Women's Guide to Business School

Updated November 4, 2022

Women in business are subject to challenges and opportunities distinct from those of their male counterparts. Check out these business world success tips for women:

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Resources to Excel in the Business World Expert Contributor

JeFreda Brown

While the business world currently encompasses more male professionals, women continue to make strides by pursuing careers in business and its related fields. Women in business are subject to challenges and opportunities distinct from those of their male counterparts, so whether they are pursuing degrees or already making a name for themselves in the industry, it is important that female students and professionals are prepared to harness their strengths, find the right resources, and strive for equality in the workplace. Students and businesswomen can find tips, scholarships, business grants and expert advice in this guide to help them excel in school and their careers.

10 Tips for Women to Excel in the Business World

In business school and in the workplace, women may face unique challenges and, therefore, must find unique ways to overcome those challenges. While each woman's experience is different, preparing for certain situations and knowing how to handle them can help women succeed academically and professionally. Check out these business world success tips for women:

  • 1 Adapt to the situation at hand

    Putting forth an assertive, self-confident demeanor can help professionals get ahead in the business world, but not always. According to a 2011 study by Stanford's Graduate School of Business, the women who are the most successful are the ones who can act like chameleons in the workplace, adapting their behavior to different social situations. Women who know when to be dominant, confident and aggressive as well as when to scale it back earn more promotions than both men and their female counterparts.

  • 2 Make yourself heard

    It's important to keep in mind that being adaptable does not mean silencing themselves in the conference room. All professionals, including women, should feel comfortable to speak up and share their thoughts when they have an idea or contribution. They key is knowing how to communicate effectively. Offering constructive criticism shows stronger teamwork than shutting down colleagues, being open to questions and comments on your ideas demonstrates dynamic and pragmatic thinking.

  • 3 Network with your professors

    Putting in the extra effort to talk to professors after lectures or during office hours can give business students an edge. When five students raise their hand to answer a question, the professor may be more inclined to call on the student who has previously earned facetime. This can be especially beneficial for female students, who may be facing bias in the classroom.

  • 4 Begin building relationships in school

    An important aspect of business school is networking with peers who can become job connections or business partners in the future. For female students in particular, creating a support group with women who are going through similar challenges and successes in business school can be extremely valuable and can lead to future opportunities.

  • 5 Join a club, association or organization

    Whether in school or in the workforce, women in business can expand their educations, careers and networks by joining professional or student groups. These groups often provide strong support groups and career connections, and women-specific groups often work to further equality for females in the workplace.

  • 6 Get support for life's other responsibilities

    Many businesswomen deal with the challenge of balancing work with family obligations. Women are often seen as the primary caregivers in a family, and choosing to pursue a career in business can come with emotional, financial or time-related stress. Female business students and professionals can prepare for this by seeking out resources, like babysitters, daycare services on campus or near the workplace, or family support and taking advantage of them if necessary.

  • 7 Make time for family and yourself

    That said, finding a balance between work, family and personal time can help keep businesswomen satisfied with their careers and home lives. Studies from UC Berkeley have shown that a positive home experience can lead to a positive work experience, and vice versa. Further, the process is cyclical, so by fostering a happy home life, women are more likely to have a more satisfying professional life.

  • 8 Act like an equal

    At its current rate of change, the gender gap is not likely to reach equity in the near future; however, women who conduct themselves in the workplace as though they are equal to their male counterparts may have a better shot at reaching their goals and gaining equality. If equality is assumed, women can continue striving for excellence, standing up for their ideas, and negotiating raises and promotions with mitigated concern for gender bias.

  • 9 Find a mentor

    Whether it's someone who can act as a sounding board for new business ideas or someone who can relate to the challenges of the modern businesswoman, finding a fellow professional who has experience and advice can help women grow in the workplace, gain skills and insights and build community.

  • 10 Know when it pays to be competitive

    From a young age, men are taught to bring a competitive attitude to various situations throughout their lives. Since business is a competitive field, men often fall more easily into its sport-like nature than women. Women who can be competitive in business school and in the workplace may have a better time gaining respect from coworkers and succeeding in business.

