Expanding the Pipeline for Women in Business School: Five Questions for Vice Dean Joyce Russell of the Smith School of Business
Graduate Management News caught up with Joyce Russell, vice dean of the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, to discuss the school’s 50/50 by 2020 (50% female graduates in 2020) initiative and other strategies for encouraging women to pursue a graduate business education, as well as the current state of women in business school. The Smith School will be hosting Women Leading Women on March 23, its annual event celebrating empowerment and accomplishment in business.
- Tell us about your partnership with the Forté Foundation and what that means for Smith?
This past academic year we were accepted into the Forté Foundation, which is a great opportunity for us to let women in the business school pipeline learn more about the Smith School. We now have women Forté Fellows which means that some of our women MBA students receive Forté fellowships. Forté also help us with our women's initiatives as well as other Smith School programing. A number of us will also be involved in programming for the Forté Foundation. For example, I will be conducting a webinar for Forté professionals on negotiations.
- What specific areas will you be addressing to achieve the goal of 50/50 by 2020?
We will work on three primary areas: pipeline, programming, and placement. For pipeline, we will have more events to increase the number of women applying to our MBA program. We host a number of events for high school and college women so that they can learn more about careers in business. We believe it’s important to let younger women know about business careers so we are targeting high school women. This is similar to what firms have been doing to entice women into STEM careers in recent years. So, we want to really be more aggressive about educating women about careers in business in order to get them to apply to MBA programs.
For Programming, we have a number of events planned. We had an entire Women's Week earlier this month to celebrate the 100 years for women's right to vote. We had events around safety, financial literacy, "having it all", and an executive roundtable where women in various programs got together to network and learn about topics such as salary negotiations for women, work-life balance, and careers in finance. Finally, our annual Women Leading Women event will convene on March 23 to celebrate a special Smith woman alumnus.
Our goals with programming are to provide forums for women of all of our programs to meet, network, discuss important issues, and enhance their professional network. We are also expanding our portfolio of MBA programs to include FT, PT evening, PT Blended, PT weekend, Online MBA, and Executive MBA. One thing we have learned is that having numerous programming options allows women to have more flexibility in managing their school, work, personal lives, and families.
Finally, for placement, we want to continue to ensure that our women alumnae are placed at the highest possible levels in firms and that they are comfortable negotiating successfully. We do want to play a more active role to help employers as they are looking for talented women, particular women who can serve on Boards and in C-suite positions. We feel that it is a business school's responsibility to meet the needs of employers who are asking for more talented women and at higher levels. We can help them find these experienced women through our business alumni and our Executive women talent pools.
- What are the top challenges schools face when recruiting women or getting women into the b-school pipeline?
In high schools and even in middle schools, girls are not taught about becoming successful women business leaders. While it is great that their career options have been expanded to include medicine, law, and sciences, there has not been as much progress in the field of business. Girls need to be able to take more business classes in high school and to see examples of successful women in business. They need to be encouraged to take math courses and other quantitative courses, which can help them in business careers. Schools also need to be able to provide more financial aid to women to pursue a business academic program which can be very costly.
- Can you share some of your best practices for recruiting women?
We host a number of events for prospective women applicants to let them know about career issues, GMAT® test taking, admissions issues, and to let them know that our community is academically challenging, yet also collaborative. Having special events for women, as well as events for all prospective students, is very important. In addition, reaching out and educating high school and college women about careers in business is critical. We host a number of these events as well.
- Do you plan to partner with other b-schools or organizations to achieve higher women enrollment rates?
We would like to partner with other strong business schools and organizations. As a member of AACSB's women administrator's affinity group, I am able to share best practices with deans from other schools. Even though the Smith School is pushing for more women in our business school, we believe it is important for all business schools to increase the number of women MBAs. Only by getting more women into the pipelines of business schools can we change our companies and get more women into higher levels in our firms. Once we have more women in C-level positions and on boards will our firms truly be representative of the US population.
About the Author
Joyce Russell is vice dean of the Robert H. Smith School of Business where she created a Women's Initiatives Board made up of women students, faculty, staff, and alumni to help address women's pipeline, programming, and placement efforts.