Last month, I had the pleasure of attending the Women in Innovation event, hosted by the Imperial Women in Business Society (ICWB). ICWB is a new society that seeks “to inspire and empower both Imperial College and Business School women to be at the forefront of any business industry.” You might think that having a society like this that informs students of issues that women face in business and that helps them enhance their interpersonal skills via workshops and events is nice but not ultimately necessary.
However, given the fact that women currently hold less than 5% of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies and that only 17% of Fortune 500 board members are women, I think a society like this is greatly needed. ICWB members are doing incredible work on campus, including their support of the second annual Women@Imperial Week, which was from the 7th to 11th of March. Women@Imperial Week included a range of events from lectures to breakfasts, all of which celebrated achievements of female staff and students. I attended the International Women’s Day breakfast where speaker Gulenn Tambe showed that you really can have it all as a woman—a Masters in aeronautical engineering, a family, and a successful career as a Partner at Ernst & Young.
Women in Innovation was ICWB’s launch event and included a keynote speech by the inspirational Dr. Rana Lonnen (Executive MBA), a panel discussion, and a networking event. The discussion centred around the greatest challenges facing women in industries; gender equality and the role of men in promoting parity; and tackling unconscious bias. The panelists, all but one of whom were female, provided diverse perspectives and drew on their experiences working for larger corporations, such as Bloomberg and Deloitte, as well as for local start ups.
Some of the words which I found most impactful came from Dr. Lonnen (who is not only working towards an Executive MBA at Imperial but is also the Director and Founder of RJ Life Sciences Limited). Lonnen told audience members that “being a successful leader is about giving and helping people.” She urged students to help each other since discrimination seeps in when women do not support other women. Lonnen also advised fellow women to not be afraid to take risks or make mistakes. She encouraged us to be tenacious, humble, and to seek a good mentor and team who will support us and our goals.
She also urged us to not be fearful in the business world. However, this is easier said than done. According to a New York Times article, a study, which found that parents are four times more likely to tell girls than boys to be more careful, points to an uncomfortable truth of thinking females are more fragile, both physically and emotionally, than males. Indeed, when girls become women, this fear evolves into “deference and timid decision making.” Although society tries to counter this by “leaning in,” these efforts often come too late, especially for women in their careers.
Lonnen concluded by saying that she had never really thought about inequality between men and women when she was pursuing her career goals. However, looking back, she realised that a lot of times she was the only woman on her work teams. Perhaps, her drive to achieve her career goals and her willingness to support others in the process is what has made Lonnen such a success in a male-dominated business world.
Indeed, even if women (and men for that matter) are not noticing gender inequalities, these inequalities exist. For example, at Imperial, the total percentage of female to male students (including undergraduates, taught postgraduates, and research postgraduates) was 36.6% to 63.4% for the most recent academic year. The numbers in the Business School are somewhat better, with women composing 45% of the current full-time MBA cohort. Additionally, the efforts of faculty, such as the Associate Dean of Programmes, Diane Morgan, has helped promote gender parity at the Business School.
But what can women do to promote their own gender parity in the workplace? One theme that emerged throughout the panel discussion was that women need to be more confident. Panelist Natalia Napora (Manager at A.T. Kearney, Health Practises) shared the statistic that generally, men will apply for a position if they meet at least 60% of the requirements whereas women will only apply if they are 100% qualified. Even if you interpret this statistic in a more skeptical way , it is still a wake-up call that not all applicants apply when they are “qualified” and that women should be confident and when in doubt, APPLY. Indeed, being confident is key. Panelist Katerina Domenikou (Senior Programmer at Bloomberg) said that she was very confident in herself and her abilities in her interview and that she is sure that is one of the reasons that she was hired by Bloomberg.
To borrow from Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook COO and author of Lean In), I hope that “in the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.” I also hope that you realise that gender parity in the workplace (and Business School for that matter) is a real issue that needs to be taken seriously. If you are interested in getting involved with ICWB (regardless of your gender) and working towards a business world with “just leaders”, check out their Facebook page.