“Glass Ceiling” for Female MBA’s?

Business schools have a not-so-secret "woman problem." The percentage of women in MBA programs has consistently ranged from 25-35% at many schools. Is that a "glass ceiling"? Elissa Ellis-Sangster calls it that in an interview in today's WSJ. She is the executive director of the Forté Foundation, an organization whose goal it is to funnel more women into business schools and business careers.

In the same interview, she herself acknowledges that women choose not to pursue MBA programs for a variety of reasons, among them:

  • the fact that business schools prize about five years of work experience after college and expect people to apply at a time in their lives when many women want to start and raise their families
  • the presumed fear that women have of all things quantitative and
  • law schools, which are happy to take people right out of college (with zero life or work experience, well thought-out or defensible career goals, or even demonstrated common sense, I would add).

Doesn't sound like much of a glass ceiling to me, just people making rational and sometimes irrational choices for themselves. To suggest that women are somehow being kept out of business school through some "glass ceiling" is a bit condescending, but that's par for the course when people wring their hands and tsk-tsk about the choices women make.

Would I like to see more women in top business schools? Sure; it's a great credential to have, and I'd much rather see women in MBA programs than in law school (faithful readers have heard my spiel on that subject a number of times by now, so I won't flog that horse again here). Business schools can start taking women right out of college too, just like law schools, but that's not going to change the fact that many will want to off-ramp out of professional jobs at a certain point in their lives, whether they have a professional degree or not. You can get more of them into MBA programs, and you can get more of them into high-powered professional and corporate roles, but that doesn't mean you can get them to stay. To suggest that these choices aren't really choices but somehow imposed on them is silly. More on that here and here.

I would argue that business schools have a bigger problem to contend with: how they're going to make leaders out of a generation of twenty-somethings who can't make any decisions without mommy and daddy.