THE BRAZEN CAREERIST- MBA v. mommy: Women foregoing b-school for families

Harvard just announced that it will change the timeline of business school enrollment as a way to attract "a wider range of applicants." Read: women. Right now women start businesses at two times the rate of men, and women do better in school than men do. But women make up less than one-third of the enrollment at top business schools.

There has been wide acknowledgment– in a hush-hush way– that the lag in business schools' enrollment of women is because the value of an MBA is different for each gender. Some of this difference has to do with personality, but a lot of it has to do with the biological clock.

Millennials have watched Generation X be the most fertility-stressed bunch of women ever. (I, for one, found myself scheduling my pregnancy around TV auditions. Absurd.) We now know that waiting until age 35 to begin having kids is not a good plan. If women want to have kids, they should put having a family ahead of having a career– because there's no negotiating with the biological clock.

Millennials know this. They make getting married and having babies by age 30 a priority, and one of the first things jettisoned is business school.

Typically, business schools required a few years of work, then an application process, then two years out of the work force for school. At that point, women are in their mid- to late 20s, and they need to be focusing on finding a husband. Today's generation is not stupid. They know that if they want to have kids, it makes no sense to play roulette with ovaries in order to get a few more years of work under their belt before trying to have kids. So business schools are not seeing enough female applicants.

People have been talking in hushed voices of creating faster ways to get through school in order to attract women. And people have been talking off the record about how top schools accept women at an earlier age than they accept men. But Harvard has made it official. In order to attract women into business school, the school is allowing women in after just two years of work. And they're encouraging liberal arts students, as well. Sure, Harvard is saying anyone can take the school up on this offer. But surely Harvard does not have trouble getting highly qualified male applicants– these changes are not for those people.

This is a big moment because it's the convergence of two big ideas in the workplace:

1. Women no longer put their career ahead of their biological clock. We tried it for a generation, and it was a massive failure.

2. Business schools acknowledge that they have to change to accommodate women– women are sick of changing themselves to accommodate the old corporate life geared toward men.

This second point gives me a lot of hope. There's a movement going on right now to demand that work accommodate life. In general, work does not respond to this movement. Social responsibility does not push through institutional change. After all, you could argue that in business, the people at the top are the worst parents and least likely to accommodate parenting for other people. 

But finally, there is change: the impending and massive talent shortage that's going to push through a lot of accommodations, and I think Harvard's shift in admissions is a harbinger of big things to come.

 [According to a September 2 story in the Daily Progress, women surged from 21 percent last year to 31 percent of the enrollment in UVA's incoming class at the Colgate Darden Graduate School of Business–editor.]