Percentage of Women at HBS to Rise Next Year

After Falling to 22 Percent Last Semester, Female MBA Students Will Increase to 29 Percent

Women are on the rise in business and--for the first time in several years--so is the percentage of women in the incoming class at the Harvard Business School (HBS).

After hitting a historic low last year at 23 percent, the proportion of female students will jump to 29 percent in the HBS's incoming MBA class, according to a preliminary class profile the admissions office recently made available.

Though HBS officials said they are happy with the increase, the said they are not satisfied to let the number level off here.

"It's great that we're back in that range, but I wish it were that much higher," said Jill H. Fadule, director of admissions.

Karin Kissane-Gifford, last year's co-president of the Women's Students Association, is also cautiously optimistic about the announcement.

"I'm relieved but I would not say it's euphoria," she said.

HBS has the lowest percentage of women among Harvard's nine schools. Fadule said women have historically comprised about 29 percent of the school. Last year's low number was only a "blip," she said.

Yet HBS still responded fervently to the drop, aiming to drive the number of women back up in the short-term and past the historical average in the long-run.

This fall, admissions officals and members of WSA began a referral program which encouraged students to submit names of women they considered strong candidates for business school, and the admissions office also purchased names of women who scored well on the business school admission test. These women were mailed publicity material about HBS and invited to visit the campus.

HBS officals also visited more colleges this past year to "get to more women ahead of time," Fadule said.

"The main message to get out to students is that business in an amazing opportunity for women," Kissane-Gaisford said.

Fadule is still somewhat at a loss to explain why the percentage of women dropped so rapidly last year, she said.

One contributing factor many officals point to was a sudden jump in the number of applicants to last year's class. Fadule said the number of applicants went from 7,000 to 8,000 in one year, but the number of women in the application pool did not increase proportionally.

Though the total number of applicants was still high this year, the proportion of women in the application pool remained about a third, Fadule said.

"I think what you're really seeing is the numbers going back up to their historical average--a correction," said Kissane-Gaisford.

Fadule said the referral program and other recrucitment efforts will continue next year in an effort to bring the percentage of women at HBS to a new high.