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Ethics and Leadership News

March 8, 2008

Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. Center Call for Research on Diversity and Womenomics

March 8th celebrates International Women’s Day. For the Columbia Business School, this day was preceded by the announcement by Goldman Sachs of $100 million to fund education for women in emerging markets; Columbia Business School was named as one of the 10 partner schools.

By Bruce Kogut, Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. Professor of Leadership and Ethics, and director of the Bernstein Center. (Research conducted by Tatiana Chkourenko, SIPA MIA candidate.)

March 8th celebrates International Women’s Day. For the Columbia Business School, this day was preceded by the announcement by Goldman Sachs of $100 million to fund education for women in emerging markets; Columbia Business School was named as one of the 10 partner schools. This is an exciting development for the School, its faculty, and students.

The Sanford Bernstein & Co. Center for Leadership and Ethics views the participation of women and the achievement of more diversity among leaders as one of its principal areas of interest. We would say that an ethical standpoint requires concern about equity of opportunity and of voice. We also believe that to be credible on these issues, the Center should facilitate progress at Columbia in achieving these goals.

As a point of departure, we consolidated a few basic indicators of the participation of women at CBS. The data for CBS are taken from internal sources; the data for other schools is drawn from archival data posted on the web site of the Financial Times. Overall, Columbia Business School is one of the leaders regarding the percentage of women of all MBA students. It is one of the laggards in the percentage of women faculty and women board members.

The figure below provides a useful snapshot of the relative position of Columbia Business School in comparison to the average of the 100 business schools in the Financial Times survey and average of the top 10 (the composition of which changes from year to year):

Women and Business Schools

Why do we see these differences among the three arenas of students, faculty, and boards? Clearly, these arenas differ in many important ways. For example, the supply of candidates differs in each arena. Since the market appears to clear, it is important to look at the percentage of the top 100 schools. The data show that female students are about 32 of the total. This number is high but substantially less than the 50 plus aggregate figures for other professional schools, such as law and medicine. Among the top schools, there have not been substantial changes in the past 6 years, and it will be hard for any one school to move past the other given the total supply. They are all competing for a relatively scarcer candidate.


The faculty percentage is more complicated. The School actively supports the hiring of women faculty.  The top leadership of the School has worked closely with divisions to encourage the hiring of a diverse faculty.  The variance among schools suggests that the constraint may not be overall supply.  It matters if a faculty member is in finance or in marketing, since faculty are not flexible across fields. Some fields have more women faculty (e.g. organizational behavior) and others have less (e.g. finance). It is possible that Columbia has a proportionally larger finance faculty, hence the low representation. Or it could be that location matters. A study done by one leading business school found that their low number of women faculty was related to gender bias in student ratings of core classes that negatively impacted female faculty retention. We don’t know much about why these numbers are low at Columbia, but we do know that the School would like to see the numbers dramatically increase.

Female Faculty at Business Schools

The board data on the proportion of women members indicate a bigger gap between the leading school and the Columbia Business School. The percentage of female advisory board members hovers around 9, which is not only below the average of other schools but also below the percentage of American boards in general (13). The explanation may rest in the supply of available women candidates in the New York area, which would be salient even for a global institution such as Columbia. Or it might date back to the earlier history of the School when the numbers of women were much lower, thus influencing the composition of alumni. Finally, one of the most robust results of board memberships is that members invite members, and the preponderance of men interferes with this process working to increasing diversity.

The good news though is that change among boards can be achieved, because the candidates are less constrained by limitations on supply. Some schools have clearly made an effort in this direction, as evident from this last figure:

Women on Advisory Boards of Business Schools

It is quite notable that the Harvard Business School in one year (2005) doubled the proportion of women on its board.

There are important issues at stake in these data, too important to offer easy speculations. Rather than offer criticisms, it is best to encourage further analysis and more concerted effort. For there is no question that diversity is a goal to which Columbia is very committed.

The Bernstein Center plans on encouraging more research and events in general on issues of equity, diversity, fairness as part of its agenda under ethics, leadership, and governance. These issues have significant implications for economic growth and for challenges of many firms competing on human capital and knowledge. (See the summary of ‘womenomics’ in the Economist article). We look forward to your participation.

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