An MBA can help women overcome bias, says Nunzio Quacquarelli.
Roselly Ramseyer-Torres, global head of equity products at Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, London, graduated from Assumption College in New England and Harvard Business School. Today she is one of the world's most senior female investment bankers. She is enjoying life and has brought a new outlook to the company. But how exceptional is she?
The share of women in managerial and professional roles in America is 49 per cent, but that is not reflected at senior management and board levels. The University of Michigan Catalyst study found that only three women are Fortune 500 CEOs and women make up 11.9 per cent of US corporate directors.
In Europe, women account for only 30 per cent of middle- management and administrative roles, says the European Commission for Equal Opportunities. An Ashridge Management College study found that women hold only 5 per cent of UK director appointments in the top 200 UK companies. In the 1980s, it was 2 per cent.
Laura Tyson, the new dean of the London Business School, says: "The gender disparity has a detrimental impact on economic and business growth. Business schools and many companies that recruit from them are seeking to redress the balance. But there is still an imbalance in pay and promotion prospects."
Women make up 30 per cent of the annual MBA intake of top schools - at law and medical schools, it's 44 per cent.
Rose Martinelli, the admissions director at the Wharton School in Pennsylvania, says that more women need to believe they can reach the top. Thirty-one per cent of the class at the school are women. "We get many applications from wo-men in the US and a number from the UK," she says, "but few applicants from Germany, Italy and Spain, and even fewer from Central Europe and Asia."
She believes that governments, corporations and educational institutions need to rethink their approach to women in business. The Michigan Catalyst study says that most women have negative perceptions of business and business education. Business schools are seen as too aggressive and self-serving. Other obstacles include shortage of role models, incompatibility with work/life balance, conflict with starting families. So are the problems insurmountable?
The numbers of role models is on the increase. Raffaella D'Angiolino graduated in economics from the University of Rome in 1989 then took an MBA at IMD business school in 1994. "Both I and a female IMD classmate who joined Accenture at the same time have been made partners."
Yeon-Hee Kim, a vice-president at Bain & Company in South Korea, says: "Consultancy is talent-driven. If you deliver superior results, the company will do everything to retain you, regardless of gender."
Investment banks also boast achievements in advancing women to senior management roles. Ramseyer-Torres believes that "if you are bright, investment banking is a meritocracy. We have many women MBAs in my department and 75 per cent have children."
Sadly, not every bank is that meritocratic. A former City analyst recently won Pounds 1.4 million in compensation after Schroeder Securities dropped its appeal against her sex-discrimination case. Julie Mellor, who chairs the Equal Opportunities Commission, says: "There are things about pay and City culture that must change. If employers want to capitalise on talent, they need to be sure their working culture doesn't prevent women getting to the top."
Some large companies are making an effort to manage the work/life balance and maternity issues to ensure that they do not lose gifted women. Consulting firms have introduced innovative programmes, such as extended maternity leave, creche facilities, part-time working and home-working options. Probably the hardest challenge is to motivate more women to aspire to senior management. The Forte Foundation was established in 2001 by 12 multinational corporations and 11 business schools to help to educate women about the opportunities and flexibility on offer. The aim is to provide mentoring for women and encourage them to gain an MBA and think of a business career.
How does an MBA help women to succeed in business? The Michigan study found that women MBAs reported positive benefits, including career enhancement. In 2000, 38.5 per cent of MBA applicants taking the Graduate Management Admissions Test were women.
Women have an advantage when financing an MBA. There are many scholarships just for women, but almost none exclusively for men. In Britain, LBS, MBS and Lancaster University Management School have scholarships for women. Instituto de Empresa in Madrid has a new "women in management" programme designed to help women in management and entrepreneurial roles worldwide, with an emphasis on Latin America and the Muslim world.
This article was first published on 3 October 2002 in The Times. Reproduced with the permission of The Times, October 2002.