MBA Grad, Take Heart - Unless You're Female

Don Tennant

Opportunities for new MBA graduates entering the job market are finally picking up after two years of declines in hiring. If you're a male MBA graduate, feel free to celebrate your good fortune. If you're a female MBA graduate, feel free to temper your expectations.


The Wall Street Journal recently reported that hiring of MBA grads is returning to pre-recession levels. But according to research conducted by Catalyst, a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of opportunities for women in the work place, female MBA grads can expect to enter their first post-MBA job at a lower level, and at lower pay, than their male counterparts. According to Catalyst's research, even when factors such as prior experience, industry and parenthood are taken into account, female MBA grads earn, on average, $4,600 less than men in their first job out of school.


I spoke about all of this with Christine Silva, Catalyst's Toronto-based director of research, and she said females holding MBAs took a much greater hit from the recession than their male counterparts. She traced that fact back to the gaps that exist from Day 1 on the job:

We found that women at the very top were three times as likely to have lost their jobs because of the downturn than men. I believe it was 19 percent of senior executive women, compared to 6 percent of men. We were able to show that women lag men from their very first job after MBA graduation. As time progresses and their careers advance, that gap gets wider. So we've got a problem from the very first day. People often think that if we just give it time the problem will solve itself, and we'll no longer see a gender pay gap or that gap in [job] level. But giving it time just makes the problem worse.


We started looking at some of the reasons why that might be. We looked at mentoring and sponsorship, and the distinction between the two. A mentor is a person who provides advice and guidance, and that's very important for someone's personal and professional development. But a sponsor is critical for advancement. A sponsor is someone who has a seat at the decision-making table and advocates on your behalf when it comes to promotions or development opportunities. Sure enough, when we started digging into the numbers, it wasn't that women didn't have mentors, but that the men's were more senior. We found that what mattered was how senior that person was-the more senior your mentor or advisor, the more your career advances and your salary grows. That tells us it may be sponsorship that's making the difference-if that person is very senior and has that seat at the decision-making table, he may be in a position to advocate for you.


Linking that back to the finding that senior executive women at the very top lost their jobs in greater numbers during the recession, when we released those findings people were speculating that it may have been because those women didn't have enough sponsors in their court, so when it came time to decide who would stay and who would go, sponsors became very important in that discussion, advocating for you to be one of the key people who stay. Sure enough, in a later report we found that more men than women have those important sponsors.

Silva elaborated on what lies at the root of the obstacles that female MBA grads face:

Catalyst research has tackled some of the barriers out there-everything from a lack of role models at the top, and how that influences women's expectations of the levels they can attain, to unintentional exclusion of women from informal networks. We still hear about networking and decisions that happen on the golf course, or over a beer at the pub, watching the game-places where women may not be invited or feel comfortable or natural. There's a bias inherent in talent management systems-what a leader looks like; how people are evaluated; assumptions of what opportunities women might want, assuming that a woman may not want to relocate or take a global assignment because she has a family, without asking the question.


So there are a number of factors at play, and of course every organization has its own culture that may present unique challenges. But these are some of the things we've seen consistently across industries and organizations. And certainly in our research on women in technology, that's been the case-the exclusion from networks, lack of mentors and sponsors, lack of role models at the top.

Silva stressed, moreover, that when Catalyst looked at the gap that exists from the first job and grows over time, it wanted to ensure that it tackled some of the common myths we hear - how the gap is typically explained away:

The two we looked at were aspirations and parenthood. There's the argument that people aren't reaching the top because they don't want to. So to tackle that we looked at just women and men who aspire to be a senior executive or CEO. We conducted the same analysis and reached the same finding, that the gap exists from Day 1 and grows over time. We did the same thing to tackle the explanation that people so often give, that women take time out to have kids-that's why we see the gap. So we took just the women and men who didn't have children, and found the same thing-the gap existed in both level and pay from their very first job, and grew over time. So it's important to understand that it's not some of these arguments that people offer, that it's the personal choices that women are making. As you can imagine, MBAs from large schools [regardless of gender] want to reach the top of their companies, and have an impact as leaders in the future.

Finally, I asked Silva how and why the myth that gender parity is being accomplished continues to be perpetuated. Her response:

[We tend to think] there has been progress because we've been talking about it for so long, because so much effort has been placed on the advancement of women. Many companies have diversity programs, so there's just this assumption that things must have been tackled. We see a few female CEOs, therefore [we surmise that] women can get to the top, as opposed to keeping track of whether women are advancing in numbers in proportion to their aspirations, and in proportion to the number of women graduating out of programs that feed into leadership. We've made progress, but it's been very slow.


As we look at our census numbers that we release every year, in the last two years we've almost hit a point of stagnation, where we're not seeing even that incremental change in the representation of women at the top. So it's time to say, "We've come this far, why haven't we gone as far as we would like?" Companies need to take a more careful look at the programs they have in place around talent management and hiring practices to determine where there might be hidden biases.

