Dorothy Boulding Ferebee, 1920s, a groundbreaking physician and activist; Mae Yih, 1970s, the first Chinese American elected to any U.S. state legislature; and Rosalind Brewer, 2021, only the second Black woman hired as a CEO of a Fortune 500 company all have something in common: They graduated from women’s colleges.
In recent years, women have made great strides as leaders, and the number of women CEOs is growing. In fact, companies with women in senior positions can show almost 50% higher profits and share performance than other companies, according to McKinsey.
However, there is still room for improvement. According to Statista, as of March 2022, 85% of Fortune 500 company CEOs were male. Equitable business success for women is clearly a work in progress, and women’s colleges play an inspiring role in shaping it.
Traditionally and today, women’s institutions focus on social justice, gender equity, and female empowerment. An advanced education at a women’s college that prepares graduates to break barriers and shape the future can serve as a vital steppingstone for women in leadership.
How Women’s Colleges Uniquely Prepare Women for Business Success
Reasons to consider a women’s college are plentiful. These academic institutions uniquely prepare women for business success in several important ways.
Equity and Access
Many of the first women’s colleges, founded in the 19th century, offered rigorous coursework. Their graduates became outspoken writers, educators, entrepreneurs, and political activists when society frowned on females participating in the public sphere, especially the business marketplace.
Today, the driving force behind women’s colleges is still the desire to lift barriers that exclude women from traditionally male academic studies and occupational fields. They offer women opportunities to earn an education equal to that of men in an environment free of gender bias.
According to Vox, women’s colleges embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion as never before, expanding their mission of inclusivity to encompass students who may be:
- Differently abled
Additionally, a recent study published in the Center for the Advancement of Women and the Women’s College Coalition report “Collectif” (2020) reported that 51.2% of students at women’s colleges identify as students of color, compared to 43.6% at public universities and 38.5% at private colleges.
A key aspect of equitable access to education is affordability. According to data from the Women’s College Coalition, an organization whose members support the creation of the next generation of women leaders, women’s institutions demonstrate their commitment to offering affordable education in the following ways:
- Financial aid is provided to 94% of first-year full-time students.
- Of these students, 48% are eligible for Pell Grants.
- Average financial aid per student tops $15,000 per year.
Upholding a longstanding mission to break free of outmoded gender norms, women’s colleges aim to serve as affirming spaces for women of all races, ethnicities, and sexual orientations — spaces where individual potential can flourish.
Creating a Sense of Community
The Women’s College Coalition points out that female students thrive academically when teaching is student centered, a pedagogical style that’s front and center at women’s institutions.
Plus, women’s colleges typically offer small class sizes, so students can get more individualized attention from faculty and more chances to collaborate meaningfully with peers on projects with real-world relevance. This close-knit support and interaction can foster a host of benefits, such as:
- Collegial connections that last beyond graduation
- Faculty/student support networks
- Access to undergraduate research opportunities
- Career mentoring
- Internship opportunities
Students attest to the vibrant community support extended to them at women’s colleges. A graduate of St. Kate’s, Dulce Ocampo ’18, says of her academic experience, “I have never felt so challenged, powerful, and purposeful. I have learned so much about who I am and who I want to be in the future.”
Fostering Leadership Readiness
Actor Geena Davis, an advocate for strong women in entertainment media, popularized a motto that can apply to the women’s college experience: “If she can see it, she can be it.” Simply put, students at all-women academic institutions can see women leading, which may encourage them to also pursue leadership positions.
A case in point is Elizabeth Preze DNP’18, a graduate of St. Kate’s, who says of her experience, “I was supported and challenged by my professors and classmates to broaden my thinking and grow as a nursing leader.”
The Women’s College Coalition points out that, in contrast to coeducational colleges, students at all-women institutions have a host of opportunities to stretch their leadership skill set, including their oral communication skills. This leadership focus readies graduates of women’s colleges to take the helm in business and a variety of other fields.
Women’s institutions should continue fulfilling their mission to promote female leadership. According to Inside Higher Ed, Women’s College Coalition executive director Emerald Archer says all-women institutions should “have programs specific to making sure that women are raising their hand, and serving their community, and gearing up and creating space for more inclusive leadership.”
Offering Better Career Preparation
According to a survey reported by the Women’s College Coalition, 81% of women’s college graduates felt that their education was very or extremely effective in preparing them for the workforce, compared to 65% of public university graduates. Additionally, 51% of surveyed women’s college grads went on to complete a graduate degree, compared to 27% of public university graduates.
The American Association of University Women reports that women majoring in science, math, and other STEM subjects remain underrepresented and continue to encounter stereotypes and biases. However, another recent study published in the Collectif report concluded that when women’s colleges offer specialized majors and research experiences in science, technology, engineering, and math fields, the number of women who proceed to careers in STEM fields may increase.
Across the board, women’s colleges strive to offer well-balanced career preparation to boost student success in STEM, business, and other fields. Examples of their initiatives to prepare students for career success include pioneering engineering programs and offering concentrations for in-demand fields, such as healthcare management and marketing. Women’s colleges also offer coursework centering on women’s leadership, such as classes on the gendered nature of global business or how to manage a diverse workforce.
Forging Supportive Networks
According to a 2020 study of LinkedIn data, women are 28% less likely to have a strong network of professional peers than men. Women’s colleges help bridge this network gap.
Since their inception, women’s colleges have supported students’ efforts beyond graduation. Women’s college alumni in leadership roles may encourage job candidates who are also graduates of all-women institutions. They could be more likely to seek out and mentor colleagues who have graduated from such schools, as well.
Women’s colleges maintain strong alumni networks that include the following opportunities to stay connected:
- Attend online and on-campus alumni events
- Share job promotions or professional awards
- Refer future students for scholarships
- Refer outstanding graduates for alumni awards
- Purchase collegiate merchandise
- Consult alumni business directories and job listings
- Find volunteer opportunities
- Take advantage of benefits like auditing courses or using university fitness centers
- Locate and connect with nearby alumni
Ready Yourself to Take the Lead
Women’s colleges can prepare students for success in an empowering and affirming environment. Explore St. Kate’s School of Business programs, which are dedicated to amplifying women’s voices. Emphasizing collaboration and community over competition, they invite students to learn free from traditional power dynamics and equip them to advance as leaders.
Discover St. Kate’s women in business leadership offerings — including the bachelor’s in business management, the Master of Business Administration, and the Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership. Explore the program options, and discover how you can advance your career at a women’s college.