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Linamar Corp.'s gift to Ivey among initiatives to prepare more women for leadership roles

Despite their growing presence in business studies, women still face unique challenges because the pursuit of an MBA often begins in their late 20s and early 30s as they also consider starting a family.

The Globe's monthly business school news roundup.

Business schools, in Canada and globally, have made impressive gains in recruiting women to their historically male-dominated programs.

A new report by the U.S.-based Graduate Management Admission Council shows that women account for 42 per cent of global applications to master of business administration and other specialty programs this year, up from 37 per cent in 2013. Among just the MBA applicants, 49 per cent are women compared to 42 per cent.

Still, challenges remain to recruit a new generation of female business leaders, say school officials.

Meanwhile, philanthropists have responded with new pledges to remove financial and other hurdles.

At the University of Western Ontario in London, Ont., for example, a $5-million gift from a top Canadian manufacturing company and its family founders targets female undergraduate students who choose a combined program in business and engineering. As a term endowment, the donation is expected to last 15 or more years.

Starting in September of 2018, up to 10 top female students pursuing a dual degree in honours business administration (through Ivey Business School at Western) and a bachelor of engineering science (through Western's engineering faculty) will be eligible for tuition relief, internships and employment because of the donation by auto parts maker Linamar Corp., chief executive officer Linda Hasenfratz, her husband Ed Newton, and her father and company founder Frank Hasenfratz.

"We are making fantastic progress in each of those disciplines [business and engineering] but less so with the combined program," says Ms. Hasenfratz, an Ivey MBA graduate. "I thought this was a great opportunity to encourage more women to enrol in the dual degree program."

In the most recent graduating class last June, the HBA/engineering dual degree program had 11 women and 39 male students. Ms. Hasenfratz's two older daughters are members of the current cohort.

The dual program, which leads to careers in a wide range of industries, takes five years to complete: Students spend their first two years in engineering, their third year in business and wrap up their final two years with a blend of business and engineering courses.

The combined disciplines are "absolutely critical" for tomorrow's advanced-manufacturing economy, says Ms. Hasenfratz, whose $6-billion company began in the basement of her immigrant father's home in 1966.

"We definitely need more and more skilled people," she says. "If we can arm them from the start with great leadership skills and business skills, then they are a natural for leadership in our business."

Under the terms of the donation, eligible female students will receive funds for half of their annual tuition, a paid co-op placement at Linamar and, upon graduation, an offer of full-time employment with the manufacturing giant in Guelph, Ont.

"If we can attract more people to engineering, and more importantly to engineering and business combined, it strengthens our entire manufacturing sector and economy here in Ontario," she says. Given the duration of the donation, she says, "a significant number of women are going to be enrolled in these programs."

Like Ivey, other schools are receiving help from alumni to boost female participation. The Smith School of Business at Queen's University in Kingston this year announced that MBA graduate Monika Federau, senior vice-president and chief strategy officer at Intact Financial Corp., has established a merit-based scholarship of up $5,000 for female students who enter the full-time MBA without a subsidy from their employers.

Smith offers a variety of MBA scholarships, some equally allotted for women and men. As well, for the past 10 years, Smith has been affiliated with the U.S.-based Forté Foundation that offers mentorship, scholarships and other support to women contemplating an MBA. As a Forté member, Smith provides $40,000 Forté Foundation Fellowships for up to four women in the MBA program.

Despite their growing presence in business studies, women still face unique challenges because the pursuit of an MBA often begins in their late 20s and early 30s as they also consider starting a family.

"Women are still going to want to do it all – family and career, and I don't see that changing any time soon," says Teresa Pires, associate director of recruitment and admissions for Smith's full-time MBA. As a result, she says, women need mentoring, financial and other support as they decide when to go back to school and if so, on a full or part-time basis.

"Age and stage is still an important factor for women," she says. "Even though they are having families later in life they are still considering that when they make the decision to pursue further education."

Memorial’s team placed second at the recent Enactus World Cup.

They (almost) did it again

After a first-place finish last year, Canada's team took second prize at the Enactus World Cup social entrepreneurship competition in London late last month.

The Canadian team of business, engineering and arts students from Memorial University in St. John's were honoured again for their social enterprise project for consumers in remote communities to grow fruits and vegetables year-round.

In 2015, working with botanists and engineers, the Memorial students developed Project Sucseed, a low-cost hydroponic system, assembled by at-risk youth, for consumers to grow produce in a medium-sized container (49 by 72 by 39 centimetres). So far, the project has sold more than 500 systems, generating $200,000 in revenue and 14 jobs, according to organizers.

Despite placing second behind India in the global competition, the Memorial students' project received top billing in the category of socially responsible waste reduction.

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