Stanford is proud of the diversity of its MBA class. However, when I started in the fall of 2020, joining Stanford’s largest MBA class to date at 436, there was one demographic that was definitely missing: the mothers. None. I became the first, I gave birth in the last week of my first year. And I hardly applied to business school.
Many factors may explain the lack of mothers in MBA programs. Many women choose to postpone motherhood while their careers are on the way, others are still looking for life partners, and for many the financial burden of both motherhood and the MBA is too heavy. But the biggest factor may be that many do not know that they can combine MBA and motherhood, and realize that entering a class where no one else “looks” like you or can sympathize with you is discouraging and isolating. .
After a miscarriage and with a focus on starting a family that is always present, I decided that my chance for an MBA was behind me, without knowing any role models. I rejected my husband’s offer to apply. “You can’t be a mother and do an MBA,” I protested. My husband does not easily accept “no” and calls the few women he managed to find who were mothers while in business school. With some encouragement from the discussion, I applied.
Adoption of GMAT days after miscarriage
Writing the GMAT entrance exam five days after my second miscarriage, I had in vitro fertilization and my first trimester coincided with my first trimester at Stanford, and after giving birth in the exam week, I can think about one of my loneliest trips. A trip that could have been easier if someone in my class had been in a similar situation.
“Punishment for motherhood” is not new. Much has been written about how mothers receive less pay than their non-mother colleagues, or how apparently pregnant women are perceived to be less engaged in their work than non-pregnant colleagues. (I was told not to mention miscarriages in my essays on applying for a business school from the MBA consulting company I used, advising them that schools could question my commitment to study if they knew I was trying to start a family.)
A punishment that may not be so obvious is the lack of mothers applying to (and admitted to) business schools. Stanford’s assistant dean for MBA, Kirsten Moss, notes that mothers make up “a small fraction of the 7,000+ applications” she receives each year. This translates to the class profile. There were no mothers in Stanford’s primary class in 2022, while eight fathers made the division. Class 2023 is no different: zero mothers and 11 fathers.
As an MBA mother, I had a very different experience from my classmates
This shortage is not unique to Stanford. At Harvard Business School, mothers make up 1% of the student community, with a father-to-mother ratio of five to one. The lack of mothers is described in detail by MBA mothers from Wharton, Kellogg and Darden, to name a few.
As a mother in business school, I had a very different experience from my classmates. My internship was a birth. This meant that recruiting after business school was more challenging without summer offers. While my classmates were out on the net most nights, I was at home, spending a few precious hours with my family and working between meals. I became a de facto expert on motherhood in the classroom, asking questions about fertility, pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding rooms.
The school and the teachers were extremely supportive and understood when I had to take my son to class or miss an hour to look after a sick baby. My classmates were wonderful, they gave me a baby shower and offered me free babysitting.
As an MBA mother, the academic experience was difficult and lonely
Overall, however, the experience was difficult and lonely. Mothers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard told me that their challenges were similar: a lack of clarity about resources and birth policies when applying to school, overly expensive childcare, if you can even get off the waiting list (my care account) for children it is $ 2,500 a month – Stanford gives students a 5% discount) and often a sense of isolation.
Skeptics may argue that mothers are more likely to leave the workforce and therefore should not be given a place in a top business school. It is true that the labor force participation rate of mothers is significantly lower than that of fathers. However, education itself may be what keeps mothers at work. A study by Harvard professor Claudia Goldin on labor force participation in the Covid pandemic found that “the biggest differences in the pandemic effects on employment are found between educational groups, not between the sexes within educational groups.” Women who have graduated from college are much less likely to leave the workforce than their colleagues without degrees. Let’s not forget Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who gave birth to her daughter Jane in 1995, just before entering law school, and was only fired after her death. Or Kirtiga Reddy, the first Facebook employee in India and the first female investment partner at SoftBank Investment Advisers to give birth to a daughter after the first year of her Stanford MBA program.
What can be done?
Business schools should encourage mothers to apply. Although the Stanford MBA Admissions Office knows the number of mothers applying and being admitted to the class, this figure is not disclosed. If this issue was published, just as the school publishes the number of women, international citizens, black Americans, etc., it would both highlight the problem and encourage discussion. Although many efforts have been made to increase the number of women applicants, mothers are not a specific target group.
What Business Schools Can Do to Make MBA Mothers Better Welcome
Expand the resources provided to future MBA mothers. This should include guaranteed childcare on campus, financial assistance to cover childcare costs and basic family needs, more breastfeeding rooms and a more flexible birth placement policy.
Finally, motherhood must be weighed positively in admission decisions. Although difficult to measure and compare, some leniency when a person takes time off from “work” to have and / or raise children should become the standard. What other job requires you to be sleep deprived for months, run a household while hormones are highly volatile, and take care of another person who relies on you for everything while balancing the other demands of life. If motherhood could be seen as what it is – the most difficult job in the world – it would be at the forefront of discussions about work experience.
Would I do it all over again? Definitely. But I hope that the experience of future MBA mothers will be shared and supported.
Tamar Shamroth Liptz, a native of South Africa, is completing his MBA at Stanford. She has been an investor in companies across Africa and will join a multi-family office. She lives in California with her husband Itai and 1-year-old Lior.
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