This post was originally published by The Huffington Post.
Inspiring women to pursue business careers much earlier in the pipeline—especially in the college years—offers a timely and fresh approach to helping close widely reported gender gaps in the C-suite and on boards. As the business community evaluates various gender gaps and suggested solutions on International Women’s Day, let’s explore one opportunity to make a positive impact in the U.S. that has too rarely been in the spotlight, until now.
Thankfully, college now marks a place of parity for women in the U.S. In fact, Pew Research Center reports that women have outnumbered men in both college enrollment and completion since the 1990s. As new data from Forté Foundation reveal, however, even college women majoring in business do not yet have the knowledge they need to take the next steps in their business education that could strengthen their career outcomes—as well as the pipeline of female business leaders.
In September and October 2014, 659 U.S. college students and graduates were surveyed by Forté Foundation to assess their understanding of the Graduate Management Admission Test, known as the GMAT exam, which thousands of graduate business and management programs worldwide have used for decades to make admissions decisions. Nearly 99% of respondents were female and the majority (63.5%) identified as business majors, but about 35% said they did not know what the GMAT is.
Why does this matter? Ultimately, this issue has implications for the broader business community seeking to close gender leadership and pay gaps. There is evidence that an MBA can provide both a ticket to the top and significant pay gains for women. According to our recent research, 41% of Fortune 100 CEOs have an MBA. Also, Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) global research reports that women from the MBA class of 2015 had an average median change in salary of 91% after graduating, for those with job offers.
We’re making notable progress in striving for gender parity in MBA programs. In fall 2015, women’s full-time MBA enrollment at Forté U.S. member schools climbed to 36.2%, on average—a 3.9 percentage point jump since 2011. Additionally, 12 of these schools reported 40% or more women enrolled, up from the prior year high of five schools. These gains are hard-earned, and we believe inspiring more college women to take the GMAT could help us close MBA gender gaps significantly again in the next five years.
Here are some key realities and facts college women need to know today to be empowered to pursue an MBA at the same rate as men:
- 2015 global GMAC research shows that women who take the GMAT in college often score higher than at any other time in their lives. It also shows the percentage of U.S. female GMAT test takers (49%) is already the highest in college and fairly even with the percentage of male test takers (51%).
- After the college years, however, a gender gap in U.S. GMAT test takers emerges, widening most significantly as women near 30 years of age. In fact, U.S. GMAC data shows women ages 28 to 30 are merely 31% of test takers. While our Forté survey of college women shows 63.7% plan to take the test and 52.4% intend to so after college, this gender gap suggests their goal could be more challenging to tackle if they wait.
- Even if college women aren’t ready to pursue an MBA right away, the scores are good for five years—but less than half (42.7%) of Forté Foundation survey respondents knew this important fact.
- Forté programs have shown that the GMAT is the number one barrier keeping women from pursuing an MBA. Their lack of confidence tied to the GMAT only increases the further they progress in their careers, so we want to reach them in college to minimize any apprehension.
Clearly, we have a tremendous chance to make a positive impact in today’s environment. This potential has inspired 27 business schools, GMAC and Forté to collectively invest in the “Take the Test” digital media campaign to encourage college women to take the GMAT before they graduate. Launching on Feb. 22, it aims to reach women on all U.S. college campuses this spring and fall to inform them about business careers, the MBA, and the reasons to take the GMAT before they graduate.
As the business community highlights diverse ways we can strive for gender parity this International Women’s Day, join us in spreading the word about this campaign and the promising potential for college women in business. Or, if you are a college woman entertaining a business career, we urge you to take the GMAT your senior year or in the months between graduating and starting your job to position yourself for success. Let’s work to make sure that by this time next year, college women will correctly and confidently answer the question, “What is the GMAT?”—or be too busy studying for the test to do so.
Elissa serves as Executive Director for the Forté Foundation, an organization dedicated to inspiring women business leaders. Previously, Elissa was the Assistant Dean and Director of the MBA Program at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin.