The Female Deans’ Perspective

The view on business and business education from female deans

Gender equality remains a central issue in business and business education. While some statistics offer hope by demonstrating that the business world is improving, albeit slowly, there is nothing better than hearing from women on the frontlines when it comes to the world of business education.


Representing business schools in Canada, France and the UK, Diane Morgan, Nathalie Lugagne, Isabelle Bajeux-Besnainou and Wendy Loretto each have unique perspectives on teaching and business school leadership, but they all have one thing in common: They are all examples of women succeeding in a realm that is still dominated by men.

Their differing approaches to closing the gender gap bring in ways in which business leaders and the business school community alike can help. From the need to reach male students and faculty members as much as female, to addressing problems inherent in workplace culture and encouraging both men and women to pursue a wider variety of career paths as a means of combating the gender pay gap.

Isabelle Bajeux-Besnainou, dean at McGill Desautels“I am one among many examples of how it is possible for women to build a rewarding career”

“As dean of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, challenges present themselves in different forms regularly. However, I believe that effective leaders, whether they are male or female, encourage unity among all constituents and inspire commitment to a shared vision. Developing a sense of community at Desautels through collaboration and open dialogue has been one of my priorities and has certainly helped me to overcome obstacles along the way.

“Over the years, I have held various positions in higher education, including professor of finance, associate dean of undergraduate programs, and now dean of a top-ranking faculty of management. As I pursued different career opportunities, I was also balancing the responsibilities of being a mother to three children, who are now young adults. Although difficult at times, I am one among many examples of how it is possible for women, or parents in general, to build a rewarding career, while also being there for their family.

“In fulfilling my mandate as dean, I also hope to inspire others who juggle priorities in both their personal and professional lives to forge ahead to achieve their goals, whether they are students, professors, or leaders of organizations.”

Isabelle Bajeux-Besnainou, dean and professor of finance, Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University

Diane Morgan, Imperial College Business School“Why is gender still such a major issue that substantial hours of my every working week are dedicated to it?”

“I love being a dean at Imperial College Business School. I’m passionate about the power of education, work at an outstanding institution and have a role that allows me to influence and drive many agendas, one of which is gender equality. 

“However, I often think how much more productive I could be if I didn’t carry this extra ‘job’ of being a champion for gender. What if I just focused on the business of running a great school? The primary reason I was hired. Years after I danced around to Free to Be… You and Me, a childhood album about the equal abilities of boys and girls (a project created in the 1970s by actress, Marlo Thomas, to expel gender stereotypes), why is gender still such a major issue that substantial hours of my every working week are dedicated to it? 

“The most significant thing I can do in my role is to make sure men are thinking about gender equality as much as I am. All the women’s networking events, scholarships and clubs won’t make a lasting difference unless male students, faculty and board members are champions of these initiatives alongside me. And, I know they are out there because they have been great sponsors and mentors and are currently great colleagues and corporate partners. 

“Business school’s role in the race to gender equality is to speed up the rate of change.”

Diane Morgan, associate dean of programs at Imperial College Business School, and member of the board at the Forté Foundation

Wendy Loretto, University of Edinburgh Business School“Practices are often incompatible with maintaining a healthy work-life balance”

“I find it surprising that we still have so few women deans. But I feel one of the greatest barriers to women pursuing the top jobs is a quasi-macho organizational culture we’ve developed.

“In our efforts to emulate the world of business, many schools have created work environments which encourage and reward long hours, and frequent international travel. These practices are often incompatible with maintaining a healthy work-life balance, particularly if you have family care commitments.

“Things have already moved on in the classroom. It’s no longer about how to pursue the highest salary. By focusing on building value and creating fulfilling careers in-keeping with students’ life ambitions, we’ve managed to make our MBA at Edinburgh one of the most diverse in the world. Today, 47% of our cohort are women. 

“But, the way we manage ourselves is lagging behind and it’s time we put real thought into making our own working culture more inclusive. The accreditation process has never been more thorough or robust and it really provides a great platform to start this process of reflection. We just need to listen to what it’s telling us.”

Wendy Loretto, dean of the University of Edinburgh Business School

Nathalie Lugagne, associate dean at HEC Paris“There is a recurring bias among students against women in teachers’ positions”

“Being a female dean in itself has not been challenging for me, as such, but it has impacted my work-life balance. What is difficult to manage is the double career issue. My husband and I tried as much as possible to alternate the periods of time where we each would have projects abroad, or have to take on new challenging positions, or accept weekend or evening obligations. This has been an unstable balance to maintain all the way through.

“For women embarking on a career in higher education, based on my experience in the industry, I’ve found it’s very difficult for women to manage the tenure period at a stage in their lives where the biological clock is ticking (28-38 years old). It is no wonder that there are, on average, only 25 to 35% female faculty in business schools around the world. This issue is not very well handled in universities and is, very often, underestimated.

“Another bias that female faculty may face is student stereotyping. Faculty in business schools are regularly evaluated according to their research, teaching, and services to the school. From these evaluations, it has been statistically proven within business schools that there is a recurring bias among students against women in teachers’ positions. At HEC Paris, we’ve decided to raise this issue in internal workshops in order to create awareness of such unconscious biases in evaluation processes.

“In terms of career paths in business education in particular, I have not identified any strong bias against women in deanship positions. On the contrary, as ranking criteria take into account the proportion of women in faculty, boards, and student body, education leaders are well aware of the issue. However, affirmative actions are rarely taken as opposed to the corporate world where regulations are more constraining. 

“I believe business schools have a major role to play in that matter. At HEC Paris, although 45% of our graduates are women, there is already a salary gap of 25% at the very beginning of their professional lives. The reason for that lies in the type of career paths women select, and the fact that they commonly underestimate their own capacities. We need to find a way to develop their self-confidence but also to foster alternative, successful career paths for male as well as for female students. We are part of an alumni initiative that spotlights women leaders, to offer role models to the younger generations, but more needs to be done. Business schools as a whole must sustain better efforts in this direction.”

Nathalie Lugagne, associate dean of executive education at HEC Paris


 

Written by Mike Grill

Mike's remit covers content, SEO and blogger outreach. Outside of his work for TopMBA.com, he is an assistant coach for MLU outfit, the Portland Stags.

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