Wednesday, November 20, 2013 // The Statement 2B
FOR WOMEN IN BUSINESS
IT'S MORE THAN A NUMBERS GAME
T"" he Ross School of Business has a
Secluded inside its impres-
sive, ultra-modern building on
Tappan Avenue, it's the place on
campus that typically comes to
mind when students hear the word "advan-
tage." The school is frequently ranked among
the top 10 bachelor's of business administra-
tion and master's of business administration
programs in the country, churning out grad-
uates that go on to find work in many of the
world's most recognizable firms.
Bloomberg reported that the average start-
ing salaries for fresh BBAs was a cool $62,727
and upwards of $110,000 for MBA students.
But even more impressive? Close to 90.5 per-
cent of the undergraduates the school pro-
duces receive a job offer immediately after
earning their degrees - an unprecedented
level of security that hasn't shaken in the face
of a wavering economy.
From a purely results-oriented standpoint,
the Business School is a well-recognized,
established school. But the notion of "advan-
tage" doesn't just imply success. It's hard to
overlook the fact that the large majority of
the students enrolled at the Business School
are white males, and have been since the
school's inception in 1924.
Though there's no doubt that progress has
been made, the fact of the matter is that cur-
rently only 35 percent of the 468 students in
the sophomore BBA class are female. That
number falls when considering the rest of the
Business School, where a little more than 32
percent of the 1,302 undergraduate students
are women, according to a Fall 2013 enroll-
ment report from the office of the Registrar.
But does an inequality in numbers imply
A recent New York Times case study took
an in-depth look at how sexual discrimina-
tion plays a role in the learning and teaching
environment women find themselves in at
the Harvard Business School. In addition to
focusing on sexism, the article turns the lens
on aggressive methods schools are taking to
diminish sexism, such as workshops to teach
women how to raise their hands to increase
participation and recording each lecture to
see how female professors could improve
Business junior Sumana Palle, an execu-
tive board member for What the F magazine
and self-identifying "Bitch of the B-School,"
was quick to point out that a level of sexism
does not exist at Ross, but a clear dichotomy
in the type of udents who attend the school
Though many of the people she works with
are intelligent students, the source of the
problem is the few Business School students
that come in with the predetermined idea
that equality isn't assumed.
"Most of the students at Ross are inspir-
ing - they're some of the smartest people on
campus," she said. "But there's a vocal minor-
ity who are just awful people - douches who
come from very privileged families and want
to make sure everyone knows."
Palle said this sense of entitlement is sore-
ly felt in group projects, class discussions or,
for that matter, any personal interactions.
At certain instances in her time at the
Business School, Palle describes how she
often felt slighted and forced to finish many
of the menial tasks in classroom projects,
such as taking notes or writing summaries
of group meetings. It is a form of discrimi-
nation that, according to Palle, stems from a
clear divide in numbers and the perception of
roles, which require women to fight in order
to be heard.
The notion of an inclusive community
depends on the open-mindedness of the
people involved, independent of skin color or
gender. But, it's hard to ignore the statistics.
According to the registrar, only 18 of the
students currently registered as under-
graduates at Ross are Black while 859 are
white. The numbers get worse when looking
at Black women. Of the entire Ross student
body of 1,312, eight are Black women. Even
if it's indirect, the numbers influence the
In many interview workshops that precede
recruiting seasons, Palle recalls how the ses-
sions geared toward women pay special
attention to what type of makeup to wear and
how to best go about "prettying up." Though
Palle agrees these methods could be a way
for women to prepare for the realities of the
business world, she notes a prevalent level of
"There is always this condescending tone,
and it's hard being a brown female, because
that affects the way people look at things,"
Palle said. "Sometimes it gets to the point
where I just think to myself, 'Why am I even
in this school?'
one of the select students preadmitted
to the Business School before her freshman
year, Palle described the contrast in the expe-
riences between her first year at the Univer-
sity and her second. Many of the on-campus
organizations she joined as a freshman were
progressive groups where the idea of "con-
tributing what you can" took precedence.
The change she saw as a student at Ross was
"The difference was bizarre," Palle said.
"When you'd walk into class, all you would
see are white male faces. That just hits you,
and automatically, you become self-conscious
and think 'Why am I here? What could I say,
what should I say? Will these people hate me
if I say these things?'"
