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WORLD BUSINESS

Schools' task: Attracting women

Business programs seek creative ways to shatter glass ceiling

By Ian Grayson for CNN

story.india.class12newdelhi05afp.jpg
Demand for MBA and EMBA courses in Asia is strongest from China, India and South Korea.

FACT BOX

FT's Executive MBA Rankings
1. Wharton, U.S.
2. Kellogg, U.S.
3. Chicago GSB, U.S.
4. Stern, NY, U.S.
5. Fuqua, Duke, U.S.
6. Hong Kong UST, China
7. Columbia, U.S.
8. Instituto de Empresa, Spain
9. London Business School, UK
10. Tanaka, Imperial College, UK
Source: Financial Times 2005

FACT BOX

EMBA SNAPSHOT

Executives taking the top EMBA courses in the U.S., Europe and Asia have average salaries of around $130,000 to $200,000.

A typical EMBA student is likely to be aged in the early 30s, with 6-10 years of working experience.

A top EMBA course can cost $100,000. Customized courses start at a few thousand dollars.

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(CNN) -- They might make up slightly more than 50 percent of the world's population, but women are significantly under-represented when it comes to executive education, according to top-tier business schools.

Some schools admit that females make up only as little as one-fifth to a quarter of class numbers.

The figures will come as little surprise to female executives, who have been battling lower average salaries and stereotypical perceptions in many large organizations for years.

However, faced with this challenge, business schools are actively trying to bolster the number of women joining their MBA and executive MBA programs. By nurturing the considerable pool of talent that exists in the market, they believe they can play a part in addressing the gender imbalance that exists in top levels of management.

In 2000, a group of major corporations, business schools and not-for-profit groups formed the Forté Foundation. This organization is charged with encouraging and assisting women to assume senior managerial roles.

A vital part of this is process is communicating to women the career benefits of undertaking an MBA degree course. Regular forums and seminars are conducted by the group to facilitate this process.

Some in the education sector believe MBAs have suffered from an image of being a male-dominated club, where female executives could feel uncomfortable. However, others say successful female executives deal with male-dominated situations every day, and such courses are nothing more than an extension of the environment that exists in the wider business world.

Howard Kaufold, vice dean for the MBA for Executives program at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton business school, admits his institution is not seeing rising numbers of women joining its programs -- and it's something that needs to be urgently addressed.

"In full-time MBA courses, particularly in the United States, it is a great achievement if women represent a third of class participants, and that proportion would be at the high end of the scale," he said. "This is a real challenge for us."

Kaufold believes the problem stems from the fact that Wharton MBA participants tend to be older -- with an average age of 27 years -- which means most are already established in their careers and have families.

Women in that situation can find it difficult to attend a full-time course, which requires taking long periods away from both work and family life.

"We also find this in our executive MBA programs, where women are really having to juggle a lot of factors and this can make it very tough for them," he says.

Some business schools are addressing the problem by making some courses more flexible and, where possible, removing the need for full-time, live-in participation. Others have found that being able to take some classes on campus or using online learning techniques can also help.

Ethan Hanabury, Columbia Business School's associate dean for executive education, says it is the residential component that often becomes the toughest factor for women keen to take his school's courses.

"For a mother to be in residence for a month is a big deal," he says. "So we are looking at ways of making our courses more flexible to overcome this."

Hanabury says Columbia also offers a series of scholarships, including one designed to assist women of color. He believes positive initiatives such as this will help to gradually increase the proportion of women in courses, although admits it will take a long-term effort.

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