It has been an exciting term with so much packed in and I have thoroughly enjoyed my first 3 months at Imperial. We have completed our lectures, done our homework and sat all the quizzes, yet there has been a recurring theme throughout my 3 months as an MBA student which I will be writing about in this blog. As in the business world, we need to do more about gender equality within business schools. Much like the elephant in the room, it is difficult to talk about but needs to be addressed. As a current MBA student, I owe it to future students to make a positive change during my time at Imperial and I owe it to my colleagues to ensure that we are the best future business leaders that we can be. This is what inspires me to do something and make a difference. As Thomas Edison once said, ‘there is a way to do it better – find it.’
Human beings stereotype to make decision making easier and we largely use the fast thinking intuitive side of our brain to do so (I highly recommend the book by Daniel Kahneman – Thinking Fast and Slow). It is this stereotyping and unconscious bias that ultimately leads to treating men and women differently because of our perception of what gender implies. On day 1 of our MBA we had a diversity workshop, more recently we have had an unconscious bias workshop for all students and a workshop for female students on how to unlock your gravitas. The gravitas workshop was the most useful workshop I have attended to date on the MBA as it has given me valuable practical behaviours I can exercise to improve my leadership presence. This shows how important the topic of gender equality is in business today and how Imperial is incorporating this learning into our course. Have a go at the exercise adjacent, I will explain it at the end of the blog.
If anyone is unsure of why gender equality is such an important issue, here is a statistic from a recent McKinsey report titled ‘Women in the Workplace’.
"In a “full potential” scenario in which women play an identical role in labor markets to that of men, as much as $28 trillion, or 26 percent, could be added to global annual GDP by 2025."
This may seem like an abstract concept, how can the behaviour of one person change global GDP but it is a fact that small acts, when multiplied by millions of people can change the world.
So how are we going to change the world? Well, to start with we have formed a group within the Full-Time MBA cohort called the Allies. This is a group of men and women coming together to discuss diversity and to be allies for gender equality by calling out inappropriate behaviour when it happens. We have openly discussed how behaviour such as interrupting, talking over or not listening to ideas from women are microbehaviours that we can work to counter to make the classroom a more gender equal place. Further, we have discussed the language we use in class and highlighted how important it is to use gender neutral language (ie he/she or they) to refer to people when talking about hypothetical leaders and situations. This is because we aim to live in a world where business leaders are equally made up of men and women, so we need to start with microbehaviours and imagine this perfect scenario. An insightful guide on the usage of gender fair language can be found here: http://www.ncte.org/positions/statements/genderfairuseoflang.
The exercise I referred to earlier highlights the unconscious bias that we may still have. I admit that the first time I read the exercise I did not pick up on the fact that the surgeon was the boy’s mother. I believe that all of us have to work on our unconscious biases much like playing a sport, we must train to overcome biases and aim to treat all people equally. Imperial have been very supportive of our initiatives and one lecturer has even incorporated an updated gender neutral version of lecture material into their class, for which I am very grateful! I hope that from hearing about the Allies, other students will be empowered to speak up in class to be allies for people who don’t have their voices heard.
I have learnt so much these past 3 months mostly around human behaviour and leadership. The recent book launch of ‘The Positive Leader’ by Jan Mühlet and Melina Costi at Imperial really brought home to me what I hope the Allies can achieve: ‘An exemplary leader is essentially about one thing: making lives better.’