women in their institutions. Positive change requires further effort and action on an ongoing basis to ensure that Business Schools are playing their part to ensure women have a fair opportunity to be successful leaders in management.’  

Read the full report here. AMBA has also produced a special edition of its magazine AMBITION this month, guest edited by MBA student of the year 2019 Ritika Israni and focused solely on gender equality. Read the magazine here.