Q&A with Kenan-Flagler Business School dean

In April 2014 and August 2015, the White House invited business school deans and business leaders from across the United States to discuss why there are not as many women in business schools and careers and what can be done to increase those numbers.

Dean Douglas Shackelford of the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School attended both meetings and talked about them with Daily Tar Heel senior writer Deborah Harris.

The Daily Tar Heel: What was your takeaway from the White House meeting?

Douglas Shackelford: I would say basically our business school is as successful as about any other school in attracting women and addressing these issues as any other school.

And when I say that, I say that with a bit of regret because I don’t think any of the leading business schools are particularly pleased with the current level of female enrollment, and we wish there were more women in business at all levels.

So we all feel a bit frustrated and committed to see what we can do in our prospective areas to increase their involvement.

DTH: At the MBA (level, the) class of 2017 is comprised of 70 percent men and 30 percent women, so what is the school doing to recruit, train and retain women in business?

Shackelford: Our number is higher for our undergraduate program, and we have more women in our Master of Accounting program.

That is one of the things I and others are trying to understand: women and men seem to be attracted to different programs and different areas in different proportions.

I think one of things we have learned, at all business schools, is that it’s too late to try to attract more women through the business school when you start looking for applications.

So one of the issues is dealing with the pipeline ... Some of the things we are doing are reaching out to local high schools ... For our students that are actually already here and in the program, one of the things we are doing this year is something we call the Dean’s Speaker Series.

Each year we bring in four prominent people who we invite from the community, students, faculty, etc. And this year we rounded up three of four of those speakers who are women.

DTH: Are there changes you are looking to bring to the business school in the future?

Shackelford: I would like to hope that, in the future, we don’t have to have these sort of conversations because there are large numbers of women who are in business schools that don’t even think twice about being involved in business.

The fact that we are having this conversation because the White House had a conference speaks to the very issue that there is still work to be done. That is what we are really striving to get — that there’s really no news to report.

If you look at women in law school, if you look at women in medical school, those numbers are at levels where it’s certainly not unusual to see women and men ... equal — in fact, often the number of women is higher.

DTH: I’m sure you spoke with leaders from other schools. Do you have ideas as to what other peer schools are doing on this issue and what successful strategies the UNC business school might want to take up?

Shackelford: That was the purpose of the meetings, to bring deans together from different schools and leaders from corporations to discuss what they are doing. I didn’t hear about anything being done that I would say we weren’t already doing.

And, on the one hand, I was pleased because we are probably on the cutting edge; on the other hand, I was disappointed because I was hoping to hear from some school that, “Hey, we are doing a, b, c and making a real difference,” and I could come back here and say, “Hey guys, let’s start doing a, b, c because that will really make an impact.”

Unfortunately, I can’t say I heard something like that.

DTH: How much of this is the responsibility of the business schools themselves, as well as the outside business community?

Shackelford: That’s a great question. That was a question asked at the White House, and the response by probably most people in the administration was that more of the burden is (on) business(es) rather than business schools.

They seem to think that women not coming to business schools is not because business schools are not opening and attractive and welcoming but because women were concerned about whether the employment they would take after business schools would be as open and welcoming as a place as the business schools.

I think, however, that may be letting the schools off a little too easily. It’s probably all of the above. I think there are societal issues here. There are probably issues of bias that we are not even aware of.



Thanks for reading.

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