IIM disconnect: What’s keeping women away from India’s premium B-schools?

The key lies in the CAT, say former directors of the management institutes.

education Updated: Feb 02, 2017 16:53 IST
Lavina Mulchandani
Lavina Mulchandani
Hindustan Times
Education,Gender ratio,Engineering

In its 2016 post-graduate batch, 21.21% of students at IIM-Ahmedabad were women.

At IIM-Kozhikode, just 27% were women.

At IIM-Calcutta, there were only 76 woman students in a batch of 463.

When Kshama Shetty, 22, arrived at IIM-Indore for the group discussion round of the admission process last year, she felt intimidated. “I was the only girl in a group of 10,” she says. “The moderators were all men too.”

Shetty is currently in the second year of her post-graduate management course and the scenario, she says, is not too different from her GD day.

Though Indian Institutes of Management (IIM) have been trying for years to have more women in their classrooms, top Indian B- schools remain a picture of stark gender disparity. In its 2014 batch, women accounted for only 23.3% of the student population at IIM Bangalore; in the 2013 batch, that figure was 23% at IIM Calcutta.

The aim, says Janat Shah, director of IIM-Udaipur, is for at least a third of the students to be women. This has never happened, even in a single batch. “Some years we get close to 31%, but that is rare,” Shah says.

At the Xaviers School of Management (XLRI) in Jharkhand, meanwhile, 75% of the students are women. “Our fellow programme in management has more girls than boys and other courses have close to 50% girls, because our entrance exam, XAT, has been following a multidimensional testing framework that gives equal weightage to aptitude and language skills,” says a spokesperson.

That difference between the CAT and XAT is key, IIM professors and former directors say. In the CAT 2016 results declared last month, 20 candidates scored a 100 percentile. All were boys and all were engineers. “Overall, 67% of the candidates were male,” says Rajendra K Bandi, convenor of CAT 2016.


The trouble, says P Rameshan, former director of IIM-Rohtak and professor at IIM-Kozhikode, begins with the low representation of women at the Common Entrance Test stage.

The primary reason for girls not taking the CAT is the exam pattern, says Shah. “The pattern favours engineers and there are fewer girls in engineering, so consequently fewer women take the CAT and even fewer end up joining B-schools.”

CAT exam being heavy on quantitative aptitude favours engineers and there are fewer girls in engineering, so consequently fewer women take the CAT and even fewer end up joining B-schools, says Janat Shah, director of IIM-Udaipur. Aptitude helps engineers and discourages aspiring managers like Vidhi Panchal, 21, a third-year Arts student at St Xavier’s College, Mumbai.

“I would not want to join a B-school, though I would like to study management,” she says. “CAT is math-heavy, so it will be difficult for me to crack. Had the test been more rounded, I would have applied.”

GT Thampi, principal of Thadomal Shahani Engineering College, Bandra, points out that fewer girls opt for engineering and CAT because, in most cases, the environment is not welcoming at engineering colleges. Another social factor that results in fewer women in IIMs is that the number of women pursuing higher education is still very low, Rameshan adds. “Though there are comparatively more women pursuing higher studies today, social conditioning is still goes against them taking up a management role. “Women generally opt for courses in the humanities and social sciences,” says a spokesperson from Xaviers School of Management (XLRI) in Jharkhand.


Given the family expectations from women in our society even now, a lot of them opt to take up low-responsibility jobs. “Since they do not prefer taking senior managerial roles, they do not study management,” says Shubika Bilkha, business head at The Real Estate Management Institute (REMI). It is still considered remarkable when a woman heads a company, as she does.”

Since last year, IIMs have been giving less weightage to quantitative aptitude in admissions, says Bandi. “Through the move, we want to encourage more non-engineers and girls to opt for management education.” Several B-schools are also practising normalisation of scores among engineers and non-engineers. “At the time of short listing students for next level of selection, we ensure to have a good number of girls,” says Shailendra Nigam, chairperson-admissions, International Management Institute New Delhi. “We give preference to girls and so have close to 50% per batch for the last three years now.”

First Published: Feb 02, 2017 14:09 IST