Women and Doctoral-Level Education in Management

Photo: Pierre Jayet
Professor Valérie Sabatier, Grenoble Ecole de Managment.

In this post Valérie Sabatier, deputy Director of the Doctoral School at Grenoble Ecole de Management, writes about the position of women at the highest levels of business education.

Today, French management schools have as many women graduates as men. However, the conditions under which women pursue continuing education are very different. Post experience programs like Formacadre, Specialist Masters and MBAs allow women to gain extra qualifications and perhaps boost or reinvigorate their careers.

Pursuing mid-career aspirations

Formacadre is a French program that allows managers without high-level qualifications to gain a business school degree commensurate with their managerial role. This training is primarily supported by their employers and therefore is a part of their plan for career management. In fact a survey conducted for AFFDU and presented at the International Congress of IFUW demonstrated how and why women from Formacadre programs chose to pursue a program in the middle of their careers. Amongst the reasons was the desire to seek a degree of quality that would help in gaining a better job and wish to develop expertise certified by the degree. Comparisons of their aspirations to those of young women in initial-level training, showed that as managers they preferred working in small sized teams with the majority wishing to form teams with less than ten members.  They were also much more sensitive to the difference between men and women in business in mid-career.

Qualifications and women’s wages

Elsewhere, the Masters of Business Administration (MBA) and Specialized Masters programs allow individuals to gain a master-level qualification. The MBA is particularly interesting because it is dedicated exclusively to training. It is also only accessible after a minimum of three years’ experience at management level. Some universities have become exemplary in supporting women: according to a study by Bloomberg Businessweek, women’s wages actually exceed those of men at some schools. In their first job after having acquired the MBA degree, these graduates (representing 31% of the students) had on an average earned two dollars for every dollar earned by graduates with other degrees. This result may be associated with training imparted specifically for “strategic wage bargaining”. One of the many reasons for wage differences between men and women is that women have traditionally asked for less. It seems that the message has been heard and some women graduates now ask for more.

Women and the Doctorate of Business Administration

Photo de Pierre Jayet
Titima Opaswongkarn graduating in Grenoble (March 2015)

Ongoing training is also available at the doctoral, management, and international level. Many business schools and foreign universities offer part-time doctoral diploma training. Created by Harvard Business School, the Doctorate of Business Administration or DBA allows high-level managers in the middle or end of their careers to do a doctoral education program based on research. Grenoble Ecole de Management has been one of the pioneering schools in the development of this program in Europe and has more than twenty years of experience in this field today. The average age of students is 42 years. Their motivation is to stay in the world of business and access very senior level positions (board of directors, executive management, etc.) or to make a career change to the academic world.

Almost 30 percent of the students in the DBA program in Grenoble Ecole de Management are women, and for the Phd program this figure is 26%. There are some parts of the DBA program where the proportions of women are higher – in the Lebanon women account for around 40-50% of the 2010 and 2011 intakes and in 2012 were actually in the majority. Also among the most recent intakes women accounted for 40% of new students in the USA. However, there are other sites for the program where the 2013-14 intakes were closer to 20% and even lower.

Gender differences in doctoral education

In the case of the Grenoble DBA program delivered in the U.S., in partnership with California State University Northridge, the main objective of women following the diploma is to get recognized better amongst their peers in the academic world. All of them are already involved in delivering courses in the university; either as tutors or as a teacher, but not having a doctorate degree hinders them from obtaining a permanent position. It should be recalled that at the international level, the accrediting bodies such as AACSB and AMBA require a faculty composed primarily of teachers with a recognized doctorate (i.e. obtained in an accredited institution) and active in research. Hence DBA students follow their doctoral studies in order to improve their research skills and learn how to publish scientific articles. They also seek to stabilize their employment: half of them have already been business consultants, so depending on contracts obtained with clients, gives them flexibility but also creates considerable uncertainty. Men following the US program tended to have different objectives in that a third of them actually wanted to make a transition to the academic world while two thirds remain in the companies.

Supporting women in part-time doctoral studies

Why are there more men than women in undertaking doctoral studies? Firstly balancing professional and family life is a key factor. Women may prefer, or be socially pressured, to give more time to their families thereby leading to fewer of them taking up the additional training at certain stages of the life course. A 2014 book by Brigid Schulte (Overwhelmed) underlines the greater time pressure on women trying to manage career and family and demonstrates how this limits their time and opportunities for leisure. Secondly, women may make different strategic choices around doctoral studies. Women who are in academic careers often chose to do a doctoral degree in initial stages of their training rather than at later stages. This may reflect early strategic choices but may close down part-time opportunities such as a DBA. Thirdly, doing a PhD or DBA requires significant investment of not only in time, but also in financial terms. There are specific national scholarships to help support women but the investment remains significant and gender gaps in wealth and income limit women’s ability to pay.

At Grenoble Ecole de Management we believe more effort needs to be made to attract as many women as men to doctoral studies. We continue to review our processes of recruitment and progression to ensure that they are fair and maximise the opportunities for women to join and succeed on our doctoral programs.

An earlier version of this article was published in French at Graduates, June 2013, No. 245, pp. 29-31.

Translation by Priya Srinivasan

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