Stanford is proud of the diversity of its MBA class. However, when I started in the fall of 2020, joining Stanford’s largest MBA class of 436, there was one demographic that completely disappeared: mothers. Not one. I became the first, giving birth to the last week of my freshman year. And I almost didn’t apply for business school.
Many factors can explain the lack of mothers in MBA programs. Many women choose to delay motherhood until their careers are on track, others are still looking for life partners, and for many the financial burden of motherhood and an MBA is too heavy. But the more important factor may be that many don’t know they can combine an MBA and motherhood and recognize that entering a class where no one else “looks like” or can empathize with you is daunting and isolating.
After a miscarriage and with the goal of creating an ever-present family, I realized that my chance for an MBA was behind me, not knowing a single role model. I rejected my husband’s suggestion to apply. “You can’t be a mom and get an MBA,” I protested. My husband does not easily accept “no” and arranges calls with the few women he has managed to find who had been mothers in business school. With some encouragement from the discussion, I applied.
Taking the GMAT days after a miscarriage
By writing the GMAT entrance exam five days after my second miscarriage, having IVF and my first trimester coinciding with my first trimester at Stanford, and having given birth in exam week, I can reflect on one of mine. more solitary trips. A journey that could have been easier if someone in my class found themselves in a similar situation.
The “maternity penalty” is not new. Much has been written about how mothers are paid less than their non-mother counterparts, or how pregnant women are visibly seen as less busy at their jobs than non-pregnant colleagues. (I was told not to mention miscarriages in my business school application essays from the MBA consultancy I used, I advised that schools might question my study commitment if they knew I was trying to create a family.)
One penalty that may not be as obvious is the shortage of mothers applying (and getting accepted) in business schools. Kirsten Moss, Stanford Assistant Dean for MBA Admissions, notes that mothers represent “a small fraction of the more than 7,000 applications” she receives each year. This translates into the class profile. In Stanford’s starting class of 2022, no mothers were present as eight fathers made the cut. The 2023 Class is no exception: zero mothers and 11 fathers.
As an MBA mom, I had a very different experience from my classmates
This scarcity isn’t just Stanford’s. At Harvard Business School, mothers make up 1% of the student community, with a father-to-mother ratio of five to one. The lack of mothers has been described in detail by the MBA moms of Wharton, Kellogg and Darden, just to name a few.
As a mother in business school, I had a very different experience from my classmates. My internship was giving birth. This meant that recruiting for a job after business school was more challenging, with no offers coming out of the summer. While classmates were out “networking” most evenings, I was at home spending a few precious hours with the family and working between feeds. I became the de facto maternity expert in the classroom, addressing questions about fertility, pregnancy, birth arrangements and nursing rooms.
The school and the teachers were extremely supportive and understood when I had to take my child to class or skip class to care for a sick child. The classmates were wonderful, they organized a baby shower for me and offered me a free babysitting service.
As an MBA mom, the academic experience was tough and lonely
Overall though, the experience was tough and lonely. MIT and Harvard moms told me their challenges are similar: lack of clarity about birth resources and policies when applying at school, exorbitantly expensive childcare if you can even get off the waiting list ( my childcare bill is $ 2,500 a month – Stanford gives students a 5% discount) and often a feeling of isolation.
Skeptics might argue that mothers have a greater propensity to leave the workforce, and therefore should not be given a place in a higher business school. It is true that the labor force participation rate of mothers is considerably lower than that of fathers. However, it may be education itself that keeps mothers in the workforce. Research by Harvard professor Claudia Goldin on labor force participation during the Covid pandemic found that “the greatest differences in the effects of the pandemic on employment are found between education groups rather than between genders within groups of instruction”. Women with degrees were far less likely to drop out of the workforce than their counterparts without degrees. Let’s not forget Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who gave birth to her daughter Jane in 1995, shortly before entering law, and was separated from work only in death. Or Kirthiga Reddy, India’s first Facebook employee and SoftBank Investment Advisers’ first female investment partner, who gave birth to her daughter after the first year of her MBA program at Stanford.
What can be done?
Business schools must encourage mothers to apply. Although the Stanford MBA Admissions Office knows the number of mothers who apply and are accepted into the class, this metric is not disclosed. If this issue were published, just like public school numbers, internationals, black Americans, etc., would highlight the problem and encourage discussion. Although much effort was made to increase the number of female candidates, mothers were not a specific target group.
What business schools can do to make MBA moms more welcome
Expand the resources provided to prospective MBA moms. This should include guaranteed childcare on campus, financial aid to cover the cost of childcare and basic family needs, more breastfeeding rooms, and a more flexible childbirth accommodation policy.
Finally, motherhood should be positively assessed in admission decisions. While certainly difficult to measure and compare, a little indulgence when taking a break from “work” to give birth and / or raise children should become standard. What other job requires you to be sleep deprived for months, managing a family while hormones fluctuate wildly, and taking care of another human being who relies on you for everything while balancing the other demands of life. If motherhood could be seen for what it is – the hardest job in the world – it would come first in discussions of work experience.
Would I do it all again? Decidedly. But I hope the MBA mom-to-be experience is shared and supported.
South African native Tamar Schamroth Liptz is finishing her MBA at Stanford. She was an investor in companies across Africa and will join a multi-family office. She lives in California with her husband, Itai, and 1 year old, Lior.
DON’T MISS: ‘MOMBA’: 3 WOMEN’S STORIES RAISING CHILDREN IN THE B-SCHOOL or 10 EXCEPTIONAL WOMEN MBA TO WATCH