What Does It Take to Get More Women to Commit to an MBA?

A new GMAC white paper provides insights into what motivates women to pursue graduate management education.

Mar 7, 2017

New GMAC Research

March 2017 Research

There is certainly no lack of female applicants to graduate business programs. Every year, the number of GMAT exams taken by women increases, narrowing the test-taking gap with men. Over the past few decades, the growth in the share of women earning MBAs and other graduate business degrees has helped make these degrees the most sought-after graduate credential in higher education.

But, despite their phenomenal success in attaining business master’s degrees, women have not yet caught up with men in the share of MBA degrees earned and are still underrepresented in global MBA classrooms. A new white paper from GMAC, What Women Want: A Blueprint for Change in Business Education, focuses on the drivers behind this lack of gender parity in MBA programs, specifically exploring the differences between the genders in their motivations for pursuing a graduate management education and the biggest challenges women face in their application journey.

The paper’s key insights are gleaned from analysis of results of a global graduate management education candidate segmentation study that GMAC conducted in 2016 in partnership with Ipsos, a global market research firm, as well as GMAT testing data, and other GMAC™ survey research findings.

Program Preferences and Choices

Graduation statistics tracked by the AACSB show that, on average, women around the world earned 38 percent of MBA degrees issued to graduating business students in 2015–2016 compared with an average of 64 percent for men. But they have essentially achieved parity with men in non-MBA business master’s programs, however, receiving an average of 51 percent of such degrees in 2015–2016. There are many reasons for these trends, such as the continued diversification of graduate business program offerings, which has given women more options to choose from, including both new business master’s programs and new MBA program formats such as online MBAs. The white paper authors also cite recent mba.com registrants’ data showing that even though a majority of women, globally, apply to MBA programs, a greater proportion of women consider and prefer non-MBA master’s programs compared with men.

Gender Differences in Motivations and Approaches to the Application Process

Findings in the paper show that women are more likely than men to begin considering a graduate management education as undergraduates and are more likely to be prompted to apply because the timing was right. Overall, women are more pragmatic and outcomes-oriented in their pursuit of a graduate business degree and more likely than men to apply to a specific school because it offers flexible program formats and its graduates get better job opportunities. Findings also revealed differences among women by region, with motivational profiles of women in Western countries not only differing from their male counterparts in their own countries but from women in developing economies like China and India.

Funding Is a Significant Barrier

More so than men who were surveyed in the segmentation study, women globally cite financial reasons as the number one reason they have not yet accepted their admissions offer to graduate business school. In the United States, 30 percent of women cite obtaining funds as their biggest challenge in the application process compared with only 9 percent of men. The paper points to funding challenges as a reason why some groups of women may be less likely to pursue an MBA. Other barriers included a reluctance to give up a job to attend school or concerns about not having the time to complete a program.

MBA Still Relevant

Despite greater shares of women choosing non-MBA master’s programs over MBA programs, the white paper findings show that women are more likely than men to hold the MBA in high regard and see it as still relevant as a passport to wider career advancement and leadership opportunities in business.

For schools that want to enhance their value proposition for women, the white paper offers strategies for reaching out to and addressing the varied motivations and needs of women considering a graduate business degree. For these recommendations and additional findings about women’s motivations, attitudes, and approaches to business school, download the full white paper at gmac.com/womeninbusinessschool.