For 30 years, studies have demonstrated that companies perform better when their board of directors are gender neutral. It’s simply a matter of being able to take advantage of complementary strategic and tactical approaches. At Grenoble Ecole de Management, this vision is taken right off the bat to encourage female students to position themselves as equals to their male counterparts. It’s the guiding principle behind the WoMen[at]GEM network.
In 2017, the GEM Executive Committee charged Susan Nallet, director of careers and employer relationships, and Marc Smith, researcher, professor and dean of faculty, with the task of initiating the WoMen[at]GEM project. The goal? To work in the field, at school, on improving gender parity for students and alumni, and to raise awareness on this issue among partner companies and GEM's governance structure. In the long run, the school aims to position itself as an international reference point for gender issues at business schools.
While the goal is commendable, how can it be achieved? "This thought process has been going on for several years at GEM in the form of isolated actions. Our goal is to make these initiatives visible and develop them with our four target audiences," says Susan.
In our current society, the question of gender parity starting during training shouldn't be a question… "Objectively speaking, nothing should keep women from making the same career choices as men. But in reality, we still see important pay gaps (20% on average) and difficulty accessing high levels of responsibility in companies and administrations (the glass ceiling). We also know that the main obstacle to overcome is cultural representations: certain jobs and fields of activity are associated with certain genders. HR and communications tend to count more women while jobs considered to be more technical are considered less feminin (industry, sales, finance…). In the same way, when a family has a child, a woman will be seen as less available for work whereas a man will be seen as gaining in maturity. That's why our goal is to create an environment that enables the growth of projects designed to overcome these cultural representations in education, work and research. We also want to increase their visibility and valorize these initiatives," explains Susan.
Breaking away from bias
Some facts clearly highlight the current situation: "When we ask first year students what salary they would like to earn at the end of their studies, female students hope for 3,000 to 4,000 euros less than their male counterparts. Upon graduation, this pay gap ends up being confirmed! That's worrisome, isn't? Along the same lines, when deciding whether or not to apply for a job, a woman will consider herself to be qualified and apply if she meets 80% of the requested criteria. On the other hand, a man will apply as long as he meets 20 to 30% of the criteria."
At GEM, the idea is therefore to raise awareness about these reflexes that have become almost innate. This means acting early on to create an environment that is more fair and egalitarian. "It starts with raising the awareness of women about their 'unconscious' decisions in terms of career paths. It also means helping men think about the experiences lived by their sisters, daughters and wives."
The awareness to act in advance
GEM trains future managers. "If we raise the awareness of young students concerning these practices and prejudices, we can impact their future behavior as recruiters. No, a woman will not necessarily decide to stall her career evolution after having a baby! Yes, a father might wish to invest more time and energy in his child's education… The idea is to overcome bias and enable managers to question themselves. And most of all, to question the person they are interacting with so that she (or he) can make her (or his) own decision!" underlines Susan.
WoMen[at]GEM - a network dedicated to raising awareness, working on educational content and career paths, changing physical postures (gestures, speech and how one occupies a space), and helping companies achieve their goals in terms of gender parity. An (almost) silent revolution...