Women of the Monash MBA on IWD

Gender equity in business has a material impact on the professional futures of young managers at every stage of their working lives. It should be a priority concern for both men and women.

On the MBA and Global Executive MBA programs at Monash Business School in Melbourne, Australia we have achieved a 50-50 gender balance in all of our classes for several years. This has not come about by accident; rather, it requires commitment to the principle of gender equity and to the resources required to recruit and support women in their professional careers.

This is the right thing to do. It contributes to more and better opportunities for women in management and leadership; it makes for more engaging and inclusive learning experiences for students; it supports the progressive values of a modern business school. Ultimately, businesses that feature diversity in their workforces perform better in terms of engagement, innovation and productivity.

Interestingly, for the men on the Monash MBA programs, this balanced, inclusive MBA student experience often contrasts with their normal work life. The way in which this distinctive learning environment impacts their understanding of gender equity undoubtedly guides the kinds of teams and organisations they themselves will create and lead during their careers. It is an important process for them to reflect on this and to think about what it means for them.

Underrepresentation by women in business is evident at every stage in the career pipeline – from entry level all the way to senior leadership. Analogies like the glass ceiling are well known; but the broken rung idea proposes that because women do not get the right opportunities at the very start of their careers - to advance from entry-level to early management positions - they start falling behind immediately. Business schools must afford women the opportunity to study business at an advanced level; MBA programs must support that ideal in their recruitment strategies.

Later, when women move into the mid-career years, they find that work demands on their time and energy increase just as personal relationships and care-giving responsibilities increase. We see a shocking talent shakeout at this stage. The problem is not intractable; in progressive societies such as the Scandinavian countries, excellent childcare and elderly care systems and flexible work systems support women seeking to maintain career momentum. Of course, businesses do not need to wait for a regulatory solution; progressive organisations can always establish formal systems and informal social support networks.

And at the most senior level in organisations – in the C-suite and on boards – executives who understand the equity challenge must get behind strategic talent reviews that deliberately champion women – and provide the mentoring, coaching and other development support they require in this distinctive transition.

Gender equity in business is a continuing campaign. The more we challenge an unequal and unfair professional life, the more we can support women in achieving equality; it behoves this generation of managers to commit to the principle and the practice.