Welcome to my world. I’m Programme Lead in International Career Development and Lecturer in Diversity/Inclusion Management at Luiss Business School in the heart of Rome. The university is headed by Emma Marcegaglia who also leads the ‘Confindustria’, Italy’s largest organisation representing the industrial sector. Luiss Business School has delivered MBA programmes for over 20 years and now has a highly successful International programme that will soon take ownership for all MBA programmes.
You are about to read a compilation of conversations with 3 women who are fellow-ettes in my MBA programme. My aim is to understand what business schools can do to support gender balance in their programmes. The three women represent different age groups, stages of life, and years of work experience. One is Italian and two are from Brazil. Our MBA class is comprised of almost 30% women and about 50% non-Italians.
All three women are optimistic about future career prospects. They are each pursuing MBAs for different reasons, but with one common theme: future potential. They indicated that having an MBA is required for career growth. All three seized the opportunity to effect a career change or international move. They indicated the importance of both having and being women role models who have earned MBAs and then gone on to achieve success in their career endeavors.
Despite their optimism, they all recognised the current workplace realities, and conclude much work is needed to achieve gender balance, diversity and inclusion. The gender composition of the Business School itself and its staff, are critical factors influencing the ‘talent pipeline’ of the MBA programme: from recruitment to placement.
Let’s begin with recruitment. How can business schools attract the best gender balance at the outset? The outputs of the business school form a critical part of the answer. Where do graduates work? These companies are rife with future recruits. Some schools actively encourage women to apply by way of scholarships (e.g. Sloan Women’s Scholarship). The three women also highlighted another key factor. For most couples the partner with greatest career potential is the one who pursues an MBA, and the man typically is seen as having the most upside potential, thus reinforcing the current gender imbalance in MBA programmes. To encourage more women, however, many business schools have lowered the minimum work experience requirements, which enables women to complete MBAs before they start families. If, however, she enrolls in a programme that does not allow her to continue working, she faces the possibility of two or more long absences from the workplace – one to complete the programme and another after having children, if that is in her future. Such absences are known to have significant negative impact on earning capacity and promotions over the lifetime of one’s career. More flexible programmes that allow for the work and family situations would likely attract more women into the pipeline.
The very culture of business schools presents challenges for gender balance, even when women do make it past the recruitment hurdles. Each of the 3 women I talked with mentioned that all case studies, with one exception, presented male role models. The only female CEO among the group made huge mistakes. Some may think these are benign issues, but that is not the case.“Never seeing examples of successful women slowly makes us believe that it is not possible to actually be a successful women.” Professors should be held accountable for using gender-balanced case studies.
Awareness of implicit bias is a powerful tool for change. Luiss Business School includes the building of such awareness in its programme by way of lectures on diversity/inclusion. The school also partners with a large multinational company where MBA graduates run practical diversity projects. Students are exposed to a company that creates gender balance as a business priority. More projects like this would further enhance openness, awareness and development of gender balance in the workplace.
The Career Development Office plays a critical role in a number of ways. First, by presenting business recruiters with ‘talent short-lists’ that are gender balanced. The development office also needs diverse professional networks to create opportunities for a larger pool of candidates. Bringing back stories of women who have been successful after earning an MBA will also create a more inviting atmosphere for women and contribute to gender balance on campus.
Business Schools a Model for Change
As a researcher of leadership behaviour, I recognise the importance of leading by example. ‘Example is not the main thing in influencing others, it is the only thing.’ (Albert Schweitzer)
Business Schools can lead by example in their own organizations and by doing so inspire change that leverages the benefits of gender balance in the business community. To do so requires hiring and promoting women and ensuring their salaries are on equal par with men in similar roles.
It take a few courageous leaders to make these kinds of choices and to ensure they are enacted.
Do we have such courageous leaders in our business schools?
By Jacqueline Brassey,Programme Lead International Career Development and Lecturer in Diversity/Inclusion Management @ Luiss Business School in Rome, Italy. Jacqueline has submitted her Ph.D dissertation with the title: ‘Leadership and Diversity Effectiveness in a Large Multinational Organisation’, at Groningen University in the Netherlands.
With many thanks to the MBA students, who co-created this story with me and without whom it would not have been possible to make this contribution! Jacqueline Brassey (Jacqueline.Brassey@gmail.com