Does Pregnancy Prevent Women Getting MBAs?

Elissa Ellis-Sangster is one of those women who use phrases

like "move the needle" – someone who talks about "putting

value and importance on diverse leadership" when she could just say "promoting

women". And so I wasn’t sure what she was talking about when she was quoted

in today’s WSJ on the subject of female enrollment in MBA programmes:

When schools raised the work experience level to five years or more, it became

a big issue for women who wanted to go back for their M.B.A. soon after college,

before they started thinking about having a family.

Thankfully, Dana Cimilluca was there to translate:

One of the big challenges to increasing female enrollment in M.B.A. programs

is pregnancy. The five years or so of experience that many

business schools want their students to have before enrolling is a tall order

for a woman planning a family.

Which is slightly clearer, even if it still doesn’t make a huge amount of sense.

Do they mean that women often have babies within the first five years of entering

the workforce, and that therefore it takes them longer to get five years’ experience?

Or is it that women with small children are less likely to want to take an MBA,

because at that point they have a child to support? In that case, women would

be less likely to enroll in MBA programmes requiring five years’ experience

just because they’re more likely to be mothers at that point. Or is it just

that women don’t want to be pregnant during their MBA, and that six years after

joining the workforce is a time when they often are pregnant?

If it’s the first, I think it’s no big deal: it really doesn’t matter if the

women in an MBA programme are slighly older than the men. But if it’s one of

the latter two, then the problem isn’t the five-years-experience rule, so much

as it is the hesitance on the part of pregnant women and mothers to go to business

school. Ellis-Sangster thinks the solution to the problem is for business schools

to require less experience of their MBA students. Maybe it would be easier and

more effective to simply make more of an effort to accommodate mothers, as well

as the childless.

Update: Megan McArdle weighs


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