Men do numbers, women do strategy

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A decade later, women continue to be very much in the minority in most finance courses. And in recruiting M.B.A.s today, Ms. Klose finds that women still aren't nearly as confident as their male classmates about their math and analytical skills. "Women shouldn't really be afraid of the quant courses; it isn't rocket science," says Ms. Klose, director of advertising development for Tribune Publishing in Chicago. "Often, they can do as good work on quantitative projects as men, but they're shier about selling their abilities."

Ms. Klose is typical of many of the recruiters who responded to this year's Wall Street Journal/Harris Interactive business-school survey. When asked about differences they observe in male and female M.B.A.s, they pointed to some clear demarcation lines. Men are perceived as forceful, if sometimes overly pushy leaders, as well as more adept in math. Women, recruiters agreed, tend to interact more effectively with clients and colleagues and excel in strategy and communications.

"In general, women candidates come across as strong communicators," says Eelco van Wijk, a survey respondent and manager for financial systems support at FedEx Corp. "They readily overcome any weaknesses in their résumés by performing very well in the interview process."

To be sure, there are many exceptions to these generalizations: Some women are math whizzes, while some men score high in emotional intelligence. But recruiters in the survey emphatically praised female graduates as insightful, conscientious and collegial, and they consistently described men as results-driven leaders with superior quantitative-analysis skills. "Sadly, my general observation is that many gender stereotypes still apply," a survey respondent commented. "Female M.B.A.s have a bias to nurturing and team building and male M.B.A.s to a more analytically driven focus on success and independence. My advice is that both should develop more well-rounded skills."

Bridging the gap

Recruiters' recommendations for bridging the gender gap run the gamut. Women are encouraged to "toot their own horns," take more risks, develop a stronger handshake and dress more professionally. As for men, recruiters strongly urged them to be more humble and collaborative, listen better to other points of view and stop taking credit for other people's accomplishments.

Although the more assertive style of most men may give them an advantage at some companies, recruiters complain that men too often lack the interpersonal skills required for a team-oriented culture. They believe some male M.B.A. students are making a mistake by dismissing courses on communications and other so-called soft skills as fluff and focusing just on their technical skills. "Focus on really listening to your team, direct reports and manager, and develop empathy for those you work with," one survey respondent advised male M.B.A.s.

Recruiters also advise men to tone down the bravado. "Some guys take themselves out of the running in job interviews by coming on a little too strong," says Ms. Klose. "They want to know right away what their projects will be and where they'll go next in the company. But women often are more humble and ask more thoughtful questions about the workplace environment, what will make them successful, who they'll be working with."

Stephanie Waugh, a survey respondent and assistant brand manager at Procter & Gamble Co., says she encourages female M.B.A. students to "prove they can be quant jocks" as well as demonstrate superior communication skills because the two make such a powerful career combination. Realizing that marketing requires an understanding of quantitative analysis, she took an extra-heavy load of accounting and statistics courses to get up to speed. But she recalls female classmates at the Yale School of Management dropping out of an advanced quantitative course after a few weeks.

Some women later regret their limited quantitative skills. The Graduate Management Admission Council, or GMAC, has found in its research among alumni that women are much more likely than men to wish they had learned more about analyzing statistical data, conducting financial analyses, preparing budgets and doing cost-benefit analyses.

Good news

The corporate recruiters who hire the most M.B.A.s aren't surprised by the Journal survey findings. Edith Hunt, managing director and global recruiting chief at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., believes that the results are generally good news for female graduates. "Relationship skills and the ability to work well across an organization, especially as globalization increases, will serve women well as they go forward," she says.

On the quantitative issue, she finds that women who apply to Goldman are quite focused on investment banking and have prepared well for it through their academic and work experiences. "By the time we see women in our applicant pool, they have decided they definitely want to do some aspect of investment banking," she says, "and they're as strong or stronger than the men." Female M.B.A.s at Goldman tend more toward "client facing" positions in investment banking, sales and private wealth management instead of the hard-core financial jobs. "Women understand their strengths," Ms. Hunt says, "and they go with them."

But a disproportionately small number of women M.B.A.s seek jobs at Goldman. That she attributes at least partly to the lack of role models in many women's lives. In contrast, Ms. Hunt notes, her daughter, having grown up with a mother in an executive position on Wall Street, is a commodities trader in New York.

Despite the generally superior interpersonal skills of women M.B.A.s, Ms. Hunt finds that many don't use those skills to build all-important networks inside the firm. "Men have the edge over women in informally networking within the firm," she says. "Women tend to prefer to work through the formal network. But we tell them part of work is building relationships; they need to walk the floor and talk to people."

In addition to differences in personal skills and attributes, recruiters in the survey also observed that priorities and interests tend to vary by gender, with men much more concerned about the pace of their career development and women more interested in the corporate culture and personal fulfillment. In the area of ethics and corporate social responsibility, one survey respondent said, "I believe women in general are more willing to forgo some monetary gain to advance the common good, a sentiment that I applaud."

Marissa Raflo, a survey respondent and business analyst at the agricultural products company Cargill Inc., sees two primary areas that "women M.B.A.s prioritize higher than men -- lifestyle and culture fit." Indeed, in a GMAC study of 2005 M.B.A. graduates, women were more likely to cite "achieving something you personally value," a company's "high ethical standards" and a "positive organizational climate" as important in their career choices, while men gave more weight to salaries and opportunity for advancement.

Different arenas

Recruiters also noted significant gender differences in career preferences. Ms. Raflo finds that women tend to shy away from what they perceive as "masculine" industries, including agriculture. Consequently, she finds it challenging trying to attract women to Cargill. A recruiter for the strategy and business-development group, she tries to persuade women that Cargill provides work and family balance and informs them that it isn't just a manufacturer of products for livestock and crops but also has interests in such areas as food and nutrition and financial and commodity trading. "Cargill is certainly not a company where women would feel uncomfortable," she says. This year, she was pleased that Cargill succeeded in hiring four women along with eight men for strategy and business development.

Mark Moran, a survey respondent and U.S. field-service manager for Dell Inc. who recruits M.B.A.s for positions in operations and supply-chain management, also finds it hard to attract female M.B.A. graduates. "There are a limited number of female candidates in operations and supply chain because so many tend to focus on marketing," he says. "That makes it difficult to have the gender balance we are striving for. Of course, it doesn't help that many M.B.A. programs have only a 30% female representation overall."

Women tend to gravitate toward such fields as marketing partly because they're perceived as less demanding and more conducive to raising a family than, say, consulting and investment banking. In the GMAC survey of recent graduates, 29% of the female respondents said they sought jobs in sales and marketing, compared with 19% of the men, while 4% of the women were interested in human-resource positions vs. 1% of the men. Finance and accounting were bigger draws for men than women. More men also aspired to work in general management, operations and logistics, and information technology. Given those industry differences, the survey found a significant salary differential: Men accepted jobs with salaries averaging $93,066, compared with $84,356 for women.

The differences in career choices are starting to change at some schools. Nearly half of the women M.B.A.s at Indiana University's Kelley School of Business still take jobs in marketing and sales. But this year a third of them are heading into finance jobs, up from only 21% in 2003.

"I'm convinced that more women would get into finance if they just realized they could do it," says Daniel Smith, dean of the Kelley School. "All it takes is a good teacher to learn this stuff."

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