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Jun 21, 2011 4:56 AM R. Lawson R. Lawson  says:

Women clearly aren't paid fairly.  That's a problem and no dispute with the WSJ on that point. 

The WSJ is one of those papers that I naturally view with skepticism no matter what they report on because their bias is overwhelming.  That said, I can't find fault with this specific WSJ article.  Seems fairly written.

Jun 21, 2011 11:08 AM Warior Warior  says:

How come this lady has could not get MBA job after two years of searching;

Is she got some kind mean spirit or she does not have any skill at all Don ? Can you tell me why I have a hard time to understand your post "The Wall Street Journal recently reported that hiring of MBA grads is returning to pre-recession levels" while that lady has a hard time to look for MBA job. Why don't you tell me Don or It is just another propaganda piece of craps that is ........

Jun 22, 2011 8:50 AM mataj mataj  says: in response to Warior

Uh oh... Censored! University mafia at work!

Jun 24, 2011 9:54 AM Wayne Wayne  says: in response to Warior

Warior: With genuine respect, I offer that you may wish to read Don's post again; I think that you two would have fewer points of disagreement than you suspect.  He cites the WSJ article, but then goes on to offer a counterpoint based on the Catalyst research.  Where the WSJ article talks about the overall prospects for MBA grads, the Catalyst research -- and the thrust of Don's post -- points to the disparity between men's and women's prospects.  That's why, in the very next sentence after the one you quoted, he writes, "But according to research conducted by Catalyst, a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of opportunities for women in the work place, female MBA grads can expect to enter their first post-MBA job at a lower level, and at lower pay, than their male counterparts."  So absolutely there is a disparity.  And sadly so.

As for why the lady in the YouTube videos you posted hasn't received a job offer, I can't say.  With a 9.1% unemployment rate (as of May 2011, BLS statistic), there are many people -- both men and women -- who are very skilled and sadly unemployed.  In that context, any individual who is skilled but can't find a job after two years of searching is worthy of our sympathies.  Now, even though I mention unemployment as applicable to both genders, we should also recognize that there are aggregate forces at work here that point to a need to fix a lack of equality in the workforce.  If we start from the premise that men and women are equal -- a point that I'm sure that both you and Don could agree on -- then we should turn our collective attention to finding opportunities to improve areas where inequality manifests itself.

As one last interesting side note, the unemployment rate in the U.S. for women is actually lower than the unemployment rate for men -- and that's been true for the last three years.  (  However, this doesn't detract from the points above: namely, that the unemployment rate is too high for both genders, and the pay and opportunity disparity between men and women is real, is unfortunate, and needs to be fixed.  In any event, Don's post is about the second point (pay and opportunity disparity), not the first (unemployment rate), so this statistic is more of an interesting FYI in the context of this dialog.

I wish you the best.

Jun 24, 2011 11:36 AM Warior Warior  says: in response to Wayne

Read this BS one right here as Don claimed the MBA job market is recovered "Opportunities for new MBA graduates entering the job market are finally picking up after two years of declines in hiring. If you're a male MBA graduate, feel free to celebrate your good fortune. If you're a female MBA graduate, feel free to temper your expectations."

The lady in the video got MBA and loaded with experiences she could not even get a job that what I am talking about ! but Don keep bragging the MBA job market is recovered that is bogus not even make a bit of sense. At noon time today, I went to Walmart close the where I work to get some Windex cleaner I was so surprised, almost all the shoppers are Indian descents. It just Indian invasion man all I can tell  you man !!! I am telling you right now there is no job recover for any American MBA, IT workers and other professional such accounting, teachers whatsoever you can name it or unless you are indian with H-1B visa on your hands.

It seems the jobs are abundant for those Indian descents with H-1B visas and may be I need to tell that lady in the video clip to convert her American citizenship to Indian citizenship to get a job then. There is no kidding..... This country is going to toilet soon......

Jul 16, 2011 6:36 AM cytherea cytherea  says:

We all already knew this tbh

Dec 21, 2011 8:42 AM Allie Valenza Allie Valenza  says:

This is not great at all. It's getting harder and harder for graduates to get a decent job. The employment opportunities seem to decrease rapidly. I have a friend who got a human services degree online and he is still looking for a job. I think he spent 2 months applying for different jobs and he didn't even get one offer. The future is not that bright. I wonder how things are going to be 5 or 10 years from now.

Jan 16, 2012 12:22 PM torncity Haddon torncity Haddon  says: in response to Allie Valenza

You should also take a look at what is happening in education. There are people who have a master in curriculum and instruction and are paid less than someone who doesn't even have higher education. How is that possible? There is a matter of pay check discrimination everywhere. The fact that you present here is just a small portion of what really happens.

Feb 27, 2013 12:31 PM Paul Warren Paul Warren  says: in response to torncity Haddon
Education is the industry with the biggest discrepancy for women with professional degrees. Considering the amount of women outnumber men in that industry 5 to 1 but only account for a small percentage of the leadership positions. Although getting a degree in a specialized field like master in curriculum and instruction does help your chances in getting promoted to an administration position. Reply

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