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Tackling Gender Equality in Business – One Student’s Experience

Written by Jamie Wright

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Diversity is good for business, this much we know. Studies have shown that companies which embrace diversity have better performance, both human and financial. Seems like a no-brainer, right? In thinking about gender diversity, why is it then that we have yet to see an equal number of men and women in the boardroom, or the pay gap narrowing? There is no question that there’s work to be done to make this happen, and business schools are in a position to do so. My colleague Stephanie Thrane’s recent blog post Why we need more women in business schools sums up our role well: “As a top business school we are educating future global leaders. Leaders of large international organisations who will go on to shape the business of the future. The more women who go on to graduate from business schools the more women we are able to promote into leadership roles. The more women we have in leadership roles the more opportunities we have to change outdated c-suite norms, in-equality in pay, maternity leave policies and the list goes on.”

 

So, how as a business school can we help to build this pipeline? London Business School continues to take steps to ensure equal representation of women within the community, with initiatives including increasing the proportion of applications from female faculty shortlisted for interview for untenured positions, encouraging female applicants to apply through initiatives with the Women in Business Club and also enhanced scholarships, easier identification of classroom case studies with female protagonists, and through covering equality and diversity from day one in the classroom at Orientation.

 

It’s vital that professionals from all backgrounds and demographics engage in the conversation of gender equality, and this is a conversation in which both men and women need to be involved – they each make-up half of the world’s population, so makes sense that each is at the table. We need to discuss how gender, and the stereotyping and bias which may come along with it, affects the way in which we work, and how our perceptions of gender may positively and negatively affect our organisations.

 

And it’s not just professionals who should be taking into account these considerations. In thinking about the pipeline it’s vital that students are also engaged in this discussion. In this post, MiM2017 Lola Wajskop shares her experience in looking at the issue of gender equality in the classroom:

 

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Diversity matters. I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it: building and nurturing diverse teams – both in universities and in the workplace – is not only the right thing to do, it also makes business sense. I’ve been passionate about gender diversity specifically ever since I read Lean In, the first book of Sheryl Sandberg (if you haven’t read it: I strongly recommend it!). The book opened my eyes to many issues related to gender equality. Over the past few years I’ve focused on the issue of women in engineering and tech and decided to take action: before joining LBS, I launched “Yes She Can” with my friend Lola, an initiative aimed at attracting more female students into STEM education.

 

When I decided to pursue a second masters, I carefully studied the “MiM landscape”, considering which business school should I apply to? London Business School was my absolute first choice: the school had a stellar academic reputation, but I was even more attracted by its effort to build a community as diverse as possible. The school really understands that the quality of our experience is proportional to the level of diversity in the classroom – whether nationalities, backgrounds, aspirations or gender.

 

I strongly believe that business schools, and especially LBS, are major players in the fight for gender equality. The reason is simple: if we joined the MiM programme, it is because at some point in the near future we would like to manage – manage organisations, manage people, manage countries (who knows?!). This makes it very likely that a significant part of the class will aim for leadership positions during their careers. If business schools foster a culture and a community where gender equality is a high priority, where people understand and talk about why diversity matters in the workplace, it is likely that these same people – my friends – will actively seek to recreate a similar culture in the organisations that they join or create. Basically, we’ll leave the world in a better place than we found it. And LBS definitely aims to do just that.

 

Gender parity is a top priority at the faculty level (where I know it is a topic that is researched thoroughly), and on the student side, too. As an example, I was attending last week the annual “Multiple:X” conference of the Private Equity and Venture Capital Club. When I got there, I was shocked by the small number of women attending – the room was largely dominated by men, perhaps not surprising knowing that finance is one of those fields that is dominated by men. But then I realised that the students organising the event actively tried to promote equality and get women engaged in the event:
(1) the speakers and panellists included women – and I was very pleased to hear from most of my friends attending that their one favourite speaker was a woman, Zeina Bain, Managing Director at the Carlyle Group;

(2) there was a panel dedicated entirely to gender diversity in the workplace,

(3) there was a good mix of male and female presenters represented, including  my friends Stefan and Rachel, and they both did an incredible job at keeping the day going. This is just one example, but it truly represents what the school and its community stands for: we actively look to make a difference, as often as we can.

 

Another example would be the ManBassador programme. Born within the Women in Business Club, ManBassadors are a group of male students who actively pledge to support the gender equality cause. It is one of my favourite initiatives at LBS – how can a conversation about gender be useful if only women are taking part in it? My friend Jake organised a ManBassador lunch a few weeks ago, during which about 15 MiM students – men and women – discussed gender parity issues and shared experiences about. I loved it. My male friends were listening carefully, sometimes surprised by what we were telling them, sometimes angry to realise that women had to face such adversity. They shared their experiences and how gender roles are viewed in their home countries. It was an eye-opening conversation for many, and definitely a valuable experience for everyone who was there.

 

Finally, I’d like to acknowledge the incredible support of my female friends here at LBS. We know that women are stronger when they support each other, and I truly learned the importance of this support during this year. My friend Sara, for example, who is doing the Masters in Financial Analysis, is my #1 fan. When I have interviews, she jumps for joy. When I had my first job offers, she kept on telling me how proud she was and how much I deserved it. Having a strong group of strong women supporting each other is one of these things that I got from LBS and that will (hopefully) follow me during the rest of my life, and it’s a pretty invaluable gift.

 

My last point would be that LBS is an excellent platform for you to experiment and train yourself for your future career. Try, practice and jump on every occasion to build your self-confidence. Not a big fan of public speaking? Stretch yourself and share your point of view in class. Never liked taking the lead in a group? Go and take ownership of as many projects as you can in your study group. You’re here to learn, fail (sometimes) and progress (always). This is your chance to build the best version of yourself: when you leave LBS, it will be with confidence and with a crowd of incredible women cheering on you.

 

See more about Women at LBS