Nipping Inequality In The Bud

Women make excellent leaders, but not many are seen at the top. To fix that B-schools are encouraging more women in classrooms

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The word diversity can mean different things depending on the context. Generally, it focuses on the following forms of marginalisation: race, class, gender, and sexual orientation.

Scholars argue that diversity in classrooms mean differing opinions and outlook that often result in innovation and creativity. On the other hand, when everyone is from similar backgrounds, they tend to think alike as opposed to people coming from diverse background and experiences.

That said, Indian management institutions are still competing with their global counterparts for a true representational character. For instance, on average, approximately only 1 per cent of the batch strength in Indian B-schools comprises international students. This is minuscule compared to the global benchmark in B-schools such as Wharton or Harvard where the percentage ranges between 20 and 35 per cent.

Not only the B-schools in India have a poor strength of international students, they also lack healthy gender diversity. It is no secret that MBA classrooms have usually been a man’s world, but lately things are changing.

Women In B-schools
Women are gaining prominence in B-schools in terms of diversity. Three out of every 10 students in the incoming batch of 2017-19 across all Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) are women, a significant improvement over the 26 per cent female representation in the previous batch. And the institutes say this change has come about without any effort on their part.

IIM Calcutta’s PGPEX programme (Post Graduate Programme for Executives) batch of 2016-17 had 10 women out of 68 students, up from six in 2015-16 and three in 2014-15. The average age of women  enrolled for the course is 30, and they come from diverse backgrounds such as information technology, manufacturing, automobile, infrastructure, retail, FMCG, consulting, etc.

The number of women applicants for one-year MBA programme at IIM Bangalore has also risen. In 2014-15, there were five women candidates in the one-year full-time residential MBA programme at IIM-B. In the class of 2017-18, there are 23 women candidates.

 At IIM Kozhikode, the representation of women in its executive post graduate programme in management increased from 6 per cent in 2014 (six women in a batch of 92) to 16 per cent in 2016 (24 in a batch of 152); while at the Institute of Management Technology, Ghaziabad, which had hardly two or three women in its executive MBA batch a couple of years ago, has about 20 per cent women in its latest batch of 40.

According to Apratim Guha, chairperson of Admissions at IIM- Ahmedabad, “The PGP-FABM programme has a strong strength of women representation in batch 2017-19 with a proud half class of 50 per cent female students, while the PGP programme too has witnessed a steady growth over the last three years, with this year (2017-19 batch), the female student class representation closing at 28 per cent.”

 “The increasing discipline diversity at IIM-A is due to its admission policy that gives interview calls to candidates from various academic disciplines based on their academic performances, subject to clearing certain CAT cut-offs. This is being done to improve the in-class experience of students, who we believe would benefit from being in a class with people from diverse background,” adds Guha.

The Indian School of Business (ISB) across its Hyderabad and Mohali campuses has 274 women students in the present post-graduate programme class of 2018 with a total class size of 879, accounting for a healthy 31 per cent of the class and also making it one among the highest in the country. The number of female students at the school has been increasing steadily along with the class size.  

Unlike other B-schools, the average age of students at ISB is about 27 years and this is the time when social pressures on women prove to be even higher.

An ISB spokesperson tells BW Businessworld, “We believe this increase at the ISB is noteworthy especially as we have been witnessing several women students who are married and also those who have young children joining our post-graduate programme.”

Behind ISB’s increased focus on gender diversity in classrooms, there are two reasons. One is the belief that women bring valuable insights into the classroom and the workforce. Second, the growing numbers will lead to an increased representation of women in the business world. While there is a growing acknowledgement of the fact that women make excellent leaders, there are still not many women in leadership roles. It is therefore important that this gender inequality in the corporate world is set right.

Since its inception, ISB has been encouraging more women students to join its programmes.

“In the admissions information sessions that we conduct across the country and the world, we create awareness on the role that management education can play in transforming their (women’s) careers and encourage the women aspirants and students to meet its women alumni to get a better understanding of the opportunities that management education provides,” says the spokesperson.

The school also has a Women in Business club. It aims to establish a strong connect between  corporate women leaders and the  women student community, to equip them better to accomplish personal and professional goals, and contribute to the society.

The women students also have access to scholarships, offered by the school, that are both need- and merit-based.

The ISB spokesperson says, “Peer learning complements classroom learning at ISB. We were the first B-school in India to introduce the concept of student diversity in classrooms 16 years ago, as we believe diversity enhances learning and enables a better understanding of businesses and people. Each class brings in a wealth of knowledge and experience across various industries and functions and diverse opinions can challenge the mainstream view enhancing the whole group’s learnings and insights.”

Over the years, the school has been successful in attracting students from diverse backgrounds: professional, educational, gender, cultural, social, etc. International students and those with international experience add global quotient to classrooms. This kind of diversity enhances students learning about customs, management styles, and nuances of doing business across geographies. Diversity in terms of age and experience is another important component of the class. ISB has students ranging from five to 15 years of work experience from different age group and background.

Ranjan Banerjee, dean of S.P. Jain Institute of Management and Research (SPJIMR) says, “At SPJIMR, within its flagship programme, PGDM, there are around 240 students, out of which we have about 100 female students. The issue of gender diversity continues to improve and we continue to maintain a healthy ratio. In the past year, we have experienced an increase from 37 per cent to 42 per cent.”

“In addition to CAT scores, we also look at profiles and versatility of students that ensures an additional weightage to diversity in classrooms. Our unique selection programme is value-based, which also adds to maintaining a healthy ratio,” adds Banerjee.

Some fields have always had a healthy gender diversity ratio. But now, one can see a major shift in attitude towards working women. Also, families in India are becoming more progressive; they are embracing the idea of working partners. Westernisation of culture and nuclearisation of families is responsible for this welcome change.

Banerjee concludes by saying, “Research has also shown that a more balanced workforce leads the way to innovation and creativity.”

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