An increasing number of women are pursuing MBAs in preparation for leadership roles.

Share story

The business world has historically been dominated by men and, although we still have a long way to go before achieving parity, an increasing number of women are pursuing MBAs in preparation for leadership roles. A recent study from McKinsey showed that companies with diverse leadership perform better financially, further illustrating why it’s so important that workplaces strive for diversity at every level, from assistants to CEOs.

In MBA programs like University of Washington’s Foster School of Business, which Princeton Review ranked as No. 1 in resources for women MBAs, more than 40 percent of the students are women. This bodes well for the future direction of women in business. Here are some of the reasons representation is so important.

Women are thoughtful decision makers

When making decisions, women tend to be more risk-averse than their male counterparts. A study on “Why women make better directors,” published in the International Journal of Business Governance & Ethics in 2013, found that women were significantly more likely to make decisions using “Complex Moral Reasoning” rather than “Personal Interest” or “Normative” thinking.

“Women can be more thoughtful in decision-making and take more time,” says Mégan Lewis, senior associate director of Foster MBA Admissions. Men are more likely to take risks without assessing all the factors involved. Lewis says one style isn’t superior to the other — but pairing together these two styles of decision-making can be an asset when it’s time for companies to make decisions.

It opens up mentorship opportunities

Having a mentor in the workplace gives a leg up to entry- and mid-level employees — but, when women are underrepresented in leadership roles and on boards, it means younger women employees are less likely to have a mentor. “Inequality affects hiring all the way up, starting from entry level,” says Melissa Uyesugi, associate director of diversity and inclusion at Foster.

Lewis says mentorship often happens organically when, for example, an executive or board member sees potential in a younger man and asks him out for a drink to talk about his future career goals. “When you don’t have women in leadership who can do the same thing for younger women, then women really miss out,” she says.

As Uyesugi emphasizes, this means systemic changes are needed because when women are represented on boards and at the top, it’s beneficial to everyone at the company.

Diversity in the workplace drives innovation

“Research shows that diversity in the workplace increases creativity and innovation,” says Elizabeth Umphress, associate professor of Management and Organization at Foster. When a company’s employees have a variety of diverse life experiences, more unique ideas are brought to the table.

Citing the McKinsey study, Rachel Johnson, co-president of the Graduate Women in Business club at Foster and a Forté Fellow, points out that improving representation and making a company’s leadership and board more diverse is also beneficial from a financial standpoint — and it makes perfect sense.

“Think of people making buying decisions. The people buying Microsoft and Amazon products aren’t just a homogeneous group of people; it’s a diverse group of people,” Johnson says. When there’s diversity, companies are going to make better decisions for their customers in the long run.

It benefits the community, too

“Women play a pivotal role in our communities,” Umphress says. “Organizations should reflect their communities in order to better serve those communities.”

When organizations don’t have diverse representation, they tend to miss out on opportunities to develop and improve their products and services to better serve their customers and clients. “It’s the right thing to do to increase diversity in the workplace, but it’s also the smart thing to do because diversity will help increase innovation and the ability to compete in an ever-changing world,” Umphress says.

Lewis notes that, for women in heterosexual marriages or partnerships, their presence in business has shifted the dynamic where men are expected and feel pressure to be the primary breadwinners. As women rise in the ranks of business, their partners can try pursuing their dream careers even if it means taking a pay cut. So there’s a ripple effect in some cases, and it changes up what gender roles look like both at home and in the workplace.

The Michael G. Foster School of Business at the University of Washington consistently ranks among the top business schools in the United States — for both undergraduate and graduate degrees.