By the Numbers: Business School Enrollment by Gender

Historically, business has been a male-dominated major. However, increasing numbers of women are enrolling in business programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels. While a 50/50 split between male and female enrollment has yet to be reached, many top business schools are pushing for at least a 40 percent female representation in their programs. Take a look at these facts to learn more about the current position of women in business programs.

  • Full-time enrollment of female MBA students increased 3.9 percent between 2011 and 2015. Source: Forté Foundation
  • The overwhelming majority–96 percent–of female graduate business students say their degree had good to outstanding value and was professionally, financially and personally rewarding. Source: GMAC 2016 Alumni Perspectives Survey
  • 67 percent of full-time, two-year MBA programs had initiatives to attract female candidates in 2015. Source: Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC)
  • Women comprise 43 percent of Harvard Business School's class of 2018, versus 1.2 percent of the same school's class of 1965. Source: Harvard Business School
  • Large business programs have recently seen a greater volume of applications from women than mid-sized or small business programs. There was a 75 percent increase in large programs, versus 45- and 42 percent for mid and small programs, respectively. Source: GMAC 2016 Application Trends Survey Report
  • In the 2013-2014 academic year, female students earned undergraduate degrees in business more any other degree. Source: National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)

Business Concentrations with the Highest Female Enrollment

The business field as a whole may be male-dominated as of now, but many business degree concentrations are starting to attract more female students. Some, particularly at the graduate level, have considerably higher female representation than male. The tables below break down enrollment numbers for undergraduate and graduate female students across various concentrations.

Bachelor's Degrees (2011-12)

General Business Administration & Management67,43048.5%
Marketing & Marketing Management16,45153.6%

Master's Degrees (2011-12)

General Business Administration & Management50,95444.1%
Public Administration7,48557.9%
Human Resources Management2,84674.8%

Source: National Center for Education Statistics (2012)

Scholarships for Women Pursuing Business Degrees

Whether at the undergraduate or graduate levels, women pursuing business degrees can seek out scholarships, fellowships and grants to help offset the cost of pursuing their educations. With the high cost of education and the persisting gender wage gap, female business students should take advantage of as many of these financial aid opportunities as they can.

Jane M. Klausman Women in Business Scholarship. Sponsoring Organization: Zonta International Amount: $7,000 (international), $1,000 (regional)

Zonta International sponsors 12 international scholarships of $7,000 each and 32 district scholarships of $1,000 each. These scholarships are available to women of any age or degree level. Applicants must be enrolled in an accredited business or business-related program.

National President's Scholarship. Sponsoring Organization: Stephen Bufton Memorial Educational Fund of the American Business Women's Association Amount: $10,000

This non-renewable scholarship is intended to help female business students of at least junior standing offset the costs of tuition, books and other school fees. Applicants must be U.S. citizens with at least a 3.0 GPA.

Asian Women in Business Scholarship. Sponsoring Organization: Asian Women in Business Amount: $2,500

AWIB sponsors a scholarship for female U.S. citizens of Asian or Pacific Islander descent. Applicants must be enrolled full-time in an accredited undergraduate program with at least one semester completed. A minimum 3.0 GPA is required, along with demonstration of entrepreneurial achievement or leadership in a community endeavor.

AAUW Selected Professions Fellowship. Sponsoring Organization: American Association of University Women Amount: $5,000-$18,000

AAUW's fellowship is designed to help women succeed in male-dominated fields and is open to minority women pursuing a handful of graduate-level degrees, including MBAs. Women can apply for the fellowship in their second year of study only. Joint degree programs, distance learning, PhD. coursework and dissertations are not eligible.

Women in Public Finance Scholarship. Sponsoring Organization: Women in Public Finance Amount: $1,000+

This scholarship is open to female, college-bound high school seniors. Applicants must be interested in pursuing public finance and demonstrate leadership through work, volunteer or other extracurricular activities.

