U.S. female MBA enrollment reaches a record in 2021

Despite persistent gender gaps in MBA programs across the United States, average female enrollment in full-time, in personal graduate business school degrees has reached a record for the 2021 academic year.

Women make up, on average, 41 percent of incoming classes through 55 U.S. business schools, up from 38.5 percent last year, according to research published Friday by the Forté Foundation, a nonprofit working to create gender equality in business.

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In 2011, women made up only 31.8 percent of enrollees in 39 schools.

The numbers represent “a big step toward achieving gender equality in MBA programs,” said Forté Foundation chief executive Elissa Sangster.

She suspects that some of these women, like many Americans, are participating in the Great Resignation.

“A little time to think never hurts — a time to really stop and think and understand what your priorities are going forward,” Sangster said. “The pandemic gave that a chance.”

This year’s numbers may also have been higher, she said, due to delayed admissions by 2020, when vaccines had not yet been released and many nursery schools were still closed.

An MBA is one of the most lucrative graduate degrees. While women make up the majority of undergraduate and graduate students in the United States, they are still lagging behind in paths that lead to high-paying and powerful jobs, including math and science programs.

Only five schools surveyed by Bloomberg Businessweek this year for its Best B-School’s Diversity index have a majority female cohorts. Less than 10 percent of S&P 500 executives are women.

“There is still work to be done to turn women into these key leadership roles,” Sangster said. But accelerating women’s enrollment is “the first lever” to achieve that goal.

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