How leaders in higher ed are tackling gender diversity |

How leaders in higher ed are tackling gender diversity

By Katie S

Updated Updated

As businesses around the world become more mindful of representation and gender equality – particularly at boardroom level – we spoke with Delphine Manceau, Dean of NEOMA Business School (NEOMA), and Barbara Stöttinger, Dean of the WU Executive Academy, Vienna University of Economics and Business, to learn what their institutions are doing to encourage more women into leadership roles.  

The importance of diversity  

On the importance of diverse teams, both are surprised at how often this is still questioned. “The very act of asking [about diversity] can raise questions,” said Manceau, while Stöttinger asked: “Is there one good reason why teams should not be diverse or team diversity would not be seen as an advantage?”  

Both point out that any kind of diversity improves interactions, generates better results, leads to more creativity and more openness – and overall is a key driver for successful business.  

The more students and candidates see people that reflect themselves in higher up positions, the more it will become apparent that it is a viable career path for them too. Manceau says: “For a higher education institution, it is particularly important to show young generations that our female students can and should take leading roles.” 

Getting the right people to the right roles 

Stöttinger says we need to focus on “getting the best people to where we need them – in leadership roles – to manage the challenges of today and tomorrow […] we cannot afford the luxury of cutting out major societal groups from taking important decisions”.  

It makes sense for companies to expand their offer, culture and recruitment practices to ensure they are appealing to a more diverse cohort, as this is how they will ensure the best people for their leadership roles. This is likely to result in a company with a diverse range of thinkers, better able to appeal to their audience and adapt to disruptions to their sector.  

Business schools are at the forefront of change  

A key way to increase women leaders in business is to encourage more into finance, management, business and other relevant fields – and business schools like NEOMA and WU Executive Academy are at the heart of this drive.  

At NEOMA, they include courses in their curriculum that directly promote gender equality such as workshops on helping students to better negotiate their salary and analyse their internship experiences with a gender equality lens. These real-world applications will help prepare students for the business world.  

At WU Executive Academy, diversity is one of the key assets of their school. They offer Female Leaders Scholarships and support individuals who come from less privileged backgrounds through their WU Executive Academy Scholarship. According to Stöttinger, “we feel that this is a distinguishing factor in putting together great cohorts and student feedback proves us right”. 

Over 40 percent of WU Executive Academy’s admissions are women, including certificate programmes, executive education programmes and open enrolment, as well as outstanding and successful women in their alumni community.  

NEOMA’s student body currently includes 48 percent female students – but despite these figures, Manceau still sees room for improvement: “[I’m] sorry to see that career choices are still very ‘gendered’ as there are more women in marketing specialisations and more men in finance”.  

NEOMA is highly active about raising awareness among students and offering courses dedicated to the unconscious stereotypes in different professions. As well as this active zeal on combatting unconscious bias, they also have several professors conducting further research on these topics.  

Among the faculty at NEOMA, 43 percent are female which is higher than some schools, although Manceau admits it isn’t perfect. The school watches this number very carefully and has a strong policy to recruit more female faculty. They’ve also conducted an independent study to compare salaries between female and male staff members, reportedly showing no gender salary inequality at NEOMA – an achievement Manceau is “very happy about”. 

How student-led initiatives are key 

At WU Executive Academy, the Female Leaders Network (a collective of female students and alumnae) not only provides women with opportunities to share ideas and their experiences, but also actively supports them in their personal and professional development through workshops, webinars and networking events.  

At NEOMA, they have an internal Gender Equality Unit that works on a variety of initiatives. They also have student associations like HeforShe, a student club that helps make people aware of gender inequalities, sexist behaviour and unconscious biases.  

The group recently organised ‘Stand Up!’, a training programme designed in partnership with L'Oréal and the Women's Foundation aiming to fight street harassment and sexual harassment in public spaces. Manceau says: “I’m very proud when I see our students so engaged on these issues!’  

How the world of academia is changing 

According to Manceau, “things are changing for the better, but slowly”. For Stöttinger, the evolution of academia as a workplace is clear: “When I started my career in academia, it was a strongly male-dominated area. That has changed over the past 20+ years and you see so many more female academics excelling in their roles. This is great to see!’  

If you’re interested in joining the higher education or business sector, check out when our next post grad event will be in your city. Get a head start on the application process and apply to our event-exclusive QS WM Women’s Scholarship. Plus, check out our online Women in Leadership event on 7 December – places are free but limited.  

If you want to read more about women and entrepreneurship, our spotlight article on WeAreJane profiles an investment fund that’s tackling the gap in investment between male and female led businesses. We explore their sole focus on women-led ventures and why investment funds of this kind are still imperative today.  

Photo by Christina @ on Unsplash

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