Want more women in C-suites? Get more in the classroom. Many of America’s top business schools are trying to do just that.

By Kathy Brister

Katharine English considered going to Business School for years. “I always thought, ‘How am I going to manage this along with my very busy life and my demanding career?'” she recalls. Over the course of that career, English raised a daughter who became an entrepreneur. She and her husband moved back from the West Coast and re-established themselves in New York, where she found her niche in the fast-paced world of media, eventually becoming an executive at The Travel Channel. Only recently did she decide it was time for an executive MBA at New York University’s Stern School of Business, where she plans to graduate next year.

“I reached a point in my career where I thought my raw skills, honed over years in the workplace, needed a boost,” she says.

For many women like English, the choice about whether or not to get an EMBA comes at a time when they begin to emerge from management’s lower ranks. And it often collides with what’s happening in their personal lives. The average age of an EMBA student is just over 36, the age at which many women are having or raising children, says Michael Desiderio, executive director of the Executive MBA Council. And such family pressures are among the main reasons women give for not applying to EMBA programs, he adds.

It’s a huge problem – one with far-reaching implications for women’s earning power and their presence at the highest levels of business. Despite the well-known benefits of an MBA – about half of new MBA alumni get promoted, and some see salary hikes of as much as 60 percent – women made up just 23 percent of last year’s applicants to executive MBA programs.

Complicating matters is an anemic economy that has many women wondering if they or their employers can afford the costs of a rigorous EMBA program. “Clearly the layoffs and the tighter economy are making students much more cautious about committing the extra time and the extra resources,” says Stacy Poindexter Owen, director of admissions for the Babcock School of Management. Anecdotal evidence suggests that there may be positive effects in some cases – as when laid-off workers decide to invest in their educations, or employees take steps to ensure their value to cost-cutting employers. Earlier this year, for example, the Kellogg School of Management reported more serious interest in its EMBA program and higher enrollment in its full-time program, says Bernadette Birt, director of domestic executive programs.

But even in the best of times, business schools are “desperate” for more women, though they face unique challenges in recruiting them, says Elissa Ellis-Sangster, executive director of the Forté Foundation, a consortium of schools, corporations and nonprofits formed, in part, to address the low numbers of women pursuing business degrees. Schools must persuade women to take risks that could affect their families and even their jobs. To do that, Ellis-Sangster says, schools must first show women the potential hazards of not getting an MBA. “It can impact their job prospects forever,” she says.

Best Career Decision

Allison Godard knew all too well the impact an MBA could have on her career mobility. She had never taken an accounting class, but as a manager in Coca-Cola’s IT division, she was managing millions of dollars.

Godard considered a few EMBA programs before deciding to enroll at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School in 2006. Within a few months of her graduation in May 2008, she landed a job as senior director of applications management for Siemens. Today she calls her EMBA “one of the best career decisions” she’s ever made, but it wasn’t an easy one. “The hardest part was the balance of still being a mother and a wife,” says Godard, whose sons were 9 and 12 when she started the program. (In the midst of it all, she even donated a kidney to an ailing co-worker.)

Part of what made Emory appealing was its location near her suburban Atlanta home; but more importantly, it offered networking connections she needed to advance her career and a modular course option that didn’t require weekend classes, ensuring that Godard, age 38 when she enrolled, could have more time with her family.

Like Emory, other schools are also learning quickly that accommodating women’s Life/Work balance conundrum may be the first step toward boosting women’s EMBA enrollment. Although the trend is still too new to show much of an increase in the flat enrollment levels of recent years, 24 percent of EMBA programs in a recent Graduate Management Admission Council survey have made a special effort to reach women.

Among schools’ initiatives: women-only recruiting events; flexible time arrangements; mentoring programs that match women students and alumnae; scholarships or grants for women; and a variety of concentrations that go beyond the traditional finance-centric MBA, which women tend to avoid. Some schools also have beefed up the number of women on their faculties and encouraged the development of organizations catering to women students’ interests.

PINK examined what some of the best business schools in America are doing to reach out to women. With in this story are six of our favorite picks, but you’ll find need-to-know information on two dozen others on (There you can blog in our professional forum about your own EMBA dreams or experiences.)

The Schools

Emory University, Goizueta Business School
Location: Atlanta, GA
Latest EMBA enrollment, women: 33%, modular format (in nine parts spread over 20 months); 16%, weekend format
Length of program: 20 months, modular; 16 months, weekend
Average student age, both genders: 38, modular; 34, weekend
Women-only initiatives: Emory’s modular format was created in 2002 to appeal to out-of-town candidates, but its weekends-free schedule is a big draw to women. The university also sponsors industry events targeted at women and has a student-alumna mentoring program.
A view from the inside: “What happens is the women form a very tight network,” says Joan Coonrod, Emory’s director of EMBA admissions. “They do a lot of things socially, as well as a lot of really powerful networking.”

