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More women are getting MBAs, but they’re still noticeably absent from executive roles

Reuters/Adam Hunger
Graduates from the business school celebrate during Harvard University’s 359th Commencement Exercises Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts May 27, 2010. REUTERS/Adam Hunger (UNITED STATES –…
By Ashley Rodriguez
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

This article has been updated. 

Each year, American women inch closer to closing the gender gap in business school.

Today, as Bloomberg reported, women make up 40% or more of MBA students at 12 of the top business schools in the US, according to a study by the Forté Foundation, a nonprofit consortium of companies and schools promoting women in business. A year ago, only five programs achieved this, found the report, which analyzed full-time enrollment at 36 member schools including Harvard, Wharton, Yale, Northwestern, Dartmouth, and Sloan.

On average, just over 36% of full-time MBA students in the US are women—nearly a 4 percentage-point increase from 2011.

While it’s meaningful that more American women are getting MBAs now than in years past, they’re still noticeably scarce in executive roles. This year, women hold just 22, or 4.4%, of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies, found research by Catalyst, another nonprofit that promotes women in business. That’s a striking contrast between education and leadership.

The Forté Foundation suggests that the growing number of women in business school now could help them climb to the top in the coming years.

“There is some evidence that earning an MBA is a ticket to the top,” said Elissa Sangster, the foundation’s executive director, in a statement, noting that 41% of Fortune 100 CEOs have MBAs. Women’s education gains “should go a long way in building the senior leadership pipeline at companies and on boards,” Sangster said.

Update (Nov. 9 at 7:15 pm EST): A previous version of this post incorrectly said that the average number of women enrolled in full-time MBA programs increased nearly 4% between 2011 and 2015. It actually increased nearly 4 percentage points.

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