Gender diversity at the top levels of business is lacking. Out of the 500 companies listed in Standard & Poor’s index, just 29 (5.8%) have women CEOs.
From Silicon Valley’s tech giants to European financial services firms under pressure from EU regulators, women aren’t represented in business in a way that is equal or fair.
This is perplexing—all research on gender diversity suggests that firms that embrace it are more innovative, creative, have higher problem-solving capabilities, and can relate to clients and markets more successfully.
So, the business case is there and yet gender diversity at the leadership level isn’t a reality. What can business schools do to help?
ESCP Europe is one business school that’s forcing change on gender equality. ESCP Europe offers women in leadership scholarships, executive coaching for women, and has a partnership with the Women’s Worldwide Web, which hosts events focused on gender equality and sustainable development. Last year, the school’s Executive MBA program started an annual gender diversity seminar.
The flexibility of the ESCP Europe EMBA is also an enabler for many women who couldn’t otherwise find time to study the degree. Its customizable, multi-campus format means students can study between 18 and 30 months at international campuses in Paris, Berlin, London, Turin, Madrid, and Beirut.
For Maria Merry Del Val, this made all the difference: “When I decided to study an EMBA, my professional circumstances were complicated. I was working for a bank under restructuring and my youngest child was only one year old.
“I wanted a program that would allow me to balance family, my work, and still have the full EMBA experience. I was convinced that ESCP Europe was the best choice,” she says.
“ESCP Europe’s values were part of my decision, and of course the value of diversity and gender diversity,” Maria continues. “They’ve made a strong effort to bringing in lecturers that can address these issues while appealing to the whole EMBA population and providing electives such as women in leadership.
“In my view, business schools have a moral duty to support a ‘close the gender gap’ movement, and prove to women that there are women leaders that have broken the glass ceiling and become successful while preserving the delicate balance with personal and family life.”
Still, it could take another 170 years to close the gender gap globally—according to the World Economic Forum’s 2016 Global Gender Gap Report. While many corporate firms are taking steps on gender diversity with quotas, there are still many cultural barriers and biases that still stand in the way.
For Pierre Klemas, a corporate sustainability manager and EMBA student at ESCP Europe, numbers alone aren’t important. He says there needs to be a change to the underlying culture of gender diversity in the workplace.
“In developed countries like France, there are laws forcing companies to meet minimum thresholds of women in executive committees,” Pierre explains. “This means that gender diversity is not yet seen as essential, but rather as an obligation.
“The higher the value of gender diversity during the MBA, the higher the number of future executive women adding value in the long term.”
So, educating the leaders of tomorrow is a vital part of driving change towards gender equality. As Ruby Schein, an American Real Estate Manager also completing her EMBA with ESCP Europe, puts it: “To me, an MBA should provide students with rigorous education and a global network with diverse backgrounds and talents.
“The composition of classrooms and workplaces are, in essence, the fulfilment of an ideal, as to how a society should function.”
Her classmate, Satina Bierleutgeb, agrees: “Many women tend to be reserved about their experience and skills and second guess whether they are good enough, even though their male counterparts likely don't have anything more to offer,” she says.
“I think it is extremely important for business schools to promote gender diversity as the business world suffers from a lack of it. Having open-minded and balanced views in class discussions is key to learning.
“Attracting more women to MBA programs will help give them the confidence they need to achieve their career goals and also enrich the program for the other students.”
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