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Playing field uneven for female MBA grads

More than two decades after women began to show up in force at elite business schools, a new study of MBA graduates finds the road to the corner office is badly in need of repair.

From the moment they graduate, women are paid less and get lower-level jobs than male classmates, a gap that widens as their careers progress, according to research to be released today.

Catalyst, a not-for-profit group that works with businesses to increase opportunities for women, tracked the careers of more than 4,000 business graduates from schools in Canada, the U.S., Asia and Europe. Its conclusion: Women with the same training, experience and goals as their male colleagues fail to achieve similar career and income levels.

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"The old argument is, 'Give it time, it will work itself out,' " said Toronto-based researcher Christine Silva, who co-authored the study. "People should treat this study as a wakeup call. We have given it time. Women are still not achieving parity in the workplace."

The online study compared the paths of men and women who graduated between 1996 and 2007 and who entered MBA school with similar experience. All respondents were working full-time and comparisons were made between those working in the same industry and region. It also took into account such factors as parenthood and career goals.

In all instances, the study found that women start their careers lower down the ladder and fail to advance at the same rate as men, even when they aspire to senior roles. Their pay also lags, and when they step off the traditional career path, they are penalized more than men who do the same.

Linda Hasenfratz, chief executive officer of auto parts manufacturer Linamar Corp., believes women need to speak up about what they want and ask for the jobs and pay they feel they deserve. "Women are not as assertive," she said.

As a female executive in a male-dominated industry, Ms. Hasenfratz said she is used being the only woman in a room. "If you don't think there is a barrier, there isn't one."

Beatrix Dart, who heads the women in business initiatives at University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, said part of the disparity in the Catalyst study may have to do with the way women approach work. Men tend to make status and income the top priority, but she said women generally cite more complex considerations when planning careers.

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