Women Hold Record-Breaking Number of Leadership Position at UVA Darden School

31 December 2013

Women comprise 35 percent of the Class of 2014 at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business, the School’s highest proportion of women to date. Women also preside over Darden’s four largest career clubs: the Consulting ClubMarketing ClubGeneral Management and Operations Club and Finance Club. The clubs boast between 200 and 400 student members. In addition, women make up roughly 50 percent of the leadership teams for three of the four clubs.

“The rising presence of women at Darden and especially in key leadership roles reflects increasing efforts to recruit the very best and all that we gain when we get them here,” said Peter Rodriguez, senior associate dean for degree programs and chief diversity officer. “Higher qualifications and a higher proportion of women have made the MBA program a better experience for all our students. The diversity of thought, perspective and leadership style they bring make a positive difference all across the school.”

Darden’s focus on women in leadership mirrors a larger societal focus on women in the workplace, brought to the forefront by recent books such as Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. Darden Professor Melissa Thomas-Hunt, an expert on gender and issues and negotiations, contributed to the book’s associated online education platform, Lean In.org, which provides resources to help women make the transition into leadership.


In all, there are 17 female presidents and more than 40 female vice presidents spanning Darden’s 45 student clubs. Some hold VP positions in more than one club.

Chelsea Graham, president of the Consulting Club at Darden and member of Darden’s Graduate Women in Business club, recognizes that gender is an important issue, but feels that gender bias has lessened.

“I think it’s a really great thing for Darden. I don’t know if it’s a factor that our class has a higher percentage of women than previous classes, but it’s certainly because the women in these positions are all incredibly smart, talented and great leaders,” Graham said. “Gender barriers are not something that I have experienced. I think success is related to merit and ability,” she added.


Darden Professors Erika James, Martin DavidsonKristin BehfarLili Powell and Melissa Thomas-Hunt lead participants in the Darden Executive Education Women’s Leadership Program. During the course, participants learn how to lead from their unique places of strength and develop the tools needed to become more effective. The weeklong course will be available in spring 2014, and again during fall 2014 in Washington, D.C.

James, senior associate dean for Executive Education and faculty lead for the Women’s Leadership Program, says that now is the time for companies to recognize the benefits of traits often associated with women, such as skill in building relationships and collaborating.

In an article for The Washington Post Capital Business, James wrote, “Once frowned upon as ‘soft’ or even inappropriate in business, these skills, for which women have generally been more socialized to attain than men, are now seen as vital to organizations that are operating in volatile environments.”

In addition to Executive Education courses, Darden offers opportunities for experiential learning as well as research and books that examine gender and diversity.

  • In 2012, Darden Professor Yael Grushka-Cockayne offered Darden’s female MBA students the chance to attend a TEDxWomen event in Washington, D.C. Her goal was to promote the success of Darden’s female MBA students and help them examine how they could help change the percentage of women CEOs among Fortune 500 companies. In December, she will host a live stream of the highly regarded event.
  • In Davidson’s book The End of Diversity as We Know It: Why Diversity Efforts Fail and How Leveraging Difference Can Succeed, he promotes the idea that leveraging the differences of unique individuals rather than simply managing diversity initiatives is the key to successful workplace innovation.
  • According to research conducted by Thomas-Hunt, women play a distinct role on teams and at the negotiating table. She has found that women are particularly gifted at negotiating on behalf of others — a quality that can be important for Darden’s female club leaders as they advocate for the needs of their members.

Darden is committed to developing, through a transformative learning experience, responsible and complete leaders. The Darden community fosters diversity of people, perspectives and thought.

About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D., MSBA and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.


Press Contact

Sophie Zunz
Director of Media Relations
Darden School of Business
University of Virginia