She wants to tip the balance

Overseas Education | Lisa Kao 13 Nov 2018

It isn't easy to relate business, which is closely linked to profit, with equality. But business is not just about money at Insead, a graduate business school with campuses in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

With its full-time master of business administration program ranked second this year by the Financial Times, Insead strives to raise awareness of gender equality within the business environment.

The school started its Gender Initiative program at campuses in Fontainebleau, France; Singapore, and Abu Dhabi.

"Gender imbalance and the resultant experience of women in business and society have consequences for both organizations and communities," said professor Zoe Kinias, academic director of Gender Initiative.

"Yet the dynamics, causes and consequences of gender imbalance are not yet fully understood, limiting our ability to enhance gender balance."

Built on Insead's core organizational value of diversity and decades of gender diversity efforts, the initiative integrates research, business, and pedagogy to engage the full potential of women around the world.

"I hope to have a positive impact on society," Kinias said. "We strive to engage both men and women in this effort, inspiring all to take action."

The initiative develops and disseminates research and knowledge about how to promote gender equality in organizations, as well as leads targeted research to explore specific challenges women face in business, and find solutions to meet those challenges.

Gender researchers include psychologists, sociologists, economists, and management and financial scholars who conduct cutting-edge research on women in business and society.

The initiative has only developed the foundation in the 2017-2018 academic year. Despite its infancy, it has already started on global research. "One of our significant recent projects was a large-scale survey of Insead alumni, who are now global business leaders," Kinias said.

The report on how women shape business and society concluded that organizations are investing heavily to level the playing field for professional women, but they often lack a systematic approach.

"In many countries, women comprised the majority of university graduates, and tertiary education enrollment rates in China are higher for women than men," Kinias said.

"Businesses do hire these talented women, who are well represented in the workforce in many entry-level positions. Women are nearly equally represented in the labor force at large, but the higher you look in the corporate hierarchy, the fewer women there are."

The report said male domination at management levels creates invisible obstacles to women's success.

Large organizations know that social support is important to draw the full potential out of women. However, the efforts are often made without systematic assessment of effectiveness.

"In many cases, what's missing is a clear idea of how best to tailor the strategy to obtain the desired results," Kinias said.

Apart from conducting research, the initiative also resulted in the issue being taken to a conference level. For example, the Women at Work Conference 2018 took place in February in France. "It provided a forum for researchers who studied gender and the experience of women in business to present and discuss the latest ideas, results, and innovative projects," Kinias said.

She added the presenters had spanned multiple perspectives as well as methodologies, leading to the mission of Gender Initiative - increasing the understanding of root causes of gender inequality, consequences of gender diversity, and methods for benefiting organizations.

The unique composition of Insead contributed to the research. "We have roughly 55,000 alumni all over the world leading organizations, so when I think about the alumni's reach, I get very excited," she said.

The initiative has connected with businesses, and is currently exploring ways to develop partnerships with other organizations.

Meanwhile, the Gender Initiative is also promoting gender equality through teaching. "We have a new online course offering that began on November 2. This is the Insead Gender Diversity Program for male and female business leaders to learn how to personalize research on how to build gender balance," Kinias said.

She recognizes there is still a long way to go. "There is so much energy for developing gender equality, and we are still working on our systems for coordinating efforts, aligning all the relevant stakeholders on our mission and vision," she said.

Kinias said there are similar initiatives around the world, but they are often led by women and primarily engaging other women. "I make presentations at a lot of gender events, and there are too few men involved and speaking. Let's think about who holds most of the power in society and in business - they are men," she said.

"I hope that one day, women and men truly have equal opportunities and empowerment all over the world, and I hope that the Gender Initiative can contribute to this."

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