An inclusive co mmunity
The most interesting aspect of the expe-
riences Palle describes is how they diverge
from those of another female student on cam-
pus. Business senior Tatiana Melamed, co-
president of the BBA population of Michigan
Business Women - an on-campus organiza-
tion that provides Business School students
with networking and educational opportuni-
ties - affirmed that some individuals at the
Business School are prejudiced, but never to
the point that she has felt targeted or discrim-
Melamed said her initial interactions with
the older members of MBW helped her under-
stand the relevance of the community she
could foster should she choose to stick with
the Michigan Business Women. As a woman
working with other women, Melamed didn't
The inclusion she gained in MBW, she said,
carried over into the rest of the classes and
projects she undertook as an undergraduate.
"I guess I never even viewed myself as dif-
ferent from other students, even going from
my time as a freshman in LSA to a sophomore
at Ross," Melamed said. "And even if I've felt
different for being a girl, it has been in a posi-
tive light, with other women - whether it's
professors who took me under their wing or
other classmates - looking out for me."
Like Palle, she referenced her time working
in group projects with teams heavily dominat-
ed in number by men. The difference in take-
aways is stark.
"I've never felt like my opinion has been mar-
ginalized, which could be because I am a very
assertive person," Melamed said. "And I think a
lot of my friends are in the same boat."
The key to success, Melamed clarified, is get-
ting women to take part in an inclusive commu-
nity as early as possible, so they have a chance
to find a support system they can lean on should
This support system, which Melamed found
in the form of MBW, establishes a space for
everyone involved to voice common concerns.
Even if those concerns aren't directly related to
sexism, the ability to confide in someone going
through the same experience is vital.
Palle pointed out how most of the women she
has met in the Business School have extremely
varied ideas on what is sexism. Many of her
friends, she noted, don't even realize when
they're being discriminated against. It's all a
matter of perspective.
"I think the saddest part is that so many
women don't even know when someone is being
sexist," Palle said. "We viewit differently."
Both Palle and Melamed seemed to mir-
ror one answer: Ultimately, a problem lies
in the numbers.
"A lot of people bring attention to how we
don't participate in class," Melamed said.
"When you consider the fact that only 30
percent of the students are female, it's easy
to see why you'd have more responses from
men than women."
A n ineq uality in num be rs
Historically, females have always been
underrepresented in higher stratums of the
business world, which remains consistent
despite a larger influx of women in the work-
force over the past few decades. Even though
institutions like the Business School are start-
ing to produce more female graduates than in
the past, the same graduates have a difficult
time climbing the corporate ladder.
According to recent reports by McKinsey
& Company, a major management consulting
firm, "Corporate America has a 'leaky' talent
pipeline; at each transition up the management
ranks, more women are left behind."
Even though only about half of new hires
are men, 63 percent of male new hires are pro-
moted to low-level managerial positions with
females in those positions dropping to 37 per-
cent. Moving a few steps further, 74 percent
of individuals promoted to vice president or
senior executive positions are male and just
14 percent of professionals on most executive
committees are female.
What is intriguing is the hyper-focused
efforts of many companies to increase diversity
on their executive boards. A yearly report by
McKinsey called "Women Matter" examines
the efforts of corporations across the world to
create more inclusive work environments. In
2012, researchers found that of the 235 firms
examined, 63 percent had more than 20 pro-
grams in place as part of their gender diver-
sity initiatives. Though there have been some
marked improvements, the results are less than
"In only8 percent of the biggest companies in
the survey did women account for more than a
quarter of the top jobs," the study states.
So what went wrong?
The report draws two large critiques of the
companies put under the lens: Not enough
sought government aid to facilitate diversi-
fication, and, more importantly, many of the
programs they instituted were prematurely
applied - a large push was made to promote
women into mid-level management positions,
but because some promoted women were
underqualified, profits dropped, making it
highly unlikely for the women given promo-
tions to rise further. Women were simply
hired to meet quotas within time and were
not given the proper recruiting consideration
an employee would otherwise deserve.
The results are eerily mirrored in a study
by Associate Finance Prof. Amy Dittmar, who
is also an asssociate dean for a Specialty Mas-
ter's Program. In the study, Dittmar and Prof.
Kenneth Ahern examined the impacts of a
law requiring public-limited Norwegian com-
panies to have at least 40 percent representa-
tion of women on their boards.
The researchers discovered that the stock
price of most firms noticeably dropped as a
result of the new policy, but they asserted the
drop had nothing to do with the gender of the
new board members.
Rather, the 40-percent constraint imposed
on the firms led them to hire underqualified
women to meet compliance, causing a drop
in performance and indirectly giving life
to the false perception that women do not
belong on boards.
