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By 2014, women accounted for 44.4 per cent of GMAT takers globally – the highest female-to-male ratio in the history of the admissions test.Jacob Wackerhausen/Getty Images/iStockphoto

The Globe's biweekly business-school news roundup.

Between 2006 and 2015, the number of women worldwide taking the business school admission test jumped 38 per cent (more than triple that for male test takers), according to the Graduate Management Admissions Council. By 2014, women accounted for 44.4 per cent of test takers globally – the highest female-to-male ratio in the history of the admissions test – according to GMAC. Men still outpaced women (64 per cent to 36 per cent) among MBA degree holders in 2012-13, but as many women as men earned specialty business degrees that year.

But a "persistent gap" still leaves women under-represented in top leadership positions, according to diversity advocates, with business schools urged to redouble efforts to attract qualified female candidates, recruit top female faculty members and invite successful female chief executive officers into the classroom. "They [business schools] are the main feeder pipeline for business talent," says Paula Bruggeman, co-author of the GMAC research report Minding the Gap: Tapping the Potential of Women to Transform Business.

"Having a diversity of points of view on management teams means you get more creative solutions to business problems," she adds. "You are bringing in solutions that will draw a broader range of customers to your business. Women and men have different perspectives on that, and that is a good thing. When you bring it all together you come up with better solutions."

While women are still scarce in senior business positions, the report notes "companies that have more women serving in top leadership roles and on their corporate boards tend to have a healthier bottom line than those without."

Earlier this year, GMAC and the U.S.-based Forté Foundation (a non-profit group of companies and schools that encourages women to pursue business careers) conducted a social media campaign in the United States to convince female undergraduates to take the MBA admission test while still in school.

"This campaign is unprecedented," says Mariska Morse, vice-president of marketing and operations for Forté. "If women in college take the GMAT [graduate management admission test], research shows they will score better than at any other time in their career." Test takers can bank scores for five years until they select an MBA program.

Sabrina White, GMAC vice-president of market development for the Americas, says the campaign is part of a broader effort to "change the narrative" on the MBA as more than a passport to Bay Street or Wall Street. "The MBA opens a number of doors regardless of your undergraduate major," she says. "It is not just for a specific job than it is to address a specific passion."

In Canada, business schools are pursuing diverse strategies to attract top female MBA candidates.

Smith School of Business at Queen's University established a relationship with Forté Foundation seven years ago and provides significant scholarships ($40,000, or about half of tuition) to four top female MBA recruits. Forté fellows have access to networking opportunities through the year, including links to past alumni.

"It adds something to their résumé and the global network will help them in the long run as well," says Teresa Pires, Smith's assistant director of recruitment and admissions. Women represent about 35 per cent of Smith's current MBA cohort, which this year has its first female class president.

Low confidence inhibits women from considering a graduate business degree, she says. "I am always surprised at how quickly they self-select themselves out."

But in one-on-one meetings with male candidates, she adds, "[they] might be lower on work experience and have mediocre grades and will come in and feel that they are very well suited and talk about their accomplishments."

Another potential barrier is timing: In their late 20s, women are ready to pursue business degrees after several years of work experience just when many want to start a family.

At York University's Schulich School of Business, which also offers scholarships through its affiliation with the Forté Foundation, students have unusual flexibility to switch back and forth between the full-time and part-time MBA, depending on personal circumstances.

"What we do is try to remove any obstacles that exist to prevent women from pursuing an MBA," says Marcia Annisette, executive director of student services and international relations. Women make up 31 per cent of Schulich's MBA class and, consistent with global data, are close to or sometimes more than 50 per cent of specialty programs that require little work experience.

The percentage of women in the MBA program at University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business has climbed steadily over the past three years and now sits at about 35 per cent, according to Liz Starbuck Greer, assistant dean of the school's Robert H. Lee Graduate School. "We have a really good trajectory, which encourages me," she says. "It's good to have a really good mix in the classroom but I want to get up to the 40-per-cent [GMAC mark] if I can."

She says the school is looking at ways for all students to answer the question: Can you see yourself here? "We do it for all kinds of diversification reasons, but having those stories of women who come into the program and succeed, they can see themselves here. We see that as a big driver of the change."

No less important is faculty recruitment. Over the past three years, 13 of 24 faculty members hired by Sauder were women, and they now represent 28 per cent of the faculty compared to 19 per cent in 2010.

"We have a nice base of women leaders in academia at Sauder," says Darren Dahl, senior associate dean, faculty and director of the Robert H. Lee Graduate School. "They can serve as a great attraction point," he adds, citing the recruitment of Katherine White, an internationally-recognized marketing professor.

Sauder hiring committees now receive training on equity and diversity.

"There's lots of research to show that in business having a female perspective or a board that has diversity is going to lead to better decisions," says Prof. Dahl. "And the business school is a microcosm of that."

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