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US female MBA enrollment hits record high in 2021

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Despite persistent gender gaps in MBA programs across the US, average female enrollment in full-time, in-person graduate business school degrees hit a record high for the 2021 academic year.

Women make up, on average, 41 percent of incoming classes across 55 US business schools, up from 38.5 percent last year, according to research released Friday by the Forté Foundation, a nonprofit working to create gender equity in business.

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In 2011, women made up only 31.8 percent of enrollees at 39 schools.

The numbers represent a “big step in reaching gender parity in MBA programs,’ said Forté Foundation chief executive officer Elissa Sangster.

She suspects some of these women are, like many Americans, partaking in the Great Resignation.

“A little time of reflection never hurts—time to kind of really stop and think and understand what your priorities are going forward,” Sangster said. “The pandemic gave that opportunity.”

This year’s numbers may have also been higher, she said, due to deferred acceptances from 2020, when vaccines hadn’t yet rolled out and many children’s schools were still closed.

An MBA is one of the more lucrative graduate degrees. While women make up the majority of graduate and undergraduate students in the US, they still lag in paths that lead to high-paying, and high-powered jobs, including math and science programs.

Only five schools surveyed by Bloomberg Businessweek this year for its Best B-School’s Diversity index have majority female cohorts. Less than 10 percent of S&P 500 CEOs are women.

“There’s still work to be done to get women into these key leadership roles,” Sangster said. But boosting women’s enrollment is “the first lever” in reaching that goal.

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