The Forum Network is a space for experts and thought leaders—from around the world and all parts of society— to discuss and develop solutions now and for the future. It aims to foster the fruitful exchange of expertise and perspectives across fields, and opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the OECD.
Despite initial signs of real progress, recent years have seen the global gender imbalance further exacerbated by geopolitical crises, economic uncertainty, the impact of climate change and the continued fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic. In a sobering revelation, the World Economic Forum estimates that the pandemic alone has increased the time needed to close the global gender gap from 99 to 135 years.
Everyone has a duty to try and reverse this trend. Business schools have a critical role in addressing and correcting existing systemic biases. Around one-third of CEOs from FT500 companies hold MBAs. Business schools are the training ground for the next generation of global business leaders. By imparting knowledge in the classroom, conducting impactful research and fostering inclusive practices through engagement with industries, business schools are well-placed to challenge existing social norms and help drive meaningful change.
More on the Forum Network: Can pay transparency close gender gaps? It depends on design by Valerie Frey, Senior Economist, Directorate for Employment, Labour and Social Affairs, OECD
Too often the work of identifying, raising and rectifying pay inequality still rests on individual workers and their representatives. Governments must embed gender pay gap reporting in broader policy efforts to end gender inequalities in workplaces, in society and at home, emphasises Valerie Frey.
Societal divisions and inequalities are growing, underscoring the continued importance of promoting equity and inclusion through diversity champions. This imperative arises as the right thing to do morally, and offers significant benefits to all stakeholders.
A 2020 McKinsey report found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their boards were 25% more likely to deliver above-average profitability, compared to companies that lacked such diversity.
Numerous studies have shown that having more women in the boardroom is advantageous for business. For example, a 2020 McKinsey report found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their boards were 25% more likely to deliver above-average profitability, compared to companies that lacked such diversity.
While changing attitudes and quotas aimed at attaining better gender-balanced boards have led to some progress, there is still a long way to go. Just 8.2% of leading S&P 500 companies have female CEOs, and women also remain vastly underrepresented in corporate boardrooms. A 2022 Deloitte report estimated that women occupied just 20% of board seats globally, and that number drops to 15.9% when focusing on emerging markets.
Increasing the representation of women in business schools is vital for achieving gender equality in top executive positions, since business school graduates form the pipeline for those leadership roles. Without gender parity in the classroom, it is very difficult to have gender parity at top executive levels.
This is starting to happen, with some business schools already achieving parity for MBA students. INSEAD has also seen progress on this front since we first started admitting women in 1967. In 2006, only 22% of our MBA class were women. That figure rose to 37% for our MBA 2020 December cohort, and while we now see more than 350 women graduating each year, we have yet to attain gender parity in the classroom.
One specific challenge often cited is the cost of pursuing an MBA. This is something felt even more keenly by women candidates because of issues such as the gender wage gap and additional familial responsibilities. Business schools can help on a practical level by easing the financial burden through scholarships. At INSEAD, we have been working hard to address this problem, and we now have over 150 scholarships specifically for women looking to pursue an MBA. We are not there yet, and we continue to work hard to represent true gender balance at INSEAD.
At INSEAD, all MBA students participate in an "Inclusive Leadership" session during orientation, and in our classrooms, we celebrate women leaders and actively strive to eliminate biases.
We also need to make sure that we are able to equip women, and their male counterparts, with the tools and learning environment needed to succeed. At INSEAD, all MBA students participate in an "Inclusive Leadership" session during orientation, and in our classrooms, we celebrate women leaders and actively strive to eliminate biases. Our aim is to create a supportive and inclusive environment for everyone at INSEAD.
It is essential to integrate gender issues across various academic disciplines. The INSEAD economics courses delve into topics including the gender wage gap, and specialised electives are offered on topics covering diversity, equity and inclusion. Our executive education training includes programmes tailored to women leaders and advancing diversity and inclusion within organisations.
The value of these courses lies in their potential to ripple out beyond the classroom. I am particularly proud of how our alumni apply what they have learned at INSEAD in their companies. A 2022 INSEAD alumni survey found that 85% of those interviewed were actively involved in developing female talent for leadership within their organisations. While there is no lack of desire to address the issue, the challenge is that many leaders lack the knowledge of how to tackle it effectively. Organisations are investing heavily in levelling the playing field, but often they do not have a systematic approach. It is important that business schools engage with industry to address these issues in the workplace.
Through rigorous and relevant research by faculty, business schools can help organisations understand those approaches that will have a real impact and will provide them with the necessary structures and frameworks to properly address the challenges. Previous research by INSEAD has covered topics including the comparative virtues of formal and informal mentoring to the impact of Nasdaq’s 2021 Board Diversity Rule.
While we still have a way to go, INSEAD has seen an 80% growth in the number of women faculty in the last ten years.
Business schools have a responsibility to walk the talk when it comes to gender equality. That starts with ensuring greater parity among faculty. While we still have a way to go, INSEAD has seen an 80% growth in the number of women faculty in the last ten years.
This year, we managed to achieve gender parity on our board, which was one of a series of public commitments we made when we were the first business school to become a member of the United Nations’ HeForShe Alliance in 2021. Through such partnerships, we can share knowledge, ideas and potential solutions that can make a real impact.
Change is only possible if we have business leaders who understand their responsibility to help drive the transformation to a more equitable society. Despite significant strides in gender equality, there is a collective need to do more. Business education is the engine for developing leaders capable of effecting real and meaningful positive impact.
The OECD Gender Initiative examines existing barriers to gender equality in education, employment, and entrepreneurship. Find out more!