The Covid-19 pandemic has revealed and exacerbated problems in business and society, including the issue of gender imbalance. According to the World Economic Forum, the the global gender gap has widened from 99 to 135 years since the start of the crisis.
How to reverse this trend? There is no quick fix. Women from diverse backgrounds are held back by systemic networks of challenges this vary in their specificities, while still being societal, structural and psychological in nature. However, we can start by addressing the common elements of systemic biases. In reality, International Women’s Day 2022 did “break the biasits theme and call to action for this year.
Business schools are particularly well equipped to lead this charge – especially schools with global reach, like INSEAD. To understand why, we need to consider the power and potential of business schools to lead interventions that change society.
Direct and indirect impact
Basically, business schools serve people who are eager to learn. MBA students and executive-level learners enroll in programs and courses to become more effective and knowledgeable leaders. Naturally, when people come into contact with business schools, they are particularly open to challenges and adapt to change.
This puts us, as educators, in a privileged position: we are granted an audience of people with ability to learn on prejudices. In addition, we have direct access to decision-makers who can intervene on these biases. Given that a third of Fortune 500 CEOs have an MBAbusiness schools essentially have the eyes and ears of leaders who run the world.
Consequently, Business schools have the opportunity, if not the responsibility, to help dismantle prejudice at psychological, organizational and societal levels. Schools can do it directly educating leaders about bias, stereotyping and discrimination and how to act against them. And they can do it indirectly by influencing decision-makers who influence society in their role as business leaders.
Indirect interventions occur when business schools change the way business leaders approach their work. Leaders learn to think critically about whether and how their organizational practices, products, and services help or hinder gender balance and other forms of diversity, equity, and inclusion. They learn to identify and eliminate biases – including unconscious ones – that recreate inequalities within their organizations.
As the mindset and skills of these leaders evolve, they make decisions that change other aspects of their organization, such as culture, values, priorities, products and services. . Not only does this impact the employees of organizations, but it influences the communities that engage with their products and services.
For example, consider how popular music, videos, movies and advertisements can impact prejudice, for example by perpetuating gender and racial stereotypes. Through education, industry CEOs and other leaders can improve their own organizational practices and become more attentive to the messages that their products reflect and recreate. Over time, this can lead to entertainment products that build diversity, equity and inclusion. This, in turn, would influence the hearts and minds of all people who consume the entertainment products by listening to music, watching movies, etc.
Progress at INSEAD
Over the past few years at INSEAD we have made a concerted effort combat gender bias through our research, teaching and engagement activities. Our work is far from done, but we have made progress in several areas, including recently appointing Sharon Brooks as the first Executive Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
We strive to be a role model – in terms of improving gender balance – in several ways. Our deans are committed to increase gender diversity in representation. Many of our faculty are dedicated to delivering lessons in a way that promotes inclusion, with INSEAD providing support for such efforts. In class, we work on celebrate women leaders and eliminate prejudice and mitigate their impact where appropriate, for example by flagging instances where women are interrupted.
We also strive to integrate gender issues into courses across various academic disciplines, while offering electives and online programs with a specific focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. For example, our economics courses cover the gender pay gap, and all of our MBA students participate in the “Inclusive Leadership” session as part of orientation.
An urgent problem
None of these jobs are easy. But it is urgent when you consider how social conditions have recently deteriorated for women.
Over the past two years, women have been disproportionately affected by overwork (when paid and unpaid domestic work is combined) or loss of work, largely due to precarious employment. Women have taken on the burden of unpaid domestic work, even as this work has increased; this work includes childcare due to daycare closures, managing distance learning for children, and performing other caregiving activities that many women disproportionately perform. Women have also been doing significantly more emotional labor — that is, caring for other people’s feelings at home and at work — than men have throughout the pandemic.
The consequences are startling: according to the latest McKinsey report women at work report, 42% of women say they were “often” or “almost” exhausted in 2021, up from 32% a year earlier. One in three say they have considered changing their careers or leaving the workforce this year. And four in 10 women have considered leaving their company or changing jobs.
Companies cannot afford to lose this talent. But with the help of business schools, they can do something about it.
Zoe Kinias is Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior at INSEAD and Academic Director of INSEAD Gender initiative. She is program director for the INSEAD Gender Diversity Programan online INSEAD Executive Education program.
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