The Daily Illini

UI aims to improve conditions for women in business

By Maggie Sullivan

The University’s College of Business is the third largest school on campus- just behind the Colleges of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Engineering. With over 4,000 students enrolled in the 2014-2015 school year, the college hosts 10 percent of the total University population. However, the college consistently enrolls more men than women.

Jillian Kernats, junior in business, said it is intimidating to walk into classes almost filled with men.

Kernats experiences is not only a University occurance. According to a recent study by a global organization to accredit business schools, women represent only 38 percent of students enrolled in North American MBA programs.

“Not having women adequately represented in business schools has a lagging effect on our economy,” said Raj Echambadi, associate dean of outreach and engagement and professor of business administration in the College of Business. “When you don’t have leadership with gender diversity, and you’re only running an organization from a male-dominated perspective, you have problems.”

On August 5, the White House made strides to change the stiuation and held a meeting of 47 business schools from across the country. The topic was expanding opportunities for women in business. Echambadi represented the University at the meeting.

“Traditionally, MBA programs have been a monolithic thing — you leave your life for two years — and many women can’t make that choice,” Echambadi said. “The White House told us that we need to start with a blank slate, that this can’t be the only way women can do an MBA program.”

Last year, the College of Business announced its new iMBA program, which will give students the opportunity to earn an MBA from the University at their own convenience, online.

Echambadi said he believes the flexibility of this program will draw a large number of women.

“We are the only school in the world who has done this,” Echambadi said. “We are offering an MBA for twenty thousand dollars, which is about one-fourth or one-fifth of the cost of any business school.”

Aside from lack of flexibility being a potential barrier to women trying to enter the business world, Echambadi said lack of outreach to women specifically acts as a deterrent as well.

“I didn’t know a lot about business and the opportunities in business in middle school or high school, and I didn’t hear a lot about the opportunities or classes offered in business,” Kernats said.

Echambadi said the University is working to counteract this with events specifically targeted to women who want to major in business.

“At these events, women’s unique challenges come up, and they always think it’s the first time their challenges were addressed,” he said. “Usually we have solutions, because we’ve really heard it many many times before.”

During the White House event, Echambadi was exposed to strategies employed by other university business schools that could be viable at the University.

“Harvard is pursuing targeted outreach with women in high school and college,” he said. “So they are telling women: ‘come in, we will listen to you, think about us.’”

Kernats said another major obstacle facing women in the business world is too few women role models in business.

“Only a small percent of all CEO’s are women,” Kernats said. “I think a lot of women can’t really see themselves in those positions because they don’t see other women in those positions.”

Mary Kay Dailey, executive director of communications for the College of Business, said she received a $9,950 grant in 2010 to help challenge these perceptions and increase awareness for the impact of Illinois businesswomen.

“It was a campaign to photograph female faculty to spotlight their personal and academic achievements,” Dailey said. “It was meant to show high school females that it’s okay to major in business, show who our faculty are and showcase that we do have women teaching in business — a traditionally male dominated field.”

While Echambadi said he was “very pleasantly surprised” with the different universities’ willingness to address the unique concerns of women, he said changing the perceptions of women in business is the most important aspect of improving the current environment.

“I don’t know why there’s such a gap between men and women in the business world,” Kernats said. “We need to change the overall perception of women in general and what they can do; we need to change the perception that women can’t excel in these positions and be leaders.”

Echambadi said his major “ah-ha” moment during the White House meeting was when he realized that you have to educate the men in the college appropriately to have a lasting increase in women majoring in business.

“We have a responsibility to set a good example, and to make sure employers have an equitable workplace that supports diversity,” he said. “We need to let employers know they need to provide flexibility for women, and ask them to recognize the importance of setting an inclusive culture.”

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