Women are a more common sight at business schools than they were 10 years ago, but that change is too slow for Elissa Ellis Sangster, executive director of Forté Foundation, a 10-year-old organization that provides leadership resources for women.
Women now constitute 31% of business-school classes, up from about 26% in 2001, according Forté, which also advises companies and business schools on diversity strategies.
Ms. Ellis Sangster, 44 years old, spoke with The Wall Street Journal about how companies and schools can recruit more women and why diversity matters. Edited excerpts:
WSJ: Why does it matter that business schools and boardrooms have more women?
Ms. Ellis Sangster: [Based on research,] the organizations that have a higher representation of women in their leadership make better decisions, they have better corporate governance, they have better risk management, they have better returns. Having that diversity in an organization, whether it's gender or ethnicity or background skills, those are all important things.
WSJ: Many schools have information sessions just for women. Does segregation make sense?
Ms. Ellis Sangster: It does, because the conversation is different. If you go to an event where there is a [male] majority, women don't ask the same questions. At an event where it's 100% women, or 95% women, those questions come out.
WSJ: What questions might women feel more comfortable asking in a majority-women setting?
Ms. Ellis Sangster: In our alumnae panels, it's basic questions about raising a family, being in a relationship: How did you move across the country when you were married? Did you have kids [when you were] in the M.B.A. program? Once you got out of the M.B.A. program, how did you manage to have kids and still pursue your career aspirations? Men never ask [those questions].
WSJ: University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School was lauded because women made up 45% of its starting class this school year. Should we be impressed, or should we not congratulate any school until it's at 50%?
Ms. Ellis Sangster: Forty-five percent is something to celebrate. I'm really happy that Harvard [Business School] and Wharton have those numbers for this [school] year. [Women made up 39% of Harvard's newest class.] What we want to see, though, is consistency. We want those numbers to stay there.
WSJ: Do women make better leaders?
Ms. Ellis Sangster: Until we see women reaching a critical mass at those ranks, we're not going to see how good they can be. You're not seeing the best of women right now because they're not well represented.
Source: The Wall Street Journal, January 4, 2012
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