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Change the Ratio: Expanding the Number of Mexican Women with MBAs

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

“It doesn’t matter to me if I’m the only woman at the table,” says Jessica Serrano, a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management during a panel for MBA Mujeres de México. When it comes to Mexican women with MBAs from international institutions, the numbers are low enough that facing fears of being the only one at the table is the norm. The same goes for gender parity in private-sector leadership: only 15 percent of Mexican firms have women in top management positions, and women make up just 7 percent of board leadership in the country’s listed companies.

Changing these ratios stands as one goal of MBA Mujeres de México, a network made up of women who gained business degrees at top international schools and support women in Mexico seeking to do the same.

On a rainy September 3 in Mexico City, roughly 120 women turned out for MBA Mujeres’ event on applying for an international MBA. Attendees came for networking and application tips, but they also heard from speakers who made the case for why they should overcome the financial worries or social pressures that stop them from submitting their applications. On the financial front, earning an MBA leads to starting salaries that make paying back loans a limited concern, said graduates.

But dealing with the challenges of social norms can be harder to boil down than dollars and cents. Maralty Ramírez, a Harvard Business School graduate and the network’s president and cofounder, said one stereotype about studying abroad for Mexican women is that they’ll never get married. She made the case, as panel moderator, that getting the degree brings equality to a marriage.

Another issue is the lack of women leaders to serve as role models. “Your mother probably didn’t work,” said Ramírez in a phone interview. “We Mexican women are not great examples for our kids. If we have more women in leadership positions, this will change little by little.”

There are signs a shift is already underway. MBA Mujeres tallies the number of women with international business degrees in Mexico. In 2010, women made up roughly 23 percent of Mexicans accepted to top-level MBAs abroad—a number that increased to 33 percent by 2015, per the network’s counts.

In fact, the biggest obstacle to applying—more than money or social stigma—is the application itself, say respondents of an MBA Mujeres survey. On the flip side, graduates count networking as the top benefit of getting an international MBA. As Mariana Villanueva, an alumna of IESE Business School in Barcelona, put it: “Don’t go when you are so old that you don’t enjoy the parties.”