Accounting and Financial Women's Alliance Open Scholarships. Sponsoring Organization: Accounting and Financial Women's Alliance Amount: Varies

AFWA has many scholarships available to female undergraduate, minority undergraduate and graduate students who are pursuing degrees in accounting or finance from accredited institutions. Undergraduate applicants should be in their third, fourth or fifth year of study. AFWA membership is not required to apply for scholarships, but endorsement by a member of the organization may increase chances of getting the scholarship.

HORIZONS Scholarship. Sponsoring Organization: Women in Defense Amount: Varies

Women in Defense provides financial assistance to female members in pursuit of undergraduate or graduate degrees. Applicants may be enrolled in a variety of degree programs, including business if it relates to national security and defense. Applicants must be of at least junior standing, have a minimum 3.25 GPA and demonstrate financial need.

Forté Fellows Program. Sponsoring Organization: Forté Foundation Amount: Varies

Together with their sponsor business schools, Forté Foundation aims to increase the number of women enrolling in full-time, part-time and executive MBA programs through their fellowship program. Interested students can send fellowship applications to participating schools, who determine eligibility requirements and award amounts individually.

C200 Scholar Awards. Sponsoring Organization: Committee of 200 Amount: Up to $10,000

C200 awards outstanding female MBA students who demonstrate leadership, entrepreneurial drive and a commitment to supporting other women. Applicants need to be enrolled in an MBA program that hosts a C200 Reachout Program and are chosen based on a combination of merit and financial need.

Financial Women of San Francisco Scholarships. Sponsoring Organization: Financial Women of San Francisco Amount: $5,000 (undergraduate), $10,000 (graduate)

FWSF provides scholarships to Bay Area women who are pursuing careers in finance and financial services. Undergraduate applicants must be of junior standing' graduate applicants can be current or future students. A minimum 3.4 GPA is required.

Grants to Support Women-Owned Businesses

Starting a business takes more than an innovative idea and a sound business plan; entrepreneurial pursuits also need funding to help get them started. Luckily, with some preparation, an idea and a plan can help women entrepreneurs and business owners apply for and receive grants to help them launch their businesses. While the federal government does not supply grants to help launch or expand businesses, many independent organizations are dedicated to helping women with clear business goals and market potential bring their products and services to the public. Aspiring entrepreneurial women can browse these grants and other funding opportunities and begin preparing their pitches.

AAUW Community Action Grants.

Another solution for women wanting to start non-profits, the AAUW Community Action Grants are awarded to organizations that promote education and equity for women and girls and build community. One-year grants for pre-established organizations and two-year grants for startups are available.Apply Now

Amber Grant.

The Amber Grant, sponsored by WomensNet, awards a $500 grant to a different female business owner each month. At the end of twelve months, one of those business owners will receive a $1,000 grant to help grow their business.Apply Now

Angel Investor Programs.

Angel investor programs pool funding from a group of investors and award them to businesses and entrepreneurs who have a sound business plan and market potential. Women entrepreneurs who send pitches to angel investor programs can earn a considerable amount of funding. Astia, 37 Angels and Golden Seeds are particularly interested in helping female business owners.Apply Now AstiaApply Now 37 AngelsApply Now Golden Seeds

Eileen Fisher Women-Owned Business Grant.

The Eileen Fisher Women-Owned Business Grant awards ten grants of between $12,000 and $120,000 to expanding businesses each year. Businesses must be under at least 51 percent female ownership, past the startup phase and have positive environmental or social impacts. Apply Now

The Halstead Grant.

This grant is specifically for women who want to pursue jewelry making and design as their full-time career. The $6,000 award aims to encourage women jewelry makers to create business plans and become self-sufficient. Eligible businesses must be less than three years old. Apply Now

The InnovateHER Challenge.

Hosted by the U.S. Small Business Association (SBA) Office of Women's Business Ownership, the InnovateHER Challenge gives women entrepreneurs the opportunity to compete in a live pitch competition to win up to $70,000 to help grow their businesses. Competitors' services or products must impact women or families, fill a need in the marketplace and have potential for commercialization. Apply Now

Local SBA Office.

While the Small Business Association does not supply grants for starting or expanding a business, women entrepreneurs can contact their local SBA office to get information on area-specific grant opportunities and other ways to fund their businesses. Apply Now

Open Meadows Foundation Grant.

