CHICAGO (WOMENSENEWS)–It’s not a new statistic but it is a startling one: Women make up 30 percent of the enrollment at top-tier business schools, compared with 44 percent at the nation’s best law and medical schools.

The reasons for the disparity run the gamut, from a lack of role models to a perception that women can achieve a better work/life balance and do more social good in law and medicine. Yet in a study of women with graduate business degrees, or MBAs, 86 percent said they were satisfied with their careers.

Debunking the stereotypes and getting more women into corporate America is the goal of a new national non-profit group of corporations and business schools that has chosen to leave their competitive nature at the door and tackle the issues together. It is the first coalition of its kind, and will be based temporarily at the University of Michigan.

“This coalition breaks the old competitive boundaries. It says something is so amiss here we want to transcend our competition,” says Anna Lloyd, co-chair of the group and president and executive director of the Committee of 200, a Chicago-based organization of high-powered business women. “This is an issue we should be extremely concerned about as it relates to the next 10, 15, 25 years. Women for two or three primary reasons are just not turning up in the admissions to business schools.”

The group’s formation follows a May 2000 study released by Catalyst and the University of Michigan, and funded by 13 leading companies, that queried more than 1,600 men and women MBAs about their school experience and careers. Among the findings: 33 percent of women, compared with 42 percent of men, said finding mentors at their workplace was easy and only 52 percent of women, compared with 62 percent of men, said they were satisfied with sponsorship from senior management.

Women MBAs Call Business School Culture Too Aggressive

The research, “Women and the MBA: Gateway to Opportunity,” also found that more than 30 percent of all women MBA graduates and 46 percent of African American women MBAs considered the business school culture to be overly aggressive and competitive. Also cited as a barrier, by 47 percent of the women surveyed, was the inability with a business career of achieving a desired work-life balance.

The study also included detailed recommendations on remedying the problem, such as improving women’s awareness of the value of business education, improving women’s preparation for seeking an MBA and correcting negative stereotypes of business held by women.

“Some of that is based on the fact that there is a history of women hitting the glass ceiling in many organizations,” says Carol Hollenshead, director of the Center for the Education of Women at the University of Michigan. “Even now, if you look at the very top of corporate organizations, you still see very, very few women. The stereotype is based on a good deal of reality.”

However, she notes, “The enlightened companies really understand they need to draw upon 100 percent of the talent pool for their leadership.”

Founding corporate members of the coalition include Dell Computer Corp., Deloitte Consulting, Goldman, Sachs and Co., JP Morgan Chase and Co., Kraft Foods Inc. and Procter and Gamble Co. Other members include the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, the Committee of 200, University of Michigan’s Center for the Education of Women and the business schools at Columbia, Dartmouth, University of California-Berkeley, University of Chicago, University of Pennsylvania, University of Texas and University of Virginia.

Corporations Don’t Urge Women Middle Managers to Earn MBAs

Chief among the group’s objectives is to conduct more research to determine what’s happening inside corporations that creates a lack of support for mid-management women pursing MBAs, why college students aren’t learning about what an MBA can provide and why more high school girls aren’t pursing a business education.

Leaders of the organization, whose name will be decided in February, are not expecting overnight results, either in terms of the number of women MBAs or the $20 million in support they hope to raise from corporations, business schools and philanthropists.

“We’re putting our toe in the water,” says Joyce Mullen, director of service operations for Dell and the coalition’s co-chair. “It’s going to take five years before we move the needle in terms of enrollment and that assumes a real healthy endowment and fund-raising.”

Mullen, who received her MBA from Harvard University in 1989, says she didn’t entertain any of the concerns and misgivings voiced in the study but, since entering the workforce, she has seen the result of other women’s uncertainties.

She says that the senior leadership of Dell is “really male” and that the coalition would like to change that. “We are worried about not having adequate numbers of role models and we want to make sure we are building our female workforce.”

Many believe that medical and law schools are faring better because women are interested in giving back to the community and medical clinics and pro bono work offer those opportunities. Mullen says it’s time to show that a career in business can be personally rewarding, too.

“We in the business community have done a poor job getting the message out that you can make a difference.”

Mary Ellen Podmolik, a freelance writer based in Chicago, has been covering business issues and the economy for 14 years. She is a regular contributor to Crain’s Chicago Business and has written for and Advertising Age. She previously was a business reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times.

For more information:

The Committee of 200:

The Center for the Education of Women at the University of Michigan: