Why Gender Diversity Is About Quantity As Much As Quality

Women make up almost half of all students in law and medical schools these days, but they still lag behind in business schools. That inevitably plays a role in women’s underrepresentation in C-suites across the country: They simply don’t have as many credentials. The New York Times reports on a few innovative program designed to increase the ranks of women in B-school.

One typical partnership, between the European Institute of Business Administration, in France, and the American-based Forté Foundation, uses mentoring, networking help, and financial aid to nudge women to leadership roles.

The point is to lift women above the critical mass required to feel comfortable speaking up in class and make their voices heard more broadly. At the French school, women made up just 17% of students in 2005 and 33% today. “When women are only 17 percent of the group, they are far less likely to speak up,” one professor told the Times. “When they are over 30 percent you can be sure they are raising the issues important to them.”

This is a great reminder that diversity of all kinds is not only about quality, as we often like to think, but quantity. If a brilliant woman squeaks into a traditionally male space on her own merits, that’s fantastic. But unless she’s truly at ease excelling in that environment, she’s unlikely to rise to her full potential. That’s not an argument for quotas, but it is a reminder that the idea of a “critical mass” is a crucial one when it comes to diversifying the ranks of leadership.

 

Photo: wavebreakmedia ltd / Shutterstock.com

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