Until the mid-1950s, men were the only Wharton graduates. Over the years, however, women have been gaining ground in both the undergraduate and graduate program. Last year’s entering undergraduate class was 42 percent female, and we anticipate similarly strong numbers for the Class of 2015.
This increase in female enrollment at Wharton reflects not only the changing demographic of business leaders, but also the broad shift in tomorrow’s business landscape. Nearly half of the U.S. workforce is female, and that number is growing. Our goal is to equip our students with the tools needed to succeed, and we have to ask if we are keeping pace with these changes in the business world. Are we preparing our female students to tackle the lingering challenges associated with a male-centric business model?
Last month, I posed similar questions to a group of business-savvy Wharton alumnae. We had an honest dialogue on how we can better prepare women to take on leadership roles in business and how we can encourage more young women to pursue business education. It was a refreshingly forthright discussion of what makes someone a good leader.
A strong take-away from that event was the need to bolster young women’s confidence to help them recognize their leadership potential. We can do this by continuing to champion wonderful student clubs like Wharton Women, which provides a supportive community for exploring business and leadership. We can also expand opportunities for students to be mentored by female faculty and alumnae, helping students develop their understanding of leadership and open up new career options.