The changing place of International Women’s Day in the modern world

I was honored when the MBA office invited me to write a blog entry for International Women’s Day. Despite how far we’ve come in the last several decades, in both my work and personal life, I still see the many (many) ways in which women across the world are fighting for equal opportunities to be heard, acknowledged, and recognized as equal contributors to society.

However, in the last few years, I’ve started to question the importance that International Women’s Day, and other women-specific initiatives, continue to hold in society – especially for the next generation of women leaders.

As a professor of leadership, I regularly hold special gatherings or topical sessions for the women in the class (who are, more often than not, the minorities in the room). Five-plus years ago, these were always extremely popular and well attended. But in the last few years, a couple things happened.

  • First, more women expressed dissatisfaction at being part of such special programs – they felt that they were unnecessary, unproductive, and even, reverse discriminatory.
  • Second, more men requested to join these programs. I always allowed men to join and was initially delighted about their enthusiasm to be part of the conversation. But each time, having a mixed-sex group changed both the focus of the conversation and tenor of the sessions (even in sessions on women’s leadership, more often than not, the men ended up being the ones who talked more than the women).

I’m not sure to what these changes can be attributed. Perhaps it is the move to recognize more than two genders in society, and the accompanying attitude that people should be recognized for who they are rather than what gender they are. Perhaps it is the fear of being labeled as a “feminist” and the sometimes negative connotations that go with the label (e.g., that you prioritize women’s issues over other important issues of human rights). Perhaps it is a natural change across generations to see themselves as distinct from the needs and wants of the generations that precede them. Or maybe it is the new trend for more male-championed equality initiatives in organizations (e.g., see the latest women’s leadership program at the oil company, Chevon, which is led by the male, not female, leaders in the organization).

I’m also not quite certain how I feel about these changes. On one hand, I still see the huge distance that women across the world need to come in order to take their rightful place in society (e.g., as of 2016, only 14 of the 350 largest publicly-traded companies in Europe (the “S&P 350”) have female CEOs and according to UNESCO, worldwide, there are 4 million fewer boys than girls who are out of school before the end of primary school). But on the other hand, I also see the dangers of recognizing women as separate and unique from other genders and seeing their aim for equality as something that they are solely responsible for initiating. I also see the many ways in which men are discriminated against. Maybe not when it comes to getting to the top of the corporate ladder. But certainly in how they get to the top or in wanting something besides the corporate ladder to strive for; throughout the world, we still want our men to be strong, traditionally successful, and several pieces of research show us that we are far more likely to accept the arrogant man than we are to accept the vulnerable man.

Thus, if we have an International Women’s Day, should we also have an International Men’s Day?

But at the risk of seeming like a classic Generation Xer, I am still proud and delighted to see an International Women’s Day – and to see that IMD is taking a strong stand in recognizing it and supporting women to overcome barriers to leadership – both visible and invisible.

I come from three generations of strong women. My grandmother did not get an education past 13-years-old,and yet managed to ensure that her daughter went to university and then law school. And my mother struggled to be seen as legitimate in her profession as a lawyer in the mid-1970s US. I am extremely proud of the struggles that women have gone through to get where we are today, and think that these should be loudly celebrated. I am also aware of the journey left to go. In this push for continued change, I am open and curious to see how International Women’s Day will transform (and be transformed) in the years to come.

Professor Jennifer Jordan

Everything Is Going To Be Fine

It is one thing to write about transformation. It is a completely different keg of wasps to experience it.

March is here. Temperatures have risen but the forecast says a spell of cold rain is headed our way. I hope not! As we proceed into what legend says the most intense month of the IMD MBA program, we need sunshine to keep our spirits and Vitamin D levels up.

