I am a mother and proud member of Wharton’s Class of 2017. During my business school search, one of my top priorities was finding resources for women with children. After scouring the internet for information relevant to me as a future MBA mom, I was at a loss. What I found was sparse, outdated or inapplicable. I had to dig deep to find basic details about daycare, pre-school options, and financial aid for students with dependents. When elite MBA programs presented “students with families,” they almost exclusively highlighted male students married to stay-at-home moms. While I have respect for all mothers, I wished I saw images or stories of MBA moms I could relate to.
Wharton boasts a student population of 43% women. We are among the business schools with the highest numbers of women enrolled, and that is certainly worth celebrating. But among the 700+ female Wharton students, just a handful are moms. In comparison, according to Time magazine, 50% of US women between ages 25-29 are mothers. To reach 50/50 gender parity, Wharton must connect with a significant untapped portion of the female talent pool: moms.
Some schools – and even top companies – are targeting younger women as a strategy for closing the gender gap. The logic: younger women have more time before they’ll consider starting families. This strategy is flawed as it circumvents the real issue of work-life balance that these women will ultimately confront later on in their careers. Additionally, younger women will be in school with male peers who have more work experience, making male students generally more prepared to enrich classroom discussions and draw on their professional expertise during recruiting. Short-term, enrollment numbers may improve, but schools are not setting these young women up for success. Long term, we must work to improve the status quo for ambitious career women who want to lead full, balanced lives.
Wharton can increase the number of women enrolled, and possibly reach gender parity, by recruiting Millennial career moms and supporting them once they matriculate. Professionals considering business school – especially full-time, residential programs – are usually in the 25-35 age range. Many women in this age group are making life-altering decisions about partners and career aspirations. They’re also thinking when is the right time to have kids?
I am heavily invested in Wharton getting this right. Earlier this year, I launched a new venture, MBA Mama – an online platform that increases the visibility of moms in full-time MBA programs and promotes the MBA as a viable option for women balancing family and career planning. Along with my co-founder, Nicole Ponton (Duke Fuqua ’17), I am working on the MBA Mama Initiative, which encourages top MBA programs to create a resource page – by summer 2016 – with information relevant to prospective women who either have children or are considering having children in the same time frame as business school. It is not enough to tell prospective women to visit a partners’ or kids’ club website. These sites are often not frequently updated due to high student turnover. Typically, they’re designed for partners rather than students. In the same way Wharton has a comprehensive webpage informing students about the dozens of global opportunities we offer, we need a similar page with a wealth of information prospective women can use to assess whether Wharton has resources that matter to them.
The reality is Wharton is behind the pack here. Stanford GSB has three daycare facilities on campus within walking distance of the Knight Management Center. They offer child-care subsidies and high-quality on-campus housing for students with families. GSB is also one of the few schools that gives applicants the option to disclose their status as parents, which signals to applicants that GSB is an inclusive, family-friendly community. To edge out other schools like GSB, Wharton must think outside the box. We need to encourage the most talented, ambitious female candidates to apply – even if they’re moms. We must also support them once they arrive.
Gender parity at business schools is possible. The opportunity costs of missing out on phenomenal female talent is too high for Wharton to stand by while other programs are being proactive on these issues. By bringing in Millennial moms, Wharton has the potential to set a groundbreaking new standard for gender diversity in business.