Without action, repeatedly saying something is an outrage, that it cannot keep happening, and that we must strive for change, until it becomes a ubiquitous ringing in the ear, risks becoming a soundbite that brings about nothing but inertia.
100 years ago, it was the actions of the Suffragettes, led by the Pankhursts, and the more peaceful Suffragists, that spoke much louder than any words ever could; today, although the campaign purpose has changed, the actions of female activists worldwide ignites the same passion.
“I do believe we are moving in the right direction,” says Marianne Lewis, the dean at Cass Business School, “but the more we move in that direction the more visible errors become. In the past year we’ve seen some very highly visible examples falling far below the line.
“There is a paradox in that the higher we raise the bar, the more appropriate gender related behavior we expect,” she continues, “and the more visible those cases that fall below the bar become.”
In recognition of International Women’s Day, Cass—whose MBA program was recently ranked by the Financial Times as one of the top 40 globally for women, and placed in the same ranking as the school with the lowest alumni gender pay gap in the UK —has organized a number of events in the coming month which aim to bring the debate to the business school campus—in the same way the Forté Foundation is encouraging male MBAs at business schools in America to launch Men as Allies groups.
On March 21st, the school is hosting an event entitled ‘Men behaving badly: Exposing institutional scandal’, with a panel made up of Financial Times journalist Madison Marriage, professor Chris Greer, an expert in organizational scandal, and professor Heather Brooke, an investigative journalist who helped expose the 2009 MP expenses scandal.
Aiming to highlight the imperative need for institutions to overhaul their approach to sexual harassment in the workplace, and ensure the 21st Century become synonymous with another watershed moment in history’s battle with gender equality, Cass Business School is aligning itself with a host of institutions fighting back against the odious news that surfaced from Hollywood, Westminster, and the President’s Club in recent months.
For Marianne, getting over the fear of calling out such behavior was a tipping point; Hurricane Harvey made it nigh on impossible to continue to sit on the fence, as the panels on which the anxiety and fear of calling out the proprietors sat were decimated by the storm that swept through the media in the aftermath.
“That’s clearly been going on since the beginning of the film industry,” she says, “but once people start calling out the big, visible, more powerful groups, that reinforces that you’ve got to call it out, whatever the level.”
Marianne touches on an important issue in the fight for institutional change—calling it out whatever the level. A lot of emphasis is placed on pushing more women into executive roles to bring about change from the top down. But, in lieu of focusing all the attention at the top, attitudes also have to change at grassroots level.
That’s where business schools come in. “We play an important role in continuing to raise the bar through research and education,” says Marianne, “by sharpening and even intensifying the critical lens about what is appropriate behavior, and how to identify errors and areas we need to be working on.”
Culture is pertinent to the debate, she explains, as Cass Business School sits in a prime position at the heart of London to expand the discussion beyond borders—“it’s one thing talking to American or British students where this has been a conversation for some time,” she says, “but we have students coming from parts of the globe where this is still pretty early in development, so we have an even greater opportunity to raise the bar globally.”
Raising the bar globally means driving women into positions of leadership. Artis Kakonge, one of the winners of Cass’s Global Women’s Leadership Program scholarships—which offers one woman from each of Cass’s MBA programs a 50% discount on their tuition—says that the school is opening up doors for women previously shut off.
“It definitely helped to overcome any financial barriers and open access to the experience and knowledge gained by undertaking an MBA,” she says. “It was an opportunity I am sure I would not otherwise have pursued without the scholarship."
She adds that the scholarship gives the mentorship and network of support needed for her to transition into an executive leadership role in the future—she is currently a barrister for a chambers in London.
Artis is chairing Cass’s ‘Respect at work: How to command it and when to demand it’ event on April 11th, and she explains that the workshop panel, made up of experienced female executives, is all about encouraging the support needed to enact meaningful change.
“People either feel ashamed, or that they are not supported enough in the workplace to come out and talk about these issues, and it’s taken a long time to get to where we are,” she adds.
“There’s still this diversity deficit, or gender gap […] but we need to encourage more women to take an MBA, and overcome the barriers that they think they may have.”