Women interested in starting non-profit endeavors aimed at promoting racial, gender and economic justice can apply for the Open Meadows Foundation Grant. The $2,000 grant is awarded to projects with limited access to funding that are designed and implemented by women and girls. Apply Now

Tory Burch Foundation Fellows Program.

Women who become Tory Burch fellows benefit from workshops and networking events, a year of support from the Tory Burch foundation, $10,000 toward furthering their business educations and the opportunity to get a $100,000 grant to help with their business.Apply Now

Zions Bank Smart Women Grants.

Zions Bank offers one $3,000 grant to women business owners in Idaho or Utah whose business proposal directly affects women, works to empower women or support low-income or underserved populations in Utah or Idaho. Women in other parts of the country can search for similar opportunities in their areas.Apply Now

Join In: Professional Associations for Today's Businesswomen

Female-focused professional business associations provide businesswomen with a variety of benefits and opportunities. By joining professional organizations, women in business can connect with other professionals, establish meaningful personal and business relationships, gain skills, find career and education opportunities and give back to their community. Many professional associations for women in business also research and actively promote women's equality in the workforce and encourage members to join in the discussion. Businesswomen looking to join a professional association can take a look at these organizations to get started.Accounting and Financial Women's Alliance.

Women whose careers or studies are in accounting or finance can take advantage of AFWA's membership benefits, which include career resources, networking opportunities, student chapters and scholarships.American Business Women's Association.

This national organization aims to bring together businesswomen from all professional backgrounds and help them grow through leadership, education, networking and community building opportunities.Bringing Out Successful Sisters (BOSS) Network.

The BOSS Network aims to support and foster growth in professional, entrepreneurial women through online community networking, conversation and professional development. Along with networking opportunities, the BOSS Network hosts seminars, charity work and other events.Business and Professional Women's Foundation.

The BPW Foundation was the first foundation dedicated solely to researching women professionals. They work to create better workplaces for women, gain equity and help women maintain a healthy work-life balance. Women can find a variety of resources, including career, mentorship and research information through the BPW Foundation.Financial Women's Association.

The Financial Women's Association unites women from all sectors of the financial industry, encouraging them to engage in dialogues about the advancement of women finance professionals. Members can access career, professional development and educational opportunities.Forté Foundation.

Forté Foundation works to encourage women to earn their MBAs and succeed in the business world. College students, MBA students and business professionals can join Forté for free, gaining access to job boards, leading research, webinars, forums and news. International Federation of Business and Professional Women.

BPW International is an influential network of business and professional women from over 95 countries. The organization works with the United Nations to advocate for women around the world and aims to help women sustain themselves economically and gain leadership skills. Members work for women's equality and connect with professionals from across the globe.National Association of Women Business Owners.

This association brings women entrepreneurs and business owners together to build community and increase its economic development. NAWBO works to build strong alliances and affect positive change within the business world.Professional Business Women's Association.

Women professionals in Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania may be interested in joining this professional group, which provides networking opportunities and works to pay forward their successes by providing young women with scholarships.Women's Business Exchange.

The Women's Business Exchange aims to help women professionals reach their fullest potential through education, leadership and networking opportunities. Members build strong personal and professional relationships with one another and gain information and advice on making the most of their business careers.

Read It: Top 5 Books for Women in Business

Whether seeking inspiration, tips on excelling in the workplace or new insights into the lives of the world's most successful people, women professionals can start their search in the bookstore. In addition to the hundreds of books out there offering general business knowledge, women can find advice catered to their needs in these top five business books for women:

Ladies Who Launch

byVictoria Colligan and Beth Schoenfeldt.

Ladies Who Launch breaks down effective ways for women to pursue entrepreneurship and become successful businesswomen. Aspiring business owners who need a motivational push or specific guidance on making their business happen can benefit from this book.

The 10 Laws of Enduring Success

byMaria Bartiromo.

Maria Bartiromo shares firsthand professional experiences and how those experiences can change a person's definition of success. Through interviews with some of the world's most successful people, The 10 Laws of Enduring Success tackles the meaning of success, failure and worth.

Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead

bySheryl Sandberg.

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, examines women's positions in the workplace, particularly as they relate to equality, providing data and personal anecdotes along the way. This motivating read provides practical advice for women professionals and encourages them to achieve both personal and professional fulfillment.

Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office

byLois P. Frankel.

Executive coach Lois P. Frankel breaks down over 130 behaviors that women learn during childhood that can work to sabotage them in the workplace. With the help of this New York Times bestseller, women professionals can adjust their work behaviors and advance their careers.


byMalcolm Gladwell.

Malcolm Gladwell explores what makes outliers, those extraordinary high-achievers, so different. Outliers focuses its attention not on what successful people are like, but what events, elements and other influences played parts in their becoming successful.

What You Need to Know About the Gender Wage Gap

The term gender wage gap refers to the median pay difference between men and women. As of 2015, full-time female employees typically earn 80 percent of what their male counterparts earn, which means the gender pay gap is currently 20 percent. Many arguments attempt to explain the wage gap–women want more flexibility or tend to take lower paying jobs, for instance–but even when controlling for education, race, skills, experience and location, studies indicate that when increased numbers of women enter a particular occupation, the average pay rate for that occupation decreases. While the wage gap has been narrowing at a consistent rate since 1965, that progress slowed in 2001 and has not picked back up. For young female college graduates, the wage gap has actually increased.

Some of the most extreme differences in pay rates are within the finance industry, according to 2013 U.S. Census data, so women in this field of business may have to strive even harder to gain wage equity. The graph below provides more detailed insights into the gender wage gap and its effects on women in business. Fight for fair pay

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau and compiled by the American Association of University Women show that the gender wage gap does not narrow with higher levels of education. In fact, it widens slightly.

Median Weekly Earnings, by Level of Education and Gender, 2015

Source: American Association of University Women, The Simple Truth (2016) with data from the U.S. Census Bureau

The AAUW's The Simple Truth 2016 report shows that the gender wage gap differs by ethnicity and age group. Data shown here demonstrates that the wage gap is smallest for early-career women, between the ages of 16 and 34.

Median Weekly Earnings, by Gender and Age, 2014

Source:American Association of University Women, The Simple Truth (2016) with data from the U.S. Census Bureau

Interview with the Expert: Making Women-Owned Businesses a Reality

Why did you decide to pursue a business education and ultimately start your own company?

It actually started when I was just seven years old. I had the idea that if I owned a business, I could make a lot of money, and then I could help people who were in need. At seven, I wanted to build housing for homeless people. This is one of the main reasons I made up my mind to become a business owner.

I earned a math degree, but was frustrated because I was unable to find a full time job. I eventually pursued an MBA [with] concentrations in finance and accounting. Obtaining the MBA helped me get my first major full time job in 2003. I had just started the program that January, but one of the reasons I was hired was because I was pursuing my MBA. What challenges did you come up against as a woman during your education and through your professional life, and how did you overcome them?

For me, the biggest challenge was working full time and taking a full load of classes. However, it paid off. I finished so quickly (1.5 years) because I took a full load of classes each semester, including the summer semesters.

In my professional life, I had to deal with things as a woman. I had to show extra initiative to let my managers know I wasn't a slacker. I had to give feedback and share my ideas to let them know I wasn't a pushover. I had to become more outspoken, in a positive way. Being in the business world, you have to learn how to work with others. Luckily, business school teaches you how to do that. What advice do you have for women who are considering pursuing business degrees?

I would love to see more women obtaining business degrees. I have several clients who are women business owners, and because they didn't obtain a business degree, they struggle with certain things in running their businesses. I always advise them to either go back to school and obtain their business degree or take some business courses. Is there anything else you'd like to add?

Although women face challenges, like gaining access to capital, women-owned businesses are still growing faster than any other segment of businesses. Be motivated to continue this growth. Think about your daughters and future daughters. Create, build and leave them a legacy that they can grab hold of and continue. There is nothing to be afraid of. You can do this; you were built for it, ladies.

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