"When firms were free to choose directors
before the rule, they tended to choose women
that were similar to men directors," Ditt-
mar and Ahern said in a press release for the
report. "This is consistent with the idea that
the large demand and small supply for women
directors after the adoption of the 40-percent
quota forced firms to choose directors that
they would not have chosen otherwise."
Life after business school might not be
intrinsically connected to gender imbalances
inside the Business School, but it's a thought-
provoking comparison: If there's one thing
uniting the firms examined in the reports
mentioned above, it's that most of them
acknowledged that an inequality in number
Solving a p ro ble m
According to Dittmar, the first step to solv-
ing the numbers issue is reevaluating current
progress. Dittmar said it is important to rec-
ognize the efforts of organizations like MBW,
but know there is more progress to be made.
"I think the most important thing is to cre-
ate an environment that students want to be
a part of," Dittmar said. "We are proud of the
culture here, but there's obviously work to be
After the recent article in The New York
Times about Harvard Business School, MBW
hosted a panel for any Business School stu-
dent tovoice concerns if they had seen a simi-
lar level of sexism in their own classes.
"When a story like that comes out, it rip-
ples out," said Dittmar. "It was really impor-
tant that we confirm the same things weren't
going on at Ross."
Though most responses supported the claim
that sexism wasn't as visible at Ross, many of
the students in attendance felt that the exis-
tence of the problem, no matter where that
problem maybe, means it's time to have an open
dialogue, giving students who faced discrimi-
nation a chance to speak for themselves.
Dittmar explained that after the initial
panel, the professors left the room and let stu-
dents break off into groups to discuss possible
steps toward a solution. By and large, students
felt that the school had to take a more involved
approach in spreading awareness of the issue,
reaching outto the entire Business School com-
munity to instill the importance of diversity,
and getting a more varied group of possible
applicants interested in the school.
"We're definitely mindful of the divide in
the population," Tamra Talmadge-Anderson,
a public relations director at the Business
School, said. "But it's important to see how
willing we are to open doors to people at the
For example, Ross is a founding member
of the Forte Foundation, an organization that
actively works to create scholarship opportu-
nities for women looking to enroll in business
schools. Since its formation, the foundation
has seen an overall 22-percent rise in MBA
enrollment at the institutions that sponsor it.
Good old boys dub
Though signs of progress are citable, some
concentrations of business, namely finance,
are slow to show signs of change. Emily Pare,
co-president of the graduate student portion
of MBW, referenced a recent corporate valu-
ation class she took in Detroit through the
Business School, where there were approxi-
mately three or four women out of more than
30 total students.
"It's not one of those fields women typi-
cally go into," Pare said. "Even corporate
finance and investment banking, definitely,
is an industry that is male-dominated.
I think there were two women total
last year that were recruiting for
She said that it's one
of those few pockets in
the industry that has
avoided change for an
extremely long time.
She paused for
a moment when
asked why she
thought that was
"I guess it
requires a thick
skin," she finally
"I don't think
it's that women
in it. I think the
culture in place
there doesn't fit
them very well.
From the outside,
it's hard to tell specifi-
cally what that culture
is, but you're definitely
going to have those nights
where all the guys go out,
which kind of creates the 'good-
old-boys club' idea and ostracizes
Overwhelmingly, the exclusivity
spawns a lack of understanding in
both directions: Women often don't
know how to approach the work
environment at large investment
banks and the men there don't know
how to make an inclusive environment.
According to Pare, the answer is creat-
ing a reliable mentorship program and hav-
ing women already in the field or who have
already worked in the field willing to help out
others that want to join.
The easiest place to find those mentors
should be the faculty at the Business School,
but it is heavily skewed in favor of men in the
finance subdivision. Of the 27 professors, asso-
ciate professors and visiting scholars listed in
the department's staff page, two are female.
Despite the Business School boasting that
50 percent of its faculty leaders are women,
the inequality at lower levels needs to be
Accordingto a recentstudy conducted by
Prof. James Westphal, as more women
and minorities find a place on execu-
tive committees, few are able to
attain the elite "inner circle
status" that comes from serv-
ing on multiple boards. The
reason: the lack of mentoring
they receive from white male
executives already on the
It's not fair to say that
male faculty members are
unable to guide female students. But as
Melamed stated, it has to be acknowledged
that students are more likely to confide
in people who have gone through similar
problems. The varying perceptions female-
students have of the Business School is a tes-
tament to why the issue can't be approachd in
one way, or following the course of Norway's
40-percent rule and prematurely admitting
more female students.
"We can't just blindly throw money at the
problem and hope for it to magically disap-
pear," Pare said. "It's never that simple."