In undergraduate degrees, women outnumber men. But when it comes to MBAs, there is a clear and concerning gender imbalance in the other direction.

The Macquarie Graduate School of Management (MGSM) recognises this is an issue, and is on a mission to become the first business school ranked in the top 100 in the world to achieve gender balance in its MBA program.

The school is tackling the issue with a new research initiative called the Women in MBAs (WiMBA) project, which will examine the underlying reasons for the global gender imbalance and develop strategies to address it.

The School’s Dean, Professor Alex Frino, said: “Statistics show at the undergraduate level women outnumber men and the trend continues in pre-experience Masters degrees, however in MBAs women are absent.”

“In fact, The Economist MBA rankings (2013) revealed that there was not one business school in the top 100 in the world where the number of women equalled the number of men,” Professor Frino said.

“Specifically in Australia, there were 20,000 students enrolled in MBA programs, of which 35%, or 7,000, were women and the other 13,000 were men. That means 6,000 women were ‘missing in action’ – we want to find where those women are and why they are not enrolling in MBAs.”

As part of the project, MGSM will survey women about the issues they face in enrolling and studying for an MBA, as well as their experiences post-MBA.

“We are talking to current MBA students and potential students, about how the program is delivered, its structure, and the type and amount of support available. We want to know what needs to change,” he said.

“For us to address this issue, both in Australia and overseas, business schools need to become smarter about how to create a better learning environment for women that attract them to MBA study,” he said.

International studies show an MBA has a significant impact on career pathways with graduates reporting a promotion, increased responsibilities and an increase in their salary package.

According to lead researcher for the initiative Professor Charles Areni, there is therefore a relationship between the gender imbalance in MBAs and the number of women in leadership roles.

Currently, Australian women make up 45.3% of the overall labour force, and roughly 44.6% of managerial and professional positions. But of all board members of ASX Top 200 companies, only 17.6 % are women (according to the Australian Institute of Company Director’s real-time statistics); and of all the board chairs of these companies, only 2.5% are women. Only 3% of the CEOs of these same companies are female.

The numbers in the public sector tell a similar story. Despite comprising almost half the public sector labour force, women account for only 33.4% of all government board positions, 30.1% of Federal Parliament positions, and 17.9 of all university vice chancellorships, and these percentages haven’t changed much over the last decade.

“We hope that by discovering the underlying causes, putting in place strategies which address the issues and encouraging women to complete their MBA, there will be a longer-term impact on the number of women working in senior management, executive ranks and on the boards of our leading companies,” Professor Frino said.

The research findings are due to be released at the end of the year. More information about MGSM’s Women in MBA’s initiative can be found at on the school’s website.

MGSM is Sydney’s leading business school and one of the top global business schools in the world*. Our MBA and postgraduate courses have received the prestigious AACSB accreditation and we are ranked number one globally for post-MBA increase in salary and number two globally for post-MBA salary*. More than 80 per cent of MGSM full-time students are employed within three months of graduation.

Read about MGSM’s MBA program here.