Joni Ferns is among the newest of 22 scholars supported by the Laidlaw Women’s Leadership Fund partnership with London Business School (LBS). She enrolled on the School’s Executive MBA in January 2021 and says that the LBS and Laidlaw networks are already “opening doors”.
Ferns began her career as a Big Four management consultant and after several years’ practising specialist consultancy to the public sector and social enterprises, she is now Chief Operating Officer of Police Now, which transforms communities by recruiting and developing diverse talent for police forces that is representative of the communities they serve.
“Access to networks – and the Laidlaw network in particular – has been especially important to my role at Police Now,” Ferns says. Representative recruitment and progression – particularly of women, black, Asian, and minority ethnic people – has historically been a challenge for policing and many large historic organisations. And the network has been important personally too.
Ferns says: “There are too few women, particularly women of ethnic minorities, in leadership positions in my sector.” She’s lucky, she says, “to work in an organisation that educates and champions me.” But there are still ceilings to break. “Lean in, Me Too, Black Lives Matter and a Millennial Generation who care more about social outcomes, are bringing these issues into the spotlight. But we need to act on this now,” Ferns says, and the context and network she now shares with her fellow scholars are helping her do just that.
“LBS and the Laidlaw Women’s Leadership Fund have opened the door to people focussed on impact, not income,” Ferns says. “And they aren’t just investing in me – they’re investing in reducing crime and enabling anyone from any background to thrive in our communities.” This is new territory for the School which is opening the door to more students from not-for-profit backgrounds than ever before.
“LBS and the Laidlaw Foundation share a vision to help exceptional women excel in their careers, in particular those who may not otherwise be able to afford a top-tier business education,” explains Susanna Kempe, CEO of the Foundation.
Yaasha Hasan, MBA, Laidlaw scholar and Co-Speaker Chair of the LBS Women in Business Club, says this is incredibly important. Without it she would have had to take a part-time job on top of full-time study and would not have benefitted from the full experience of the MBA and time to invest in developing the knowledge, skills and networks that prepare you for leadership. “Thanks to the Laidlaw Women’s Leadership Fund I have been able to fully immerse myself in all that the MBA has to offer,” she says.
Hasan credits the MBA with helping her find her true calling – a career in healthcare technology – and is committed to “paying it forward” in her words. Coming from the US, Hasan was the Laidlaw scholarship representative at an event organised by LBS and Columbia University’s Double Discovery Center in New York in January 2021 to encourage undergraduate university women to consider business education. She continues to mentor one of these women from Princeton University and says it is important that business education is an option for people from all socio-economic backgrounds.
“Making LBS more socio-economically diverse means that people from different backgrounds all feel they belong and can thrive here,” says Hasan.
This dynamic network of female peers is part of a movement. Susanna Kempe, CEO of the Laidlaw Foundation, explains: “We’re creating systemic change by propelling extraordinary women into the C-Suite who will change the world for the better.”
Six months after the official launch of the Laidlaw Women’s Leadership Fund and the first meeting of the inaugural cohort of scholars, this unique network is creating “a sense of belonging, commonality, and a place to share and reframe our challenges,” says Gigi Jia, an Executive MBA and Laidlaw scholar who is also an Executive Committee Member for the LBS Board Fellows Programme and Co-head of Fundraising for the LBS Women in Business Club. The club held its annual conference – flattening the (gender) curve – on 4 and 5 March 2021 with Elizabeth Warren, United States Senator from Massachusetts, delivering the opening address.
Jia, who is based in Rotterdam and London heading up a cash flow modelling team in the insurance industry, says she has now reframed these challenges as a privilege – they have prepared her for the future. And it’s one she faces in confidence with a stronger self-identity, and in the knowledge that among her fellow scholars are many exceptionally talented and supportive women with whom these challenges can be shared.
From 2020-2023, the Laidlaw Women’s Leadership Fund will support 20 outstanding female scholars across the LBS Masters in Management, MBA and EMBA programmes each year, made possible by a generous £3.69m gift from the Laidlaw Foundation. It is one of a suite of scholarships supporting women at LBS with a track record of exceptional professional and personal achievement, and part of the School’s commitment to gender parity in business which is also supported by its world-leading research and alumnae.