Some female business school applicants worry that MBA programs will be testosterone filled, male dominated environments. Few female students attended the schools I visited, but all of the MBA programs were trying to boost their numbers. One admissions representative said that her school admitted women with only a few years of work experience, because the older women became, the more likely children or other obligations would prevent full-time school. This trend of admitting younger women is part of an overall strategy that business schools are pursuing. In September 2006 the Financial Times published an article describing how business schools across the United States are admitting younger and less experienced candidates to attract more talent.
During my application process, the number of female students at a school was a consideration, but not a deciding factor. I felt a good fit with Smith, and it also happened that Smith had the highest percentage of female students of all the schools I visited. There are about 115 first year full-time students in the Smith MBA program, and about 30% (or ~35) are women. First year students are divided into two tracks, and in my track, there are about 16 women and 40 men.
During the first days of school, I was conscious of being the minority, but I’ve since found that there is little distinction between my female and male classmates. While males dominate the classroom discussion, this is understandable since there are over twice as many males as females. Also, it’s the same six or seven males who consistently make comments in class; there are just as many quiet males as females.
My groups have been a good mix of females and males, and the work and leadership have been divided equally. I worried that as a woman I might become the designated “secretary” in groups, but that hasn’t been the case. And depending on the group dynamics, a female or male may emerge as the natural leader.
The other day I was sitting in Rudy’s (As an aside, this is an area that needs improvement. The business school cafe rarely has any caffeinated tea. Why does it sell six different types of decaffeinated green tea and never any black caffeinated tea? Who has ever heard of pulling an all nighter with green tea? Or getting through Monday morning with an herbal blend?). I was eating some mediocre pasta salad and discussing female groups versus male groups with two female and three male classmates.
Views on the subject were mixed. One student said that he’s had bad luck working with females. Another student said that, based on her work experience, she preferred working with women. The two other guys said that they preferred working in mixed groups. One guy brought up his former company’s Christmas party as an example of a failed all-male project. He said that since the company was majority men at the time, the party was the most boring in the company’s history. A female student pointed out that a mix of genders is needed to balance out characteristics that may become accentuated in all female or all male groups.
I’ve observed that experience, not gender, sets students apart in business school. Students, whether male or female, who studied business as undergraduates or who worked at their former jobs on projects similar to class projects, tend to lead groups and class discussion. From this I conclude that if business schools want to groom future corporate leaders, they are cheating women, and men, by accepting students with one year or less of work experience. Seven weeks into school, I hardly think about being a minority in business school, except for the random moment when I’m sitting at a table full of guys and they start talking about “hot girls.” Then I just have to laugh and think of it as preparation for the boardroom.
[Sidenote: I received my first fan e-mail yesterday. Someone in Massachusetts googled “silicone shoe packets” and my blog came up as the fourth hit down.]