Now, more than ever, MBA programs are seeing a growth in female students.
According to Debra Fleming, executive director of business/MBA programs and professor of management and accounting at Ursuline College in Pepper Pike, and Susan Kuznik, associate dean of graduate business programs and professor of business at Baldwin Wallace University in Berea, women look to business degrees for many reasons.
“Women are definitely looking for career advancement opportunities,” Kuznik said. “There are lots of situations where women are the main breadwinners of the family. We have tracks they can go through and polish those skills and learn new things to use in the workplace to advance their career. For women, this puts them in a situation where they can compete better.”
Fleming added in her 30 years of being a professor, she’s seen the change in student demographics lean more to women professionals.
“And they continue to change as more women are entering the workforce in comparison to several decades ago,” she said. “You have some women who are delaying childbirth years, and I think we’re focusing on millennials that are in their careers. That generation is changing the demographics in the higher education environment.”
When getting her MBA, Fleming said only 10% of her class consisted of women. Now, and especially at Ursuline’s co-ed MBA program, a majority of students are women.
At Baldwin Wallace, Kuznik said students, and especially women, are provided with opportunities to experience leadership in different ways.
“And if they don’t get that opportunity in the workplace for whatever reason, they have the ability to do that here at the MBA program,” she explained. “It’s all skill development, which is necessary for management positions as well as upper-level positions.”
Catering MBA programs to women and their professional interests is an important part of leveling the higher education playing field.
“We have a number of people on our administrative team who spend a lot of time talking to the students to explore what they want to do,” Kuznik said. “And the next thing we do is based on the curriculum you select. I was just talking with a woman the other day and she said ‘thank you for allowing me to do this in five years and not rushing me along.’ She said she has two kids and is busy, so that was important to her.”
Fleming added many students, especially women, are interested in MBAs because of the return on investment.
“That ROI provides them with the financial capability to be more successful as a single parent in meeting their lifestyle needs and working mothers who are paying childcare costs as those costs can be high,” she explained. “So, by coming in an MBA program, they hope to either have salary completion of the degree or potential career opportunities. It’s making yourself more marketable.”
As more women explore MBA opportunities, the pair said the workplace is also seeing change.
“We’re not only seeing a change in the demographic profile, but we’re seeing changes in the workforce and work needs,” Fleming explained. “There is more of an emphasis on managerial skills. Skill development and having those interpersonal, social and nurturing skills have come to the forefront of what employers are looking for. Many women also have these skills.”
This also starts with seeing other women succeed, Kuznik stated.
“I like to keep in touch with students on LinkedIn and I like to see them move on and succeed,” she said. “It’s just the one-on-one interactions that really can help women who think they can’t do this. But when you get into a room and see all of the women who already have, it brings it into perspective.”