Women In Same-Sex MBA Programs Are Most Prepared To Take On Business

Cathy Minehan’s not afraid of the Old Boys’ Club. As current dean of Simmons College School of Management, the only of the only all-women MBA program in the country and a retired chief of the Boston Federal Reserve, she’s thinks she’s figured out the best way to teach women to navigate the business world: single-sex education.

“Just think about mission-driven education in general—for example, historically black colleges. The schools provide not only a first-class education, but also an environment and culture in which it’s easier to talk about some subjects.

[At Simmons, students] can develop tools to navigate better in the business world because they understand the subtleties of a male-dominated culture in a way that they might not understand in classrooms that are dominated by men.”

Dean Minehan

To some, her views are outdated, more in line with feminist thinking in 1975, the year the MBA was launched. Others see them as unrealistic and out of touch with the environments graduates of single-sex programs will encounter. For a handful of critics, though, she’s not radical enough. Why teach women to handle a male-dominated culture when you could be working to dismantle it?

It’s a valid question, especially taken in the context of so much of big business in the U.S. looks like right now. Thanks to “too big to fail” policies, our banks and businesses are never forced to look much beyond profits. While the rest of the world works to figure out how they fit in to a globalized and modernized world, these businesses continue to insist that the world change (or, ideally, not change) to accomodate them. Their boards of directors are filled with university presidents, former politicians and members of the media, ensuring that they’ve got a hand or two in most influential institutions in the country.

But perhaps all this power is part of the reason Minehan’s so eager to teach women to play the game. Maybe she sees a future where women bring their knowledge and experience of inequity to the business world so that they can do more than just manage money.

Minehan’s belief that women learn best in single-sex environments isn’t unfounded. Who among us hasn’t tested out our voices and explored the outer edges of our influence in spaces filled with women? Without first knowing how it feels to operate without gender stratification in place, it’s hard to imagine what that goal looks like. In coed classrooms, she believes that “male leadership roles remain unchallenged, and women are left with ‘play the game our way, or go home.'” If statistics are any indication, the going home is exactly what the vast majority of women have done; only 4% (20 in the top 500 and 21 from 501-1000) of CEOs of Fortune 1000 companies are women.

Instead of vilifying Minehan for caving in, I think we owe her just as much respect as she’s given the rest of us. Unlike some (ahem, Forbes), she believes that women are capable of savvy negotiation and thinks that the unique obstacles we face are worth acknowledging. When asked about Marissa Mayer — the newly named “gender blind” CEO of Yahoo (“With respect to the question of why we can’t get more women in computer science, she said that “just asking the question” may act as a “handicap.”“) — she complimented her for her intellect and changed the subject instead of criticizing her for her views on women in business. She might be playing the game, but she’s doing everything she can to make sure everyone wins.

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Laura is a tiny girl who wishes she were a superhero. She likes talking to her grandma on the phone and making things with her hands. Strengths include an impressive knowledge of Harry Potter, the ability to apply sociology to everything under the sun, and a knack for haggling for groceries in Spanish. Weaknesses: Chick-fil-a, her triceps, girls in glasses, and the subjunctive mood. Follow the vagabond adventures of Laura and her bike on twitter [@laurrrrita].

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  1. This is kind of perfect! Thank you for writing about it. As it turns out same sex education has a strong root in science and is universally beneficial to both sexes because we learn differently. Obviously we would all like to crush the patriarchy, but I agree that it is useful to try to beat them at their game by creating well educated and skilled women to compete with. Same Sex Schooling Represent!!

  2. I liked this article. my first instinct was to think that separating men and women for any level of education is silly, but I guess I’ve just never really thought about it. it does make sense that women who aren’t in a male dominated classroom will be more comfortable discussing some things, or more confident in their leadership abilities.

  3. I do not agree. Perhaps this might make sense for an undergrad program, but not for grad school. If a women has difficulty confronting or leading her male counterparts, what better place to learn that skill than in the protective environment of school? How will she manage in the real business world without that experience? A big part of the MBA program is teamwork and learning to work with differing (often difficult) personalities. These girls are missing out on a big segment of the population. Also, it being a grad program, one of the big reasons people complete an MBA is to get a better job and have more income growth potential. I would be interested in knowing their hiring success rate for graduates (in comparison to other MBA programs). As men are more likely to make the final hiring decision, and if you are basing your theories on this being a patriarchal society, wouldn’t then make sense that someone who attended an all-female MBA would be discriminated against in the hiring process? They might not believe that you could work with your male counterparts or they might not view the degree as being as valuable? Either way, by Grad school, it just does not make sense me to segregate in this way.

  4. I think in a same-sex environment it would be easier to learn the appropriate skills in professional business settings. I personally feel like a lot of women in the workplace forget what the bottom felt like. They often mistreat or overlook abuses of women in lower positions, because they suppress those issues in order to feel equal to men. I think same-sex education universally dismisses that behavior, because the controlled environment breeds understanding of what keeps women oppressed without making it the central thesis. Like you can want and act to improve your condition as a group without letting it impact your daily affairs. Men are everywhere, they make up 49% of the U.S. population, daily interaction with males is unavoidable. That interaction is enough to provide adequate experience in leading and confronting males professionally, because of the confidence gained in an all woman institution. The classroom when separated by sex is a much safer environment for females and males, primarily because of the freedom of expression.

  5. I think I would be more distracted in a same sex classroom…but that’s because I have the maturity of a 14 year old boy.

  6. I think single sex education is the way to go at all levels. Saying women won’t be able to function with men or be effective leaders without going to school with men is completely wrong. It’s not like these students live in a single sex world or don’t have jobs already where they deal with men.

    In a single sex education scenario, the girl/woman has a voice that is respected, her perspective considered (if not primary), her worth acknowledged, and her talents encouraged. There’s sadly little chance of that in co-ed classrooms often dominated by boys and men who are encouraged to be “alpha.” Especially in business programs.

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