Last week, 14 deans from the U.S.’s top business schools came together at the White House to discuss how their schools could encourage working families in the business environment. The meeting was part of preparations for a White House Summit on Working Families in June.
The location was very fitting, as the White House doubles as the country’s most famous office and home. The theme of the day was balancing those two settings. How can MBA programs support graduates – men and women – as they try to balance work and family? How can they groom students to change the culture of their future workplaces and to create a better environment for working parents?
These are important questions, both for personal happiness and for national economic health. As Judy Olian, dean of UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, told The Wall Street Journal, “We need every talented, trained person- including women- in the workforce.”
Unfortunately, workplace conditions, in America and around the world, too often do little to accommodate working parents, leading many to leave the workforce while their children are young. This trend typically affects mothers more, and can lead to penalties for career interruptions or lower pay in exchange for flexibility.
This contributes to the gender pay gap that the Obama administration has been focusing on, citing studies like this one by Harvard University, highlighting a $15K and $150K earnings gap between male and female MBAs upon graduation and after nine years, respectively.
Many social and economic factors contribute to this problem, and many- such as the cost of childcare- are far beyond the control of B-School deans. Other changes, though, can and should be wrought at university and graduate school levels. Options discussed at the White House meeting included increasing alumni career support for graduates transitioning back into the workforce, developing outreach programs to encourage high school women to consider a business career, supporting faculty research on gender issues, and creating more student programming to discuss the challenges facing working families.
These goals are certainly admirable steps, but they must be implemented comprehensively. No single programming initiative is going to generate a solution. Business schools need to create a culture of awareness and accountability- awareness of the challenges that working families face, and accountability to create a better future. These elite MBA programs are training the future managers of some of the world’s largest companies, across all different industries. It is these managers, not the government, who will have the most power to implement more compassionate policies and effect day-to-day change for working families. Culture change is not easy, but MBA students can certainly be powerful agents, and their education should make them well aware of the problems they- and their employees- will face. Last week’s discussion could be a positive step in that direction, and I hope that each dean will take an active role in continuing that discussion on their campus.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Are you a parent in a working family? Do you think workplace policy helps or hinders your work-life balance?
(Photo: The White House)