Since UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business welcomed a record-breaking number of women into its full-time master of business administration program last year, ongoing student initiatives continue to push for a more gender-inclusive graduate education.
Haas students established the Gender Equity Initiative two years ago with the goal of increasing the proportion of women entering the full-time program from 29 percent. Forty-three percent of last fall’s incoming full-time MBA students were women, and approximately 41 percent of this year’s incoming class will be women. This will bring the total number of women in the program to an all-time high.
The students in the Gender Equity Initiative increased outreach efforts for admitted women in collaboration with alumni to encourage them to attend the business school. This outreach, along with other student efforts, may have played a role in the representation shift.
According to second-year MBA student Ryann Kopacka, the initiative began as a group of students informally discussing gender imbalance within the business school. They started by holding focus groups and distributing surveys to collect data on the relationship between gender imbalances and the admissions process of the business school.
“We wanted to figure out how having more women at Haas changes its culture and how the current culture affects the experience of female students,” Kopacka said.
As the initiative began to attract more supporters — including faculty and staff members — student leaders launched projects targeting academics, admissions and culture.
After noticing that many Haas-sponsored events and programs were gender specific, Kopacka and other members of the initiative brainstormed ways they could better represent the interests of women during their programming.
One of the MBA program’s largest fundraisers, “No Shave November,” aims to raise cancer awareness by encouraging men to grow their facial hair for an entire month. In response, the Gender Equity Initiative piloted an alternative program titled “No Limits November,” which proposed gender-inclusive options for participation.
Women in Leadership, a separate student-run network at Haas also aimed at increasing female leadership representation in the field, has started inviting “manbassadors,” or male student representatives, to club meetings and conferences to ignite conversations with men about gender inclusion.
“When we look at corporate America, the vast majority of CEOs are men,” Kopacka said. “If they’re not in the conversation, they’re less likely to support women in the end.”
According to Amy Chou, a member of Women in Leadership, it may be more difficult to significantly change the high percentage of male professors at the school. She said, however, that more professors are taking steps in the classroom to create a more positive environment for women.
If professors form more gender-equitable study groups, initiative member Jake Qian said, then women will have more opportunities to assert themselves during group coursework. According to Qian, “it’s not just about the numbers” when it comes to challenging the status of women at Haas.
Kellie McElhaney, adjunct professor at the business school, teaches a class titled “The Business Case for Investing in Women” and said there is often an “unfair balance” of women versus men called on to answer professors’ questions.
Still, McElhaney has noticed an increasing number of men taking her class since the launch of the Gender Equity Initiative.
“This is an incredibly high-profile issue in the corporate world,” she said. “The fact that we are adjusting it very significantly at this school models what women will face in the real world.”