5 ways we can work together to accelerate gender parity at work

Gender balance in business: a long way to go


It has been 20 years since London Business School students set up the Women in Business (WiB) Club, a club dedicated to advancing inclusion in business, inspiring future women leaders and improving the opportunities for ambitious women wanting to have their contributions to the economy valued in the same way as men’s.

Since then, there have been many positive changes for women in the world of work, particularly in advanced economies but also in developing and emerging economies. The UAE has put gender equality and female economic empowerment front and centre of its ambitious growth plans. In the UK, the Government has introduced paid paternity leave, a well-documented driver of gender parity. Today, there are six female CEOs on Britain’s 100 largest companies listed on the stock market. In 2000, there was one.

“We must recognise that we have come a long way in 20 years,” said Clare Woodman EMBA2016, Head of EMEA and CEO of Morgan Stanley & Co International, when opening this year’s flagship WiB event in London. She referenced a famous quote by American poet Maya Angelou: “I have great respect for the past. If you don’t know where you’ve come from, you have no idea where you’re going.” 

The ex-Clifford Chance lawyer and mother-of-three – and one of the most senior women in Europe’s investment banking industry – also emphasised the importance of celebrating progress, however limited it may feel. 

But she added: “We have not come far enough by any means. The World Economic Forum estimates that at the current rate of change, gender parity will not be achieved for another 99.5 years, and I seriously hope we don’t need to wait almost 100 years. 

“In order to expedite this and improve the trajectory, it will take constant and consistent focus. It will take huge personal commitment and dedication. People like us, in rooms like this, at conferences like this are going to have to step forward and make the change.” 

So much research, including by our own faculty, points to the power of diversity in unlocking creativity and solving the many challenges businesses face today. Women lead differently to men: female entrepreneurs create different types of business to men – and products that are uniquely suitable for women.

"People like us, in rooms like this, at conferences like this are going to have to step forward and make the change"

But women in business are still much less visible. Female entrepreneurs receive less money from investors, and a microscopic amount of patents are filed by women. 

So, what can businesses do to accelerate gender equality? What can women do to shatter the glass ceiling? And what can men do to drive a fully gender-neutral workplace – and work in businesses that are more successful as a result? According to some of the panellists at Equall 2020, here’s how we can do it. 

*Continued below



1. Be a mission critical business

“The leaders right at the top of the organisation must be clear on what they stand for and these values must be genuine and something greater than themselves,” says Dr Mandeep Rai, EMBA2010, whose career spans banking, international development and journalism. 

She travelled to more than 100 countries to write the Sunday Times bestseller The Values Compass, which delves into the power of values, how they’re shaped by different cultures and countries and how they motivate our choices and decisions. 

“When researching my book, it was interesting to learn that when leaders held true personal values, lived them and integrated them into their organisation, employees brought 90% of themselves to work. But there were many who didn’t want to be pegged to a mission because they didn’t want to be held accountable. 

“You don’t have to work for these companies. Just as consumers are choosing to buy from businesses who grow organic or are free trade, so employees have a choice who they work for.” 

Gail Klintworth, Chair of the Shell Foundation and former Chief Sustainability Officer at Unilever works as a non-executive director, trustee and board adviser to organisations looking to effect large-scale change on inclusion, social mobility and energy efficiency. Advisor to the Wheeler Institute for Business and Development at London Business School, Klintworth, who’s also on a mission to make all business leaders – present and future – ambassadors for the UN’s Global Sustainability Goals, says: “Women’s equal participation in the economy can add US$28 trillion to the global economy – that’s if you just get women selling stuff in India instead of staying home and grinding wheat. 

“The impact of inclusion in innovation shows a six-fold improvement in innovation. Why is that? Because innovation flourishes when different people bring different ideas to the table. Why would any business argue against this?”

2. Mentors, sponsors and role models are critical 

Morgan Stanley’s Clare Woodman says it doesn’t matter what level you are within an organisation: we’re all role models. “Have as many mentees as you have mentors. Sponsorship relationships really only grow out of networks and mentorship. That’s what we found. We developed an extensive mentorship programme at Morgan Stanley and spent hours matching mentors with mentees because the relationship had to be right. It is my hope role that models in this room will have a domino effect and inspire others to step forward, and that way influence better representation at all levels in business, not just in the boardroom.” 

Susanna Kempe, CEO of the Laidlaw Foundation, an organisation that sponsors ambitious women through top business school education including at London Business School, points to at least six role models who influenced her choices, actions and behaviours’ in life and at work, including her grandmother whose “integrity of action really spoke for itself” and her mother, who became a synchronised swimming coach to start the first synchronised swimming club in Essex. 


3. but if you have no role models, be ambitious anyway

As Dr Rai points out: “If you want to do something, but you’re not sure how – maybe you are trying to break into an industry but have no role models or maybe you come from a family who don’t have degrees – that’s what trailblazing is. If you believe you have something to say; something to contribute, then go for it.” 

When the BBC World Service broadcast journalist was trying to get her book published, she had to overcome numerous obstacles. “People said I needed to get an agent; you can’t just pitch to publishers directly. I was put back in my place again and again. But I decided that I wasn’t going to let ‘no’ define my future. The only reason I wrote the book was because values are so important to me. So I decided I wasn’t going to let others’ narrative be my narrative.” 


4. Create an inclusive environment 

The data is clear: diverse teams managed effectively make better decisions. Shared parental leave, the ability to leverage technology to enable flexible working and a human approach to managing employees will all help create an inclusive workplace, where people feel like they belong. 

This may entail setting gender targets at the organisational level if necessary: business goals are a certain driver of action. As Clare Woodman says: “At the leadership level, we need to change outdated mindsets. We need to do something about unconscious bias. We all have them. We all have preconceptions. 

“At Morgan Stanley, we’ve introduced training and structured conversations in formal settings to understand bias and the behaviours that exclude people. I really hope that leaders of this generation will have a big focus on diversity and appreciation of the individual, so everyone feels like they belong. Not just included.”  

5. Be a manbassador (but also a womanbassador) 

It’s only with the support of male allies that gender balance in the workplace can ever be achieved. Being a manbassador can be as simple as calling out the misallocation of credit in a meeting, says life-long manbassador Randall S Peterson, Professor of Organisational Behaviour, London Business School and Eliot Sherman, Assistant Professor of Organisational Behaviour London Business School. 

“Don’t underestimate the power of acknowledging a situation when a woman has said something in a meeting that’s been ignored, only to be resurfaced by a male colleague who gets the credit,” says Professor Sherman. “This can be very powerful. Even if you were to mention it in private afterwards diplomatically, it can prevent it happening again.”
As Professor Peterson put it: “If you look at the history of the world, no group gains equality without cooperation of the people in power.” 

Clare Woodman says it was her male CEO who encouraged her to “get a business education which pushed me to expand my skillset and knowledge base”, but she stresses that when, as a woman, you get to where you want to be, don’t forget to extend the ladder downwards to pull up future women leaders just like you. 

“They will remember you for it and pay it forward.”

"At Morgan Stanley, we’ve introduced training and structured conversations in formal settings to understand bias and the behaviours that exclude people."