Today in the U.S., women make up nearly half the workforce and more than half of undergraduate and graduate students, yet women still lag behind men in several key ways:
- Undergraduate women are 30 percent less likely to major in business.
- Five years after receiving their MBAs, on average, women earn 30 percent less than men. After 10 years that pay gap increases to 60 percent.
- In 2014, only 5 percent of CEOs at Fortune 500 companies were female, and in 2013, women held only 17 percent of Fortune 500 board seats.
These persistent disparities have inspired the White House to take action, inviting leaders from 47 top business schools, including the Wisconsin School of Business, as well as executives from leading U.S. companies, to gather in Washington D.C. To demonstrate tangible support and leadership of the initiative, the WSB has signed a commitment to improving opportunities for women in business.
“We are excited to partner with the White House Council, other leading business schools, and the business community to improve opportunities for women,” says François Ortalo-Magné, the Albert O. Nicholas Dean of the Wisconsin School of Business at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Our commitment underlines our dedication to promoting diversity and inclusion as we strive to improve lives beyond the boundaries of our campus.”
Expanding opportunities for women in business is complex. It’s not just a matter of implementing supportive and flexible workplace policies or academic programs, although those are important.
“Our endorsement of the best practices document consolidated by the White House Council of Economic Advisors gives us the opportunity to evaluate our policies and procedures more formally and implement improvements,” Binnu Palta Hill, WSB’s director of diversity and inclusion, who participated in the event. “Additionally, it provides us with a network of peers with whom we can collaborate.”
The agreement lays the groundwork for improving opportunities for women in business and business education by facilitating a national dialogue on this issue and establishing a set of best practices and a system of accountability to drive progress.
The best practices focus on four areas:
- Ensuring access to business schools and business careers
- Building a business school experience that prepares students for the workforce of tomorrow
- Ensuring career services that go beyond the needs of traditional students
- Exemplifying how organizations should be run
The takeaway from the White House event, hosted by the Council on Women and Girls and the Council of Economic Advisers, was clear: working together will create more opportunities for women to succeed in the business world.
The Association for the Advancement of Collegiate Schools of Business (AASCB) will lead this initiative going forward, providing a network to share solutions and ensure some accountability. The AASCB will conduct a study to determine the progress of schools on this issue and identify and share challenges.
The next step for WSB is to evaluate how the School measures up to the best practices put forth by this initiative. “We need to carefully assess where we stand and identify areas where we need to improve and incorporate that work into our priorities moving forward,” says Hill.
A key strategy of the School is to enhance cultural competence.
“The corporate sector is at least a decade ahead of academia in this area,” Hill says. “This facilitates us learning from them. They learned a long time ago that in order to remain competitive, they have to pay attention to cultural competence.”
Hill notes that most companies have cultural competence programs that address the subtle messaging that can influence who stays with the company and who advances in their careers.
In colleges and universities, unintentional messaging, such as an absence of female faculty in certain disciplines, can deter women from pursuing those majors, Hill says.
“Research shows that inclusion of diversity, in all its forms—gender, racial, ethnic, sexual orientation—increases productivity and improves decision making and organizational performance,” says Hill. “In addition to this being a matter of social equity, it links directly to the economy. Our corporate partners are well aware of this, and our involvement in this initiative heightens the level of conversation we’ll have with them.”