A Word from the Associate Dean: Women in Leadership, Women in the MBA

The discussion of women in leadership, by bringing diversity to the top-management team, today is an important one, and it is a conversation that occurs in different ways and to different effect within different locations and cultures. But regardless of the socio-cultural differences, it is impossible to deny that even in developed countries like France, gender equality is an uphill battle. In an increasingly globalized world, this is a consideration that affects all of us, as the world, especially in emerging markets, is grappling with the issue of women in leadership positions.  As Facebook CFO Sheryl Sandberg discussed in her now famous TED talk on the subject, we do not have enough women in leadership. She focused on the importance of encouraging women to “sit at the table,” to be present and to make their presence known, a challenge because studies show that women systematically underestimate their own abilities. She pushed for a real understanding of the work life balance, a supportive partnership in your at-home relationship that will allow you and your partner to be equally dedicated and engaged in the house and in the workforce.  And as for concerns about starting a family or focusing on a family, Sandberg just said, “don’t leave before you leave”. These suggestions and ideas are symptomatic of a system that makes it difficult, from early on, for women to step up and be leaders. Their voices are less likely to be heard. They are less likely to be liked if they are successful. A woman can be successful, but to do so she is going to have to confront a lot of obstacles that her male counterparts don’t need to worry about. So the way is harder. But we should all be concerned, and particularly as leaders and business schools, we should be taking steps to pave the way for the female leaders of tomorrow. If we all recognize the import and begin to make changes, perhaps the road to leadership will not be quite so hazardous for women of the next generation.

A recent study by Folkman (2011)[1] looks at the ways leadership styles differ between men and women, and the effectiveness of these leaders. They surveyed some 7,200 leaders from some of the world’s most successful and progressive organizations, interviewing peers, bosses, direct reports, and other associates.  They found, not surprisingly, that most leaders are men. And that the higher the level, the higher the percentage of men.  The more interesting data related to the strengths of female leaders, some of which corresponded to what one might stereotypically expect, and some of which veered into more stereotypically “masculine” territory. Women did excel in areas such as developing others, building relationships, engaging in self-development, and exhibiting integrity, what were labeled “nurturing” competencies. In other words, the interpersonal aspect was where the women shone. But that wasn’t all. In fact, at every level, women were rated as better overall leaders than their male counterparts. And that only became more dramatic at higher levels.  The study looked at 16 different leadership competencies, and the women took the cake in 12, including areas like “taking initiative” and “driving results” that may be considered more typically masculine traits.  So why, if the women are better leaders, more holistically competent, more respected by their peers and for all intents and purposes equally if not more capable, are the percentages not reversed? Based on the data, it seems like it might make for better led organizations. Yes, discrimination exists. Women still make only 74 cents on the dollar for what men make. Women are, as Sandberg addressed, more likely to attribute their success to external factors (I had a lot of support, I worked really hard) than men (I’m awesome) and so are less likely to jump to get credit, ask for a raise, fight for a promotion. Women still feel like they either need to choose between work and family, or are expected to at some point; “why promote a woman if she might take maternity leave in two years?” is a discriminatory and purely hypothetical question, but employers may pose it all the same.

At the recent ESSEC-hosted Council on Business and Society in Paris, ESSEC professor of Public and Private Policy Viviane de Beaufort presented a study entitled Women and their Relationship to Power: Still a Taboo or a New Corporate Governance model? She interviewed female board members, company directors, civil politicians and experts in France and abroad, asking them how they felt about their role and the particular qualities they brought to it.[i]  In conducting this study, Professor de Beaufort was struck by the omission of the word ‘power’ in women’s discourse, even women in positions of authority. Her study suggests that ambition has different meaning to women versus men, and that the battle “for power” is perceived as masculine. Fitting into and operating within a masculine model of power is a real challenge, one that can lead many women to attempt to conform rather than promoting their “unique values and their unique managerial practices.” De Beaufort summarizes, “Women should have a right to exercise power differently.” Similarly to the HBS study, Professor de Beaufort found that many more feminine qualities translate to a better managerial style: ability to listen, a capacity to more completely analyze subjects, a middle of the road perspective, keeping their ego out of the way. “It’s hard to generalize,” says Professor de Beaufort, “but we found overall that women are more frank, they have real concern about making things move forward, and they feel strongly about ethics. They place a great deal of importance on perceived legitimacy.”

As educators, as employers, as workers and individuals, we cannot be complacent. Extraordinary leadership skills are not a gender specific attribute, and we need both to encourage and to facilitate our female students’ and our female employees’ pursuit of leadership roles. A woman might be less likely to brag about her accomplishments, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have them. We must be attentive. We must be non-traditional. We must find innovative ways of interviewing, hiring, tasking, challenging, and evaluating results. We must be observers, not assumers. Everyone will benefit from the balance of perspectives and sense of equality that result.

And we must encourage women to take the opportunities available to them that they might not take otherwise. MBA’s, historically, have had a percentage of male participants that dramatically outweighs the percentage of female participants. As we discussed in a post on women and the MBA last year, almost half of the people who take the GMAT are women. However, they account for only about 30% of enrollment in MBA programs. This statistic holds true both in the US and abroad; in 2010-2011 in the US women earned 34% of the degrees from the top ten schools, and in the top ten non-US schools, they earned 30.7 %. While this statistic represents an improvement over the last several decades, a gender imbalance clearly still remains. Why? If women see business school as a male dominated environment, this needs to change. We must engage with female practitioners, bring in female mentors, hire and publish female professors. We must encourage female candidates for MBA’s to, as Sandberg implored, “Own your success!” There are women in business and business education. Their role needs to be more prominent, their expertise needs to be tapped, and their presence must be felt.

