MBA Opportunities

10 Women Business School Leaders You Should Know About

While female business school leaders are still in the minority, their number is growing. The percentage of AACSB-accredited business schools led by female deans increased from 17 to 25 percent between 2008 and 2018.

That number is still low, considering women make up just under half of business school candidates who take the GMAT exam, but the trend is moving toward equal representation.

Business schools around the world are employing women as their deans, and today there are women at the helm of top schools across the United States, Asia, Africa, and Europe.

Here are 10 prominent women business school leaders, who are forging the path for female representation at business school.

  1. Erika James, Wharton

Erika James made history as the first female and first person of color to be appointed dean of the prestigious Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. She entered the role in July 2020, having spent 20 years in academia leading research in crisis leadership, workplace diversity, and management strategy.

Trained as an organizational psychologist, James has also worked as a consultant focused on a number of high-profile crises, including Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. She is currently working on a book focused on crisis leadership. She currently sits on the board of the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), the owner and administer of the GMAT exam.

2. Ann E. Harrison, Berkeley Haas

An expert in emerging markets, international trade, and global labor markets, Ann E Harrison has been dean of the Haas School of Business at the University of California Berkeley since January 2019.

Once the director of development policy at the World Bank, responsible for reforming its allocation of research funds, Harrison has also taught at world renowned business institutions including Wharton Business School, Columbia Business School, Harvard University and the University of Paris.

She is a winner of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ Sun Yefang Prize—one of China’s highest honors in economics—for one of the three books she has co-authored.

3. Marion Debruyne, Vlerick Business School

Former Wharton professor, Marion Debruyne, is the dean of Vlerick Business School in Belgium and one of several female business school deans heading up European schools. Her expertise spans sectors including finance, healthcare, and energy, having worked with some of the world’s largest companies like Merck, Siemens, and ING.

Debruyne’s focus areas are innovation, competition, and marketing. Alongside her role as dean, she also teaches in a number of postgraduate programs at Vlerick, including the EMBA and Master’s in Marketing and Digital Transformation.

4. Isabelle Bajeux-Besnainoo, Carnegie Mellon Tepper

Isaebelle Bajeux-Besnainoo has been dean of the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University since October 2020. She was formerly dean of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University—a post she had held for five years.

As a professor of finance, Bajeux-Besnainoo has a proven track record for innovation through interdisciplinary study. At McGill, she introduced interdisciplinary minors, and she plans to bring more interdisciplinary collaboration to the curriculum at Tepper.

5. Wendy Loretto, University of Edinburgh Business School

The University of Edinburgh Business School’s Wendy Loretto is an expert in a variety of fields. Her PhD was a study on drug use among young people, and she has also conducted research into the relationship between gender and work. The bulk of her work has focused on age and employment.

Loretto holds a number of roles beyond the business school too, including associate editor of the publication Employee Relations, and as a member of the External Advisory Board on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion for UK Research and Innovation.

6. Idalene “Idie” Kesner, Indiana Kelley

Idie Kesner has been Dean of the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University since 2013. During this time, she has pushed for gender equality among students and faculty, with the number of women enrolling in undergraduate programs rising by 94 percent under her leadership.

She’s a Kelley alum herself, having studied both her MBA and PhD at the school. Alongside her work as dean, Kesner holds roles including the Frank P. Popoff Chair of Strategic Management, as well as sitting on five boards. Kesner’s primary areas of expertise lie in mergers and acquisitions, corporate governance, and chief executive succession.

7. Christina Soh, NTU Business School

Nanyang Technological University (NTU) Business School, Singapore, has the highest proportion of female faculty of the schools mentioned in this list, standing at 33 percent in 2021.

The school is led by Christina Soh, (pictured center) an expert in digital transformation and enterprise systems who has won awards for her research into information systems.

Soh studied her PhD in California and completed her bachelor’s degree in Singapore at NTU. Much of her work is cross-disciplinary, and she is currently working on a project looking into the digitization of healthcare.

8. Donna Rapaccioli, Fordham Gabelli

Fordham University’s Gabelli School of Business is led by Donna Rapaccioli, who first joined the school in 1987 when studying her bachelor’s degree in business administration. Rapacciolli, who also holds a master’s degree and PhD from New York University’s Stern School of Business, is an expert in earnings management and international accounting.

In the past she has won Gabelli’s outstanding teacher award, voted for by students, and has served on the board of trustees at Boston’s Emmanuel College. She is also director of the State Street Global Advisors Mutual Fund Board. She currently sits on the board of GMAC, the owner and administer of the GMAT exam.

9. Fiona Devine, Alliance Manchester Business School

Under Fiona Devine’s leadership, Alliance Manchester Business School has achieved a 50/50 split of female to male board members, the only school in this list to have done so.

As well as heading up the business school, she is also professor of sociology, and has been awarded an OBE and CBE for services to social science. Devine has held a number of roles outside of education, including chair of the Economic and Social Research Council’s (ESRC) International Advisory Committee, and as a member of the Governing Council of the European Science Foundation (ESF).

10. Catherine Duggan, University of Cape Town GSB

Leading the way for women business school leaders in Africa, Catherine Duggan was named director of the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business in September 2020. She has experience teaching business school classes around the globe, including Harvard Business School, INSEAD, and Saïd Business School at Oxford University.

Duggan’s research primarily focuses on sub-Saharan Africa, and she has spent over 20 years covering business in South Africa, Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda. Her specialist areas are financial sector regulation and institutional development.

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