It’s a first: more women than men in Wharton’s 2023 MBA class

For the first time in its 140-year history, the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania has enrolled more women than men in its MBA program. 

The change in class balance takes effect with Wharton’s 2023 MBA class — women make up 52% of the class. This is a milestone for the prestigious school and a first among the seven colleges that make up the “M7” business schools, which includes Harvard Business School, Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, Columbia Business School, MIT Sloan School of Management, Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.

Times and ambitions change

Wharton came close to breaking the 50% barrier in 2021; 46% of enrollees were women. What changed in the last few years? 

“The professional ramifications of the Covid-19 pandemic have disproportionately impacted women,” says Blair Mannix, the MBA Director of Admissions. “But it’s apparent to our team that more women are beginning to ask themselves, ‘Why not me?’. “Our candidates might be using this time as an opportunity to redefine their path with a renewed sense of purpose and confidence. We find that across all sectors, our women applicants continue to see themselves as future leaders.”

The Wharton MBA Admissions team also strategically recruited for this result. They partnered with organizations like the Forte Foundation (a nonprofit dedicated to increasing women’s enrollment in business schools), collaborated directly with clubs like Wharton Women in Business (WWIB), and offered fellowships specifically for women. 

Women in other business schools

A few other schools have crossed this threshold — or come close — in the past. In 2018, the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business boasted a class made up of 52% women, according to the Forté Foundation as reported in the Wall Street Journal. In 2019, 49% of enrollees at the Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis were women. And in 2020, 58% of the class at George Washington University’s School of Business were women. That same year, Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business had a class with 49% women.

Last year, the incoming class at Harvard Business School was 44% women. And at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, the number was 47% women.

In a LinkedIn article, Wharton Dean Erika James commented on the gender divide and noted that the number of female CEOs has grown from just 17 out of 529 announcements (in between 1990 and 2000) to 41 of today’s Fortune 500 firms in 2021.

As she put it: “Despite slow progress, the trajectory is at least promising.”

The future of women and business

If trends continue — more women in MBA programs — there will be ripples (if not giant waves) of change in the American workplace.

  • More women graduating with an MBA than ever before
  • Top Fortune 500 leadership positions more likely than ever to go to women
  • Improvements in pay equity between genders
  • More startups to be launched by women
  • Fewer articles noting how unusual it is for women to be thriving in the business world (some day this will be the norm, which is a good thing)