Women are advancing among leading B-schools in the U.S. According to a P&Q analysis, 15 of the top business schools have 40% or more women in their MBA programs, with 11 of the top 27 schools seeing progress from 2021 to 2022. But how does representation look at the top of the pyramid?
Bluesky Thinking recently highlighted 10 of the most influential women in the graduate business education sector and delved into their stories of how they made it to the top, as well as their hopes for the future of women in business education.
ISABELLE BAJEUX-BESNAINOU, DEAN OF CARNEGIE MELLON TEPPER SCHOOL OF BUSINESS
You could describe Bajeux-Besnainou as an accidental dean. A Paris native, she found her calling in numbers. After earning a Ph.D in Mathematics Applied to Finance, she moved to the United States to become a finance professor at George Washington University. Here, she took her turn as a department chair and discovered that she loved devising strategy, executing projects, and making an impact.
This path led her to become the associate dean for undergraduate programs at the school. Three years later, she was appointed as the Dean of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University. In this role, she spearheaded the launch of the acclaimed Bensadoun School of Retail Management. During her tenure, the Desautels community also moved into a new 49,000 square foot building as well as launched several master’s programs, including analytics and retail. These achievements prepared Bajeux-Besnainou to take the next step. In 2020, she was named dean of Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business. It was a process that involved the school screening 400 candidates and Bajeux-Besnainou herself completing 50 interviews.
True to her mathematics background, Bajeux-Besnainou launched “The Intelligent Future” after the school conducted 400 interviews with thought leaders and stakeholders. More than a tag line announcing the school’s prowess in analytics and interdisciplinary learning, “The Intelligent Future” is a commitment to harnessing change and innovation
“It always feels that business schools are playing catch-up with the business world,” says Bajeux-Besnainou. “We don’t want to play catchup. We want to define what the business school of the future should be.”
Her advice to women? Simple: Don’t set limits on yourself – or the world around you. “Dare. Nothing is impossible. Thanks to my generation, there is more and more awareness that females are instrumental in contributing to the economy. The future is yours.”
ERIKA JAMES, DEAN OF WHARTON SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA
James also made history as the first female and first person of color to be appointed dean at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in 2020.
Since being appointed dean, James has been outspoken about her responsibility of increasing diversity.
“This is an awesome responsibility, not just in terms of the magnitude of the role of being the dean of the Wharton School, but so many eyes are watching me and you and people who are in these positions to really make a difference,” James said in an interview with ABC’s Good Morning. “So yes I personally feel that while my focus has to be primarily and predominantly in taking the country’s first, biggest, and best business school and making it even better that will only happen if we ensure we have the right talent in the right positions. And I believe that talent exists everywhere and comes in all colors and packages.”
“We often say there’s not a pipeline of diverse talent,” she sadds. “Well, there’s not a pipeline if you look in a very narrow set of places. One of the things companies can do differently is to broaden where they go to identify exceptional talent that might be untapped.”
ANN E. HARRISON, DEAN OF BERKELEY HAAS SCHOOL OF BUSINESS
Originally a professor at Wharton, Harrison was appointed as the 15th Dean of the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, and only the second woman to head the top-ranked business school.
As dean, Harrison has focused her priorities on three main initiatives: innovation, inclusion, and sustainability. She was influential in navigating the B-school through the COVID-19 pandemic—just a year after she joined as dean—and transitioned Haas to all remote teaching within 48 hours in March 2020.
“We had talked about virtual programming for years, and realized that we had the ability to implement it—if we put our will to it,” Harrison told P&Q. “For most faculty and staff, the summer of 2020 involved reimagining courses and implementing technology improvements to prepare for fall. The challenges of COVID-19 led us to invest in significant technology upgrades, new virtual classrooms, and faculty training for an improved remote experience.”
To learn about these leaders, click on the Bluesky Thinking link below.
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