March 8, 2019 is International Women’s Day and a day of special significance to IMD business school and its MBA program. In recent years, the MBA program has made a strong effort to increase the number of women in each class, through new partnerships, new and existing scholarships, recruitment and more.

“We are not only interested in having a diverse group of people on campus, but we believe the world of business stands to benefit by having a diverse group of future leaders,” said IMD MBA Dean Professor Seán Meehan.

What does International Women’s Day mean to women who have set out to have real impact in the business world by enrolling in or completing IMD’s MBA program?

“Embedding Women’s Day in our global societal consciousness is an important way to call out the challenges still ahead of us; be it the closing of the gender wage gap, equalizing educational levels, fighting violence or contesting stereotypes. Having grown up in a country struggling to find its post-Soviet-era identity, to me personally IWD also has a role as a reminder of disparities between progress in different parts of the world,” said Veronika Raszler (Hungarian, MBA 2018) and Global Product Manager at Hach in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Can one day really make a difference?

According to Anya Barskaya (Russia, MBA Class of 2019): “Many people say that the 8th of March is just an attractive opportunity for men to exchange a bouquet of flowers or for a day-off, but for me personally it is much more than that. I believe that even if there is some artificiality in how it is celebrated, it is important to take a break from our routine and have a chance to say thank you – to our mothers, grandmothers, female colleagues and friends. It is important draw people’s attention to the problems of gender inequality that as a society we all need to address.”

The gender gap and navigating work and family

According to research, the gender pay gap starts to expand after women have children. This can be particularly challenging for women who are on the rise in their careers such as those either in an MBA program or who have recently graduated.

Swati Dalal (Indian, MBA Class of 2019) said this issue is one of the prime reasons for women’s unemployment and underemployment.

“While measures such as a four-day work week or flexible schedules certainly provide support to working mothers, it is important to adopt a multi-pronged strategy that can address the root cause. To bring sustainable change in the workforce gender mix, cultural as well as infrastructural gaps need to be identified and addressed. Accessible and affordable child care facilities as well as maternity and child care leave policies need to be reconsidered. However, it is even more critical to address cultural issues and biases that deter women’s participation in workforce. A supporting ecosystem of dedicated organizations and enabling groups would go a long way in creating a more equal workforce,” Swati said.

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The World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report 2018 suggests that new technologies, like artificial intelligence, might play a role in exacerbating gender gaps.

Veronika Raszler is not entirely convinced that technology is the problem.

“A.I., as any emerging technology, is never the ‘root cause’. Demonizing technological advancement distracts from real, actionable ways to tackle the challenge – such as redefining gender stereotypes and popularizing technology-focused fields of study for girls. The focus needs to be on creating a setting that allows for the wider integration of women into A.I. talent pools, and talent pools for key emerging technologies in general,” said Veronika.

Start with hiring

For Anya Barskaya, addressing gender equality can’t be boiled down to looking at one part of the equation such as A.I., or introducing simple measures. She thinks it should start with hiring and clear messages from senior leaders.

“A study by Harvard and Princeton found that not knowing the gender of job candidates increased the likelihood that a woman is hired by between 25 and 46%. Unbalance already created at the hiring stage only continues to grow when it comes to promotions in which the process is often non-transparent, and the decisions are made by groups of senior managers where women are under-represented. Finally, CEOs are not always vocal about the necessity to have a diverse workforce and are not setting a clear tone from top, which is crucial for enforcing much needed change,” said Anya.

Long-term thinking and strong networks

For Veronika, Swati and Anya, it seems that taking a long-term approach to one’s career is crucial to navigating the pitfalls that women leaders can face in the work place. Having mentors and a strong network also holds importance for the IMD MBAs.

Swati said: “It is only when your eyes are set on the goal, that short term obstacles seem like mere roadblocks and not dead ends. To deal with these road blocks, it is important to develop and use all resources efficiently.”

Continuous learning and being genuine are key for Anya: “The biggest advice I would give to a young woman starting her career is to never stop learning: having a solid background and critical thinking skills help build confidence and an ability to tackle complex business issues. I would also encourage women not to mimic their male colleagues and try to use their outstanding skills and different approaches to bring diversity to the table and contribute to building high performing teams.”

Veronika advocates for building a strong network of supportive women. “It’s important to seek out strong, influential and inspirational female mentors and role models. I don’t believe I was aware of this at the time, but having a powerful direct line manager who happened to be a woman in the early years of my career played an instrumental role in re-defining my own ambitions,” she said.

#IMDBalanceforImpact

What role can an educational institution like IMD and a degree like an MBA play in a woman’s career?

“When choosing a business school, I was drawn to IMD due to their exceptionally strong self-awareness-based leadership stream – and in retrospect, the program delivered on this promise way above my expectations. I count, my future counts, and IMD has equipped me in more ways I can recount to make that future a reality,” concluded Veronika.

 

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