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Higher education has a responsibility to help diversify NH’s workforce at all levels


Nationwide, women lost more than 12 million jobs during the pandemic’s recession, triggering what many have dubbed a “she-cession” because of the disproportionate employment losses by gender. As we work toward economic recovery as the uncertainties of the pandemic continue, we must ensure that women’s workplace equality includes career opportunity and the elimination of gender-based pay gaps.

According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center, the gender gap in pay in the United States has remained relatively stable over the past 15 years, with women earning only 84 percent of what men earned in 2020 and women of color earning even less. A separate analysis of wages conducted by estimates that U.S. women effectively stop getting paid on Oct. 29 when compared to their male peers.

In New Hampshire, women are paid only 82 cents for every dollar paid to men, placing the state at No. 15 for gender-based pay gaps. Pew Research further surmises that ongoing gender-based pay gaps are due to factors such as “educational attainment, occupational segregation and work experience” and states that “even though women have increased their presence in higher-paying jobs traditionally dominated by men, such as professional and managerial positions, women as a whole continue to be overrepresented in lower-paying occupations relative to their share of the workforce.”

During the economic recovery phase of the pandemic, women should consider advancing their skills and knowl edge through opportunities that fit into their busy lives and provide the best return on investment for their efforts to upskill or reskill for career advancement. One such approach with the potential to ameliorate gender-based pay gaps comes from an increased number of women enrolling in MBA programs and business schools.

Members of the U.S. workforce with MBA degrees earn some of the highest wages in the nation. PayScale estimates that MBA holders earn roughly $87,000 per year on average, and The Financial Times estimates that the average salary for a recent business-school graduate is roughly $150,000. Both of these estimations are significantly higher than what Americans make on average, which is closer to $50,000 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

While women outnumber men at all levels of education, men still dominate enrollment in business programs, which notably often provide a pathway to roles with higher salaries. Fortunately, an increased number of women are pursuing advanced business degrees and beginning to buck previous enrollment trends.

According to the Forté Foundation, which hosts conferences and funds fellowships for women in MBA programs and partners with business schools to promote gender equity, in 2005 there wasn’t a single business school in the U.S. that exceeded 40 percent enrollment of women. However, according to the Forté Foundation’s most recent survey of their 54 business school partners, U.S. schools have roughly 39 percent women enrolled overall — up from 32 percent in 2011.

The Forté Foundation further notes that today at least 19 schools have reached this threshold — including Harvard Business School, Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business and the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. At Western Governors University, a nonprofit, accredited university focused on competency-based learning, 64 percent of students enrolled in the college of business are women.

Not only is accredited, online higher education gaining larger widespread acceptance across the nation, research shows the structure of online, competency-based education is more advantageous to women. Competency-based education is unique because it measures skills and subject knowledge rather than time or “hours” spent in a classroom. This approach to higher education allows students to pursue their degree while continuing to hold full-time employment, or care for family members and attend to the educational needs of school-aged children as a direct result of family-dynamic changes brought about by the pandemic.

As we elevate the progress made and need for continued work for women’s equality in the U.S. and seek to reduce gender-based pay gaps, we must empower a greater number of women to pursue careers in the business world. Higher education has a responsibility to help diversify New Hampshire’s workforce at all levels and help drive the state’s economy. We can start by expanding the opportunity for women to earn MBA degrees, expanding the pipeline of qualified candidates for C-suite leadership positions.

Rebecca L. Watts serves as a regional vice president for Western Governors University. She holds a doctorate in higher education leadership from Ohio University.

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