Why aren’t management courses able to bridge the gender divide?

Despite efforts, the number of women in India’s B-schools is actually dropping rather than rising. Static selection processes and a lack of work-life balance are key reasons.
Published on Nov 20, 2019 07:25 PM IST
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Hindustan Times | ByAishwarya Iyer

In 2003, journalist Lisa Belkin wrote an article titled ‘Opt-out Revolution’ for the New York Times Magazine. In it she explained the American phenomenon in which women in leadership roles at corporate companies often leave to spend more time with their families. Sixteen years after the piece, India seems to be following the same pattern.

Fewer women students enrolled for management programmes in the academic year 2018-19 than the previous year, according to the All India Survey of Higher Education (AISHE). In 2017-18, 9010 women signed up for a postgraduate diploma in management (PGDM) , this year’s number is 7291. The 2-year course has been popularised by premier B-schools like Indian Institute of Management and XLRI, and holds more weight than an MBA. Even the Masters in management programme has seen a slight dip, with 2105 students enrolling in 2018-19, against 2133 in 2017-18.

Management studies have scope and viability as the subject, and women are occupying senior positions in large numbers globally. Around 29% of the senior-level posts globally are occupied by women, which is huge, says Vijay Joshi, state joint director, Rashtriya Uchhatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA). So why the slide? “When it comes to Asia, the scene is different , especially in India and Japan. Most women quit jobs after reaching the middle-management levels. Very few climb up the ladder.”

In management colleges, there are more female teachers but fewer students, he adds. “One of the major reasons for that is the nature of jobs one ends up getting after an MBA are not feasible for striking work-life balance. Hence, they go in for teaching, research and other verticals.”


Joshi says that Japan is deliberately encouraging more women to take up management and India needs to follow the pattern. It’s a little complicated here.

Getting admission into B-schools depends on the CAT score. And CAT exams are geared for engineering students, says Bindu Kulkarni, associate professor and associate programme head- PGDM, Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan’s SP Jain Institute of Management Research. And that is one of the reasons women stay away. “Commerce and engineering students find it comparatively easier to crack CAT exam, while students from a humanities background struggle to compete. There are more women with an arts background, they are less common in the engineering field.”

Most colleges are also grade-oriented. And the college’s selection process makes a difference. At SPJIMR, it’s a two stage process. The first level tests aptitude, work experience and skills. The second stage tests values, soft skills. “Students from humanities background are naturally graded lower (because there are fewer objective questions that push scores up) than the commerce and engineering students, so they are left out,” says Kulkarni. “So we look for values such as problem-solving, decision-making and how they react to crisis and pressure at workplaces. Here, women often score higher.” At SPJIMR women students have formed 41% of the classes for the last 3-4 years.

At WeSchool in Mumbai too, the selection process is what matters. They customise their interviews as per the candidate’s academic background and consider their abilities. A large number of students also believe that a management programme leads to a sales job. This is generally visualised as visiting client’s offices and selling services, similar to door-to-door sales, says VP Singh, programme director, PGDM and professor of economics at Great Lakes Institute of Management, Gurgaon.

“To add to this, jobs offered after MBA usually demand longer working hours, so the likelihood of a woman’s career getting cut short in such professions tends to rise,” he says. Women just see it as a low return on educational investment.

Monica Khanna, director, K J Somaiya Institute of Management Studies and Research (SIMSR) in Mumbai, says that the location of campuses could also be a factor. Women do not like to shift to a smaller city for studies, especially if the campus is on the outskirts of the city.


The scenario is changing and women are getting into management courses with several gender-diversity programmes.

“In the public sector, it has become mandatory that there should be at least one woman director, says Joshi. Several institutes have measures to encourage women. IIM Kozhikode in 2018 added 60 additional seats only for women students.

With careers in digital marketing, pre-sales, market research analytics and social media analytics growing immensely in e-commerce companies, it seems to be improving women’s preferences for marketing and sales jobs, says Singh. GLIM has incorporated such courses in its management curriculum, resulting in more women joining the programme. “This has helped the institution bridge the gender gap,” he adds.

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Saturday, December 04, 2021