In 2009, for the first time on record, more than two-fifths of aspirants to the MBA qualification, worldwide,  are women, according to the QS TopMBA.com Applicant Survey 2009. This figure continues a rising trend over recent years, and has increased from 33% of candidates in 2005.

The message appears to be reaching women across the world, that an MBA and a career in top-flight business management is no longer only the domain of males.Except in India.

Interest in the MBA in India remains very heavily male dominated, with women forming only 17.6% of 526 respondents to the survey, the lowest proportion of all but three (Egypt, Jordan and Pakistan) of the 33 countries on the QS World MBA Tour. This is despite the projections by McKinsey, the international consultants, that India, as well as Brazil, China and Russia, faces a sever shortfall of business leaders to lead the country over the next decade or two.

Ross Geraghty, author of the survey and Managing Editor of TopMBA.com, says: While interest in MBA programs in India is higher than ever before, it is going against the international trend that fewer Indian women then before are considering applying for business school, especially at a time when they are most needed. I do expect this trend to change over the next five to ten years to fall more in line with international projections, but I don't think it will reach 40% for many years.

Worldwide, it is still true that the glass ceiling exists -where women are able to look upwards and see their male counterparts become more and more successful without being able to reach that success themselves. However, QS' figures point towards a gradual balancing out of the difference between the genders at managerial and boardroom level, and it is here that India will remain far behind until a great deal of work is made to rectify the situation.

This is becoming evident in businesses around the world. In Norway, for instance, 2006 legislation forced the 500 companies listed on the stock exchange there to make the numbers of women on their boards up to 40% within two years. Although seemingly radical, this is in fact an accurate reflection of the interest in business among woman globally.

In terms of salaries, women worldwide still expect to earn less than their male counterparts, even though they currently appear to earn at least the same amount. Around three percent of MBA candidates, both men and women, currently earn over US$100,000. However women's expectations for future earnings are either lower or more realistic. In the same survey, 38% of men replied that they expect to earn more than US$100,000 per year after graduating from an MBA while only 31% of women felt they could earn the same. 

In India the average figure stands at US$35,000 as an average salary for MBA aspirants, with an expectation of earning US$96,000 after graduating. It is this kind of figure that the world's, and India's own, business schools are trying to help their candidates achieve. These schools have long admitted the need to attract more female candidates in a bid the shake the MBA stereotype. For women already juggling a family with a career, or those not interested in the traditional route in financial services or consultancy, there has always been a question mark over the need for an MBA qualification and India, it seems now, is still playing catch up in this regard.

Meanwhile, motivations for embarking on an MBA also seem to shifting. While many still wish to follow the tried and test route, 29% of female respondents now say they want to use their qualification to help them set up their own business. This is up from 25% last year.

Ross Geraghty says The recession has seen a shift in the intentions of MBA aspirants towards entrepreneurialism and self-employment, as careers in consultancy and banking are far harder to achieve then before. This is true across the board, for men and women.

McKinsey's projection is that India will have a shortfall of managers over the next decade that could be of significant numbers. It is unlikely, even if all Indian male applicants to business schools were successful, that they alone will be able to fill this need. Geraghty continues: Business schools worldwide are desperate to increase the diversity of their programs. The deans and admissions officers that attend the QS World MBA Tour are all keen to attract people from as wide a background as possible. What they tell me, on a regular basis, is that they are surprised at how few Indian women are applying to their programs and that applications from talented Indian women would be most welcome.

It seems that now is the best time after all for Indian women to start taking an MBA education very seriously.