March 1, 2012 at 12:12 PM ET
The number of women looking to attend business school hit a record high last year, but that doesn’t mean they’ll find an equitable workplace when they get out.
Women last year accounted for 41 percent of the 258,192 people taking the Graduate Management Admission Test, or GMAT, which is a requirement for most MBA programs. That represents the sixth consecutive year of growth in women taking the test, the Graduate Management Admissions Council said this week. The number of men taking the exam fell for a third year in a row to 151,392.
In the United States, 39 percent of test takers were women, but in east Asia, women led the way. In China 64 percent of test takers were women. Overall about 117,000 test takers were Americans, compared with about 58,000 who were from east and southwast Asia.
In the United States “we’re not seeing the women in business schools that would be expected,” given that women now make up half the U.S. workforce, said Michelle Sparkman Renz, director of research for the council. It’s unclear why more women aren’t flocking to U.S. business schools, but clearly the corporate world has yet to embrace women in management.
Female MBAs who graduated from 2000 to 2011 and are working full-time made only 81 percent of what their male counterparts are making, according to the council's research.
The gap may be narrowing for younger MBAs, the council found. For the class of 2011, ages 28 to 34, MBA graduates closed the gap in consulting, manufacturing and technology.
Not that women overseas are thrilled with the opportunities they find. The report surveyed alumni of international business school classes from 2000 to 2011 and found only 54 percent of the women polled said there were equal opportunities in the workplace, compared with 85 percent of men who thought so.
The report should be a "a call to action" for the U.S. government and U.S. companies, said Elissa Ellis Sangster, executive director of the Forte Foundation, an advocacy group for women in leadership. Emerging markets such as China, she said, are encouraging women to become business leaders, and the United States could be left behind. In this country, she added, we should also be saying, "let's educate women in business and let's have them become leaders."
Women held only about 16 percent of board seats and 14 percent of executive officer positions at Fortune 500 companies last year, according to a study by Catalyst, a research firm.