New York University, Stern School of Business
Location: New York City
Latest EMBA enrollment, women: 28%
Length of program: 22 months
Cost: $137,000
Average student age, both genders: 38
Women-only initiatives: Stern’s fulltime MBA program (average student age, 27) ranks among the highest in the country for women’s enrollment at 41 percent. The EMBA program has ramped up its outreach, too, by partnering prospective women students with enrolled women; organizing women-only events for students, faculty and alumnae; and ensuring at least two women are part of every coed EMBA study group.
A view from the inside: “Senior women at this level have typically been very, very focused,” says Jaki Sitterle, Stern’s managing director of executive programs, “and, once in the program, suddenly they’re overlaying new skills and new tools and frameworks on what they already know, giving them new perspective.”

Babson College
Location: Boston Park, Mass.
Latest EMBA enrollment, women: 21.6%
Length of program: 24 months
Cost: $56,002
Average student age, both genders: 34
Women-only initiatives: The curriculum for Babson’s Fast-Track MBA, its version of the EMBA, corresponds with all the best research about how women learn best – with integrated subject areas, a focus on teamwork and hands-on experience. The school’s Center for Women’s Leadership facilitates women’s learning and networking with key women in business through regular events and meetings.
A view from the inside: “We want students to be excited about new venture creation, but we know that it happens inside organizations as well,” says Janelle Shubert, director of The Center for Women’s leadership at Babson. “So we’re teaching and promoting entrepreneurial thinking among all students.”

Pepperdine University, Graziadio School of Business and Management
Location: Los Angeles
Latest EMBA enrollment, women: 23%
Length of program: 20 months
Cost: $100,670
Average student age, both genders: 37
Women-only initiatives: Pepperdine touts its personal approach to women applicants. Its classes are small, and its instructors work directly with students; the business school does not use teaching assistants. It connects prospective women students concerned about family pressures with existing women students or alumnae with similar life experiences – for example, new mothers or single moms. The prospects get insiders’ advice on balancing family, work and an EMBA.
A view from the inside: “We talk a lot about the value side of your profession and how you fit into society,” says Linda Livingstone, dean of the school.

University of Michigan, Ross School of Business
Location: Ann Arbor, Mich.
Latest EMBA enrollment, women: 19%
Length of program: 20 months
Cost: $120,000, in-state residents; $125,000, out-of-state
Average student age, both genders: 38
Women-only initiatives: Michigan paired with Catalyst for a 2000 study that showed women made up 30 percent of students in top business schools (compared to 44 percent in top law and medical schools). The findings – including that women considered business too greedy–spurred Michigan to action. In addition to hosting women-only recruiting events, Michigan changed its application to capture both emotional and practical intelligence, areas in which women excel. Restricted by state law from offering gender-based scholarships, Michigan offers scholarships to nonprofit execs, drawing many women applicants.
A view from the inside: “We believe you can do a lot of good by being an effective businesswoman,” says Sue Ashford, associate dean of the EMBA program.

University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School
Location: Philadelphia and San Francisco
Latest EMBA enrollment, women: 24%, Philadelphia; 25%, San Francisco
Length of program: 24 months
Cost: $150,870 in Philadelphia; $159,810 in San Francisco
Average student age, both genders: 34
Women-only initiatives: At its home campus, Wharton targets women students by holding women-only recruiting events. In its San Francisco–based EMBA program, a faculty member spends about a quarter of her time reaching out to prospective women students. Since 2006, women’s enrollment in the West Coast program has jumped more than 10 percentage points.
A view from the inside: “Unfortunately, Wharton is often still perceived as a good-old-boys’ network, and we’re trying to assure [prospective women students] that that’s changing. We support them,” says Diane Sharp, associate director of marketing and admissions for Wharton’s EMBA program.

Northwestern University, Kellogg School of Management
Location: Evanston, Ill. (with a satellite campus in Miami and partner programs in Asia, Germany and the Middle East)
Latest EMBA enrollment, women: 18%
Length of program: 24 months
Cost: $148,000
Average student age, both genders: 37
Women-only initiatives: With weekly, bi-weekly and monthly program formats, students choose the option that best fits their individual lifestyles. Created in 2001, the school’s Center for Executive Women helps senior-level women advance to top executive and board positions through three research-based programs facilitated by faculty and top experts: The Women’s Director Development Program (which trains women to effectively serve on Fortune 1000 boards), The Women’s Senior Leadership Program (which equips them for C-level positions) and Surviving and Thriving in Turbulent Economic Times. After graduating, alumni can join the Kellogg Executive Women’s Network to support and be supported by other women grads.
A view from the inside: “Our EMBA programs are targeted to senior female executives,” says Bernadette Birt, Kellogg’s director of domestic EMBA programs. “We place a special emphasis on helping women reach the upper echelons of management so they can fully realize their professional potential.”

This article originally appeared in the August.September.October 2009 issue of PINK Magazine.

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