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Flipping the Balance: 5 Steps You Can Take to Close the Gender Gap

Institutionalized barriers in the world of business continue to hold women back from rising to positions of leadership. Less than 7% of all CEO positions in the Fortune 500 and fewer than 18% of corporate board seats globally are held by women. Whether it’s rigid parental leave policies, inflexible schedules, little access to mentorship, or gender bias, companies haven’t figured out how to get more women into the C-suite and on boards.

Who figured out a solution? Graduate Women in Business (GWiB), a student-led organization at USC Marshall Full-Time MBA program, which is one of the key colleges in our FQ Lounge @ Campus community. In 2017, four members of GWiB, Baylis Beard, Casey Brown, Daniel McCartney, and Jessica Schleder, launched a gender equity initiative called Everyone’s Business.

This year, the group worked with the administration to host Everyone’s Business Global Case Competition (EBGCC). Sponsored by AT&T, PwC, and Capital group, EBGCC was the first global MBA case competition dedicated to finding tangible solutions targeted at gender equity beyond campus and responsible for pioneering a pay-it-forward prize model. Winning teams received over $20K in scholarships for women enrolling in the MBA class of 2021. Marshall’s incoming class of 2020 will make history as the first top U.S. MBA program to reach gender parity (52% women).

The Female Quotient caught up with the founders of Everyone’s Business to learn more about the message they’re spreading, the value of an MBA for women, and what it takes to reach gender parity across business schools today for boardrooms tomorrow. Read on for their advice.

Do Your Research

How does your company stack up compared to others, and in which areas could your company improve? When looking at the issue of gender parity, start by doing some research on the overall landscape of the women working within your industry. Find out which companies have incredible, innovative diversity and inclusion programs. Is there a company that hosts a women’s week, rather than just a women’s day? Maybe your company can do that too.
Also, look for any opportunities that your company might be missing. For example, could your company share more stories, profiles or news articles featuring women? Identifying the simplest strategies or grabbing the “lowest-hanging fruit” will bring your company one step closer to making a greater impact. Once you’ve pulled together all your research, you can compile a list of the best practices you’ve found.

Understand the Company Climate

As the founders of Everyone’s Business know, the best way to make your case in any environment is to come armed with data. Conduct a survey (or a few) like Everyone’s Business did at USC Marshall. Understanding how people feel about gender parity and gender dynamics within your company can help in many ways such as: influencing and working with decision-makers, creating metrics to hold leaders accountable for equality, understanding the root causes of the current gender culture, and attracting new ideas and supporters.

Use Data to Make Your Case

If you conduct a survey, make sure you’re not only asking the right questions but that you’re also asking in the right way. Getting people to answer surveys in the first place can be challenging since your colleagues are likely asked to take them all the time. To get an 80% response rate from the entire student body, Everyone’s Business founders relied on the following strategies: running the survey early in the school year, making it a competition between years, and offering a prize to the highest responding group. Pro-tip: create a centralized account for the standard survey software that your company uses (such as Qualtrics, for example) so that you can use your company’s expensive licenses for advanced question-formatting, analysis, and transferability year-to-year.

The Gender Gap is Everyone’s Business

In order to achieve full parity, there will be many important segments to keep in mind. For Everyone’s Business, it was critical to understand the pain points for different people and parties in relation to getting more women into business school, and how to work with each of them in order to reach their program’s goal. Some parties you might want to consider in the workplace are:

  • The employee base: Understanding and managing varying degrees of support in the employee base for initiatives to increase the pipeline is key. Additionally, having enough women and allies on board so that whenever the question, “Why do we need more women?” surfaces, there is an appropriate response, leading to and reinforcing the culture of inclusion that potential employees and new hires need to see.
  • Shareholders, the board, and C-Suite: This group focuses on a range of issues, so here it’s about balancing all perspectives, including those who advocate for other priorities. Top players include the CEO (who is likely involved in hiring-related decisions) and any D&I representative you have. They will be crucial in possible budgeting for events/increased programming and a strong ally in prioritizing equality.
  • Other employee resource groups within your company: Working together with other employee resource groups will help create a strong support system among employees, as well as achieve efforts beyond just gender parity (i.e., more women of color, diverse gender identities, sexual orientations, and every way we can become more diverse together).
  • Human resources: It’s not just up to Human Resources to solve issues of diversity and inclusion. It’s everyone’s responsibility. Figure out how to partner with HR so that your organization’s approach to D&I is more than a one-size fits all response.

Know Your Facts

Ensure that you and anyone involved in your initiative can make the case for parity (and be prepared to defend it). Your case will come in handy when recruiting allies and gaining support from those who may be less convinced. You’ll need to know your basic gender-related facts on both a company-specific and industry level. For instance, Everyone’s Business learned that, when it comes to business schools across the U.S., less than 40% of MBA students in the U.S. this year are women. They realized that business school is a pipeline into C-suite and board leadershipmore than 70% of women CEOs in the Fortune 500 have MBAs. By gaining a better understanding of how parity benefits everyone, you’ll be able to answer the question: “Why is getting more women into leadership positions important?”
To help get you started, here are a few key facts from the founders of Everyone’s Business:

  • Getting women into leadership positions can help close the gender pay gap. Halfway through their careers, men are 70% more likely to be in executive positions than women, and towards the end of their careers, men are 142% more likely to fill the offices of the C-suite than women. Getting more women into business school will address the gender pay gap not just because women in leadership get paid more, but also because women are better at providing others with fair pay and flexible benefits.
  • Women make great leaders. Studies have shown that women in the Senate are better at working with people of different viewpoints and opinions to get things done than their male A 2012 study of7,000 360° performance reviews also found that women leaders outranked male leaders in nearly every one of 16 leadership competencies, including taking initiative and driving for results, competencies that are stereotypical male strengths. In 2015, Gallup research found that female managers are better at engaging employees (both male and female) than male managers. And, according to McKinsey, companies in the top 25th percentile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 21% more likely to experience above-average profits. Specifically, for leadership, they found companies with more culturally and ethnically diverse executive teams were 35% more likely to see above-average profits. At the board of directors’ level, more ethnically and culturally diverse companies were 43% more likely to see above-average profits, showing a significant correlation between diversity and performance.
  • Women will make the workplace safer. According to a 2016 report from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as many as 85% of women have experienced some form of sexual harassment at work. Study after study shows that women in leadership positions reduce workplace harassment.
  • Gender equity isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do. Women account for more than 85% of the buying decisions as per Harvard Business Review. If we achieve economic gender parity by 2025, McKinsey estimates that we could add $28 trillion to global annual GDP.


The journey to parity won’t be perfect. There’s a long road ahead of us and issues in the pipeline will arise. While the gender gap is narrowing, there’s still an imbalance at almost every level of the corporate ladder, beginning with the GMAT all the way to the C-suite. In 2015, at an event hosted by the White House Council on Women and Girls and the Council of Economic Advisors, 47 business schools in the U.S. signed on to a set of best practices to help women succeed throughout school and their careers. We need all schools and companies to follow in the footsteps of USC Marshall. Like Baylis says, “Having an MBA is a necessity for women to rise up the ranks in a way that it isn’t for men. If we don’t increase the percentage of women who are getting MBAs, we won’t address the pipeline issue in a dramatic way.”


For more on gender equality, check out:

How to Get Past the Messy Middle to the Top

How to Hire with an Equality Mindset

Why Gender Diversity is Good for Business and the World