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Where Are All the Female MBA’s? (Part 2 of 2)

Where Career Aspiration, Advancement, and Talent Management Meet Reality

An MBA is often seen as a critical element for leaders to move up to the C-Suite. In Part 1 of this series, I explored the role an MBA in the pipeline to C-Suite and also interviewed a typical high-potential woman who is seeking an MBA to pursue her career goals. In Part 2 I interviewed Christie Hunter Arscott, an experienced strategist, specializing in recruitment, retention and advancement strategies for women and millennials, for her insights into millennials and graduate degrees.

JTH: What’s your point of view (or what are general millennial points of view) on the need for an MBA to move ahead?

CHA: For the majority of millennials, an MBA is still viewed as an asset but not essential for progression (noting that there are variations depending on career aspirations, role, organization, industry, and location).

On the one hand, many millennials have lived through or witnessed MBAs lose jobs or not be able to find jobs during the downturn, while we have also seen the rapid progression and career success of those without tertiary degrees. Two of today’s most successful millennial entrepreneurs, like Elizabeth Holmes and Mark Zuckerberg, dropped out of their undergraduate institutions and many more notable success stories did not pursue degrees beyond their Bachelor’s. Even Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook and a Harvard MBA graduate herself, expressed that business school is not necessary or even very useful for people who want to work in technology.

On the other hand, particularly within the U.S. context, the value of an MBA is continually reinforced by statistics supporting the strong correlation between the degree and a number of factors including salary grades, lifetime earnings, titles, and progression. Additionally, in my work and research, I am hard-pressed to find a millennial who regrets their MBA experience (even despite the rising costs). Their views on the value of an MBA are not limited to the one benefit laid out in this question progression, instead, they list a range of benefits including, but not limited to:

  • a credential and credibility builder
  • an enhanced personal and professional brand
  • an opportunity to build a network and develop deep relationships with classmates, professors, alumni and leaders
  • an exploratory intellectual experience
  • a tactical skill builder
  • a moment to reflect on your career aspirations, goals, and paths (and pivot if you decide)
  • a time where you will have access to resources you wouldn’t otherwise have (funding, mentorship from leaders, access to startups and incubators..etc)
  • a time to explore entrepreneurship within a lower risk environment

There are arguments both for and against the value of an MBA. Whether deciding to pursue an MBA, law degree, medical degree, technical, professional certification or none at all, I believe the decision depends on the individual and their context. As one MBA graduate concisely stated:

“There are clearly many ways to get ahead and an MBA is just one of many options.”

JTH: For millennials are there gender differences in the value of an MBA?

CHA: A recent study of Harvard MBAs highlighted that the value of an MBA is not gender neutral. Among those graduates who are employed full-time, men are more likely to have direct reports, to hold profit-and-loss responsibility, to be in senior management positions and to be more satisfied with their careers.

The bottom line is that while an MBA (or other professionals, educational or technical certifications) may help advance women, there is no silver bullet. Other factors (including, but not limited to, bias, workplace cultures, leave policies, division of care at home…etc) inherently impact a woman’s career.

JTH: In this entrepreneurial world of overnight millionaires, do young millennial women even think they need an MBA?

Entrepreneurs have been successful both with and without MBAs. Traditionally, an MBA was associated with roles in finance and consulting, while being juxtaposed with entrepreneurship. In contrast, the varied career paths of today’s entrepreneurs highlight that the two are not mutually exclusive. According to a GMAC study, there has been a rise in self-employed MBAs up to almost half (49 percent) compared to 24 percent of self-employed MBAs who graduated between 2000 and 2009.

With entrepreneurs hailing from both sides of the MBA debate, aspiring entrepreneurs must consider multiple factors in their decision to pursue or not pursue an MBA, including timing, opportunity cost, skill gaps, market and organizational needs, access to funding/resources, among others.

Where Career Aspiration, Advancement and Talent Management Meet Reality

If our goal has been to prepare more women and minorities for advancement to the C-Suite— historically an MBA was necessary to reach that rare air.

If today only 40% of MBA students are women and almost 50% of those graduates are focused on becoming entrepreneurs, then simple math says the pool for corporate talent is about 20%, which is not significantly different than past decades.

It’s difficult to move the needle if the numbers aren’t changing appreciably. That’s the problem, and that’s the opportunity. There is an unprecedented war for talent;  millennials, both men and women, are changing the rules and companies need to do everything they can do attract, develop (i.e. supporting getting an MBA), retain and advance every single woman, minority, millennial and, yes, even old white guys like me to win this war.

How do you keep your best and brightest? Ask them what they want . . . and give it to them.

Do you really want to keep your best and brightest? The answer is simple. Ask them what they want…and give it to them.

HuffPost logoThis post originally ran in the HuffPost.

Jeffery Tobias Halter is the country’s leading male expert on advancing women and engaging men. He is the President of YWomen, a strategic consulting company focused on engaging men in women’s leadership issues. Jeffery is a TEDx speaker, Huffington Post Blogger and the author of two books, WHY WOMEN, The Leadership Imperative to Advancing Women and Engaging Men and Selling to Men, Selling to Women.