Women In Business School

Women in Business School

It wasn't long ago that the "M" in MBA might as well have stood for "male." Though you'd expect it to be a boys' club back in 1908 "when the very first MBA program enrolled 80 men out of 80 students "it's not as though things improved rapidly.

In 2013, MBAs earned by women (36.5%) had hardly budged from 2003 (34.5%), according to figures from Catalyst, a New York-based nonprofit dedicated to expanding business opportunities for women.

But suddenly the tide has begun shifting in dramatic fashion. The Graduate Management Admission Council reports that 43% of GMAT exams administered in the 2014 testing year were taken by women. And you don't have to crunch those numbers MBA style to see that business schools need to adjust to a changing reality.

Yet if you talk to students such as Vivian Viteri, who is halfway through her MBA Program at Florida Atlantic University, a story emerges that you don't hear at other graduate schools: FAU, she said, has empowered her to break barriers in what was once an exclusively male area of study.

"Everyone understands there is a level of professionalism and we're all treated as equals," said Viteri, a mother of two who hopes to graduate FAU in December 2016. "It's truly been a pleasure thus far." She added that the top-flight treatment continues what she experienced as an FAU undergraduate.

The positive, encouraging stance FAU takes toward its female MBA candidates is nothing new. While some of the nation's other celebrated programs barely crack the 30% mark for women enrolled, "We've historically educated many women and we are almost at the 50-50 mark in our MBA programs," said Megan Hall, assistant director of FAU's College of Business Executive Programs. "It's also a word-of-mouth phenomenon: Our female students have recruited other women into the program."

Life can't be plotted on a spreadsheet, especially when it comes to evaluating the needs of women students. So while FAU's program is geared to serving the grad student from day one, faculty and administrators have a keen sense of the pressures and demands outside the lecture hall. The endgame is all about helping students deal with those challenges in a way that frees up time and energy to earn the degree.

"We are even able to accommodate students - who are having children during the program - with flexibility and support," Hall said. "Our support staff is extremely friendly and compassionate; we listen and talk to our students on a regular basis — men and women. If any student has a life situation, work situation or school situation we are here to help."

Coordinators will sometimes spend an hour or more on the phone with students, "talking about their academic concerns as well as anything else in life," according to Hall.

Those conversations aren't just words of reassurance. They can lead to actions to help MBA students stay the course. Deans, professors and chairs might get involved, depending on who and what it takes to get things done on behalf of the MBA candidate.

Viteri's road to an MBA has involved a juggling act many women understand. "As a wife and mother, I'm dedicated to my home on top of my schooling and career," she said.

But she doesn't juggle the MBA side of things alone "far from it. Thanks to the help FAU has given her, she's continuing the word-of-mouth tradition that keeps drawing determined, positive women to university's doorstep.