Fundamental Media Insights


Media buying and planning

How can business schools attract more women to their programs?

Women’s enrolment in full-time MBA programs has increased, but more needs to be done

Key points:

  • Women’s enrolment in full-time MBA programs has increased over the past seven years, and a recent study shows the uncertainty around Covid has not had an impact on the percentage of female candidates
  • In order to attract female talent, business schools should invest for the long term in understanding women’s motivations for seeking higher business education and adapt their messaging accordingly
  • The efforts of business schools should go beyond course design and enrolment outreach (though these are vital) to also create new knowledge and research - with business - that identifies challenges in achieving gender parity in business and proposes solutions


Business schools have long struggled to attract women to their MBAs and other master’s programmes. So what can they do to support women in their further education?

Over the past seven years, women’s enrolment in full-time MBA programs at the member schools of the Forté Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to advancing women in business schools and the workplace, has increased from an average of 33% in autumn 2013 to nearly 39% in 2019.

As the pandemic hit hard during 2020, some worried that this progress would stagnate or even reverse. Several surveys found women widely expressing their fears of being more at risk of job loss and being required to shoulder more responsibilities of remote education and work. The Covid crisis also intensified concerns and challenges reported by female candidates in prior research, such as the opportunity cost of attending school fulltime, wanting to complete a program in the shortest possible time, or balancing familial expectations.

However, the Forté Foundation’s member schools, which represent the top MBA programs in the U.S., Europe and Canada, saw the same percentage of women enrolling into their programs last autumn as in 2019, despite the uncertainty around Covid.

Women applying for business school

This is also supported by data from the Graduate Management Admission Council’s Prospective Students Survey, which showed that many business schools reported a growth in applications from female candidates in 2020, which is up significantly compared to 2019. This growth can be seen across all regions and across both MBA and Business Master’s.

Despite the unprecedented circumstances created by the pandemic, the majority of female candidates will not be changing their original education plans for 2021. This is particularly the case for international applicants, while domestic applicants are showing a higher willingness to consider a business school closer to home.

Women changing education plans

While it is good news that the pandemic has not had a devastating effect on the number of women applying for an MBA or other business master’s, business schools still have some work to do to ensure they increase the number of female applicants.

In order to attract female talent, business schools should invest for the long term in understanding women’s motivations for seeking higher business education and adapt their messaging accordingly.

According to a survey from XYZ School of Management, business schools have identified the following areas where they can offer more support to women thinking of doing further education: 

  • Offering a global peer group to women
  • The ability to continue working while studying
  • Offering women a hybrid learning model with online/distance learning elements, instead of solely having face-to-face teaching
  • Offering more women bursaries and scholarships

Cambridge Judge Business School commented: “Business schools around the world are fully committed to encouraging more women to consider, choose and enroll in business programs. We need to keep listening to women at every level to hear their needs and be innovative in how we can offer business education to fit into their lifestyles. We also need to engage with the teens and young adults to discuss the evolving trends of working life, and make sure our future women have the confidence, vision and role-models to fire a desire for life-long education and success at work.”

The business school added they are aware that women encounter more barriers to education and the education sector needs to keep pushing those barriers away.

It added: “The efforts of business schools should go beyond course design and enrolment outreach (though these are vital) to also create new knowledge and research - with business - that identifies challenges in achieving gender parity in business and proposes solutions. The Wo+Men's Leadership Centre at Cambridge Judge Business School does just this and aims to make a meaningful difference in gender equality and women’s empowerment globally.

Similar Articles
Similar Articles
  • Media buying and planning
  • 2 MIN READ
Insights Media buying and planning How can business schools attract more women to their programs?