Eugenia Bieto

Women working in a laboratory in 1918 (Photo: George P. Lewis)

Singled out is the title of a book by Virginia Nicholson, an English author famous for her books about women in the first half of the 20th century. The protagonists are some of the two million women whose dreams came to an abrupt end when they lost their husbands in World War I.

They had been brought up to be nothing but wives, mothers and housewives, and suddenly they were cast into a different world.

But they survived, learnt to be independent and managed to reinvent themselves. This obliged them to study, work, create their own informal networks and set up small businesses alone or in groups.

History is full of anonymous heroines around the world who seized the reins of their own future

Unwittingly, these women had undertaken a new journey in Europe: the battle to take control of their own lives.

History is full of anonymous heroines around the world who seized the reins of their own future – driven by necessity or a desire to rebel – and fought for an egalitarian world in which women had the same rights as men.

This ambition seems logical and fair, and yet a glance at what is happening around the world and a study of the numbers of women in different sectors of the economy, science and culture reveal that the idea of a world with gender equality remains a utopia.

Only 30 of the 600 biggest companies in Europe, for example, have gender equality. In addition, a comparison of the wages of men and women in similar jobs shows that women in Spain still earn an average of 12.2% less than men.

Only 30 of the 600 biggest companies in Europe have gender equality

Finally, despite steadily increasingly numbers of women entering university, they still only account for 28% of all research personnel around the globe.

The figures are similar in other realms: the situation is the same. In fact, it is said that if the rate of progress in recent decades were extrapolated, a girl born today would have to live more than 200 years to have the same rights and opportunities as a boy.

Men and women who are particularly aware of these issues know that we can speed this process up and that each of us has, within our own sphere of influence, the ability to become an agent and accelerator of change.

I have always said that education, be it primary, secondary or university, is one of the most important social agents for making things in general change.

A girl born today would have to live more than 200 years to have the same rights and opportunities as a boy

Within this framework, our business schools must step forward and assume our responsibilities.

A few years ago, Patricia M. Flynn, former dean of the business school at Bentley University, gave a talk with a rather controversial title: “Do business schools help reduce gender imbalance or not?”

After reminding the audience that business schools are well equipped to help increase the numbers of women in positions of leadership, she then mentioned several facts: although more than half of BBA students are women, the percentage falls to 35% of MBA students and is even lower on senior management programmes.

Furthermore, just 20% of deans were women in 2017.

Esade MBA students
The Esade MBA programme is committed to gender diversity (Photo: Esade)

These figures should prompt everyone working in the world of management training to take action.  

First of all, a gender mindset should be incorporated into all lines of business, i.e. into our courses, research and social debate. Here are some possible measures:

  1. Invite more female executives to the classroom to share their experience and be role models for female students.
  2. Write more case studies in which strategic decisions are taken by women. Fewer than 30% of the case studies used in the classroom fulfil this condition.
  3. Design programmes specifically for female executives.
  4. Provide scholarships for women in programmes with few female students.
  5. Conduct rigorous research into the phenomenon of gender imbalance, whilst examining the causes and, above all, suggesting solutions.
  6. Provide programmes for secondary-school students to give them an insight into the world of leadership.
  7. Provide mentoring programmes for female students.
  8. Work in close conjunction with companies in search of talent at business schools in order to facilitate the access of women to all jobs and industries, particularly those with considerable entry barriers for women.
  9. Mobilise the alumni network in order to create new learning and networking communities.
  10. Apply equality and diversity policies at the business school itself in order to increase the percentage of women in governance bodies and at different levels of responsibility, and to promote equal pay.

If all business schools around the world start moving in this direction, we can most likely speed up the shift towards real equality. Esade is moving in this direction with two complementary initiatives: Esade Women Initiative and the WE Alumni Club.

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