This isn’t to say that men and women need to be the same. There has to be a level playing field depending on the priorities of individuals. Opportunities need to be equal and the systemic bias that has excluded women from work and leadership roles, not only in developed nations but more so in emerging markets needs to be absolved.  In the workplace and in schools, we are charged with educating the leaders and managers of tomorrow, both male and female. The Global MBA of ESSEC Business School and ESSEC shares this vision, and has Chairs such as Diversity and Leadership that work on these issues. The Global MBA doubled its percentage of female participants in its second year, giving a boost to its diversity profile and gender balance in the class room. In the years to come, we hope to continue this trend, doing our part to contribute to a shift in gender equality in the workplace of tomorrow.

Game Day: a Football Match at Stade de France

By Harjeev Sabherwal, Global MBA student 2012-2013, India

harjeevI have read that one of the best ways to understand a society is at a sporting event. In India where cricket is a religion, excitement reaches a fever pitch when India is playing. So when I heard from classmates that there was going to be an international friendly football game between France and Japan in Paris I couldn’t wait to go. Six of us had decided to go and we booked our tickets online. The day of the match we didn’t know what to expect. We took the train from Cergy to Chatelet Les Halles and then changed lines to reach Stade De France. At Chatelet Les Halles we could see huge crowds dressed in the national colours getting ready to take the train to Stade De France.

Once we reached Stade De France the atmosphere was electrifying. As we entered the stadium we could see French flags  everywhere. The teams were introduced on the large screens and the loudest cheers were for thetwo stars on the French national side, Karim Benzema and Franck Ribery. Following the players' introductions it was time for the national anthems. 40,000+ people singing the national anthem together can really give you goose bumps and intimidate the opposition. If that wasn’t enough, then began the chant “Allez Les Bleus” all across the stadium. The effects showed as the Japanese didn’t start off too well, with France attacking from the word 'go.' No sporting event can be complete without "the wave" and thus began the challenge to get it started. After a few failed attempts, the wave was underway and didn’t stop for about 12 rounds. In all the excitement there were sections of the crowd that started bursting fire crackers and smoke bombs inside the stadium.

Although Japan won the match the experience was out of this world. As we were about to leave we heard the announcement about the next international football match at Stade De France – France vs Germany on February 06, 2013. Just can’t wait.

A Visit to Servant

By Maryam Mohammed, Global MBA student 2012-2013, Qatar

As a child I thought that working in a candy store would be the most exciting job
in the world. Last Saturday, my business group and I got an inside look into that
business. We visited Servant, a family owned chocolate store in Paris, as part of
our research work for our ‘Writing Business Plan’ course. I hope to open a candy
store in Qatar, after completing my MBA, and so this project has been a learning
experience on many levels.

During our visit we were kindly given a tour by Mr Autret who explained to us
the history and values of the store. We were then treated to a tour of the place
and where chocolate is created and how the chocolate is stored before sitting
down for coffee to have a more serious discussion about the business side of the
chocolate store.

What was particularly interesting for me was that the store had a branch in
Kuwait and that the store owner was familiar with the chocolate market in
the Gulf. Since the candy store, for our business plan, will be located in my
hometown of Doha we found his insights into the chocolate business in that
region particularly useful, as they would be more directly applicable to the
Qatari market.

All in all, this course has been the most useful course on the programme so far
as it has allowed me to have a more hands on experience with entrepreneurship.
On a less serious note, it has also helped me discover one of the best chocolate
stores in Paris, and I must admit that it was very hard to stop myself from over
buying chocolate from that store.

Voice, Presence, Posture: What's Singing got to do with an MBA?

By Christian Leos Acosta, Global MBA double-degree student (Mexico)

When I first heard that in my MBA programme we would be having singing lessons, I just thought, "How can this be useful for me?" At the beginning, I thought it wouldn’t be, but as time has gone by I am understanding how useful really is and how to get the most out of it.

With a really bad voice, singing in front of other people is something that makes my shy, but facing this issue has made me gain self-confidence, a skill that I believe is going to be really useful while talking in front many people, in conferences, expositions, business meetings,  where sometimes I can become nervous.

While learning how to sing, posture is really important, making it easier to initiate phonation, as proper alignment prevents unnecessary tension in the body.

While engaging international business with different cultures, I have realized that body language plays an important role that can be interpreted in many ways. For example, in Chinese culture, stature is generally really low, and in Latin cultures it is kind of high. Learning to be aware of and control our posture is a key part of our body language, and this can help me to avoid sending the wrong signals.

Also when singing is necessary to know how to breathe correctly until it becomes just a reflex. Having this skill, while having meetings, talking with other people, negotiating, will be useful in order to have a more natural “conversation” with our counterparts.

I have realized that all those qualities are skills that managers have, and we have been learning them in a fun way, through singing!

Read more about the goals and objectives of the Singing MBA Project here.

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