Last week we had a guest speaker session in our Operations class with Erik Winberg, Vice President of Strategic Planning at Tetra Pak. We spent the day learning about Tetra Pak’s Digitally-Enabled Supply Chain transformation project. It stemmed from visible unmet needs in a demanding market. As the team designed and implemented their strategy, they had to overcome challenges to achieve a strong, reliable, and effective structure. We discussed Industry 4.0 and how digital tools can be applied to the supply chain, and the dynamic and critical nature of operations became all too clear. This is reflected in the process we’re going through at IMD, through supply chain simulations and peer CV reviews. In iterative motions, we’re learning, improving, and accepting the discomfort that precedes a better version of ourselves.

thumbnail (1)Erik Winberg and Professor Seifert in discussion with IMD MBA students on digital transformation in the corporate world

If inner transformation is difficult then it is good that we begin work with our Personal Development Elective (PDE) analysts in the coming days. The PDE optional stream is one of the reasons IMD was my school of choice for an MBA program. Of course, I wanted to develop an understanding of the subjects that make up business fundamentals. But all programs offer this at the very least. PDE work stems from the idea that while managing a challenging course load and life transition, students would (and should) have dedicated time for individual reflection with a qualified professional. We may all have different pain points and issues to work on, but the goal is common, to get comfortable with ourselves, and thrive while we are at it.

During the Leadership Experiential almost a month ago (has it really been that long?!) I said “Everything is going to be fine” to my start-up group each time a new challenge arose. We had a good laugh and the line stuck. Yesterday, in the dungeons, I was not smiling as much as I usually do, preoccupied with swirling thoughts of assignments and my python-like to-do list. My teammate and fellow blogger, Lukasz @lukaszkaczynski13, took a second out of his workload and said, “Surbhi! Everything is going to be fine!”

I certainly hope so, for all of us 🙂

Surbhi

Looking back

The  2018 class have dispersed to different parts of the world to enjoy their much deserved vacation! Hopefully, one or two of them will share their adventures with us over this month. But in the meantime, below is an entry posted this time 10 years ago. The Stewart Hamilton Scholarship for Women was created in memory of this great professor, who taught our MBAs for many years. Continue reading “Looking back”

Snowshoes as a way to get to know each other

Professor Knut Haanaes joined IMD in 2017 and is currently the Deputy Dean of the MBA program and a professor of Strategy at IMD. His research interests are related to strategy, digital and sustainability. Before joining IMD, Professor Haanaes was a senior partner at The Boston Consulting Group. Continue reading “Snowshoes as a way to get to know each other”

Reflections

Catherine Kulley, MBA 2008 graduate and blog writer, is today’s guest writer, celebrating a 10 year blog anniversary!

It’s been 10 years since I wrote this and thinking about what’s happened since is tremendous…  the world is a very different place with the best and worst of humanity on display regularly; my family happily grew and sadly shrank; my “home” country changed 3 times and my career took several unexpected twists and turns.  The one common thing, however, is what I learned in my year at IMD.  Continue reading “Reflections”

The spirit of the IMD MBA

As we prepare to welcome in the next MBA Program Dean, Seán Meehan, here are some final words from Professor Ralf Boscheck, who has been running the ship for the past four years.

IMD’s year is ending and so is my fourth and last term as MBA Program Director. Time to thank you for your support and to sum up what we tried to do.

For the last four years, we aimed to put the program into the centre of the school. The idea was to combine its small size and the benefit of attention with the scale of one of the largest executive development operations in the world. In the process, we broke up silos and dismantled hierarchies. We changed our recruiting procedures, adjusted our marketing efforts and strengthened key elements of the program. We improved some rankings and even managed to change some rating methodologies. We also publicly challenged those appraisals where – even when results improved – we questioned the integrity of the statistics that had been applied. Some praised us for it – others clearly did not. And boy – did they not praise us.

Over the years, the MBA office transformed into a successful and truly collaborative team that generated a range of new and valuable initiatives. At the end, we hope to have made some improvements to what has always been a solid and unique program. For the last four years, our tag line has been – “the skills to know, the confidence to act and the humility to lead.”  Even if these words were to change in the future – I think we would be well advised to recall them as the spirit of what we stand for.

Personally, I am very thankful for the opportunity that the MBA assignment has given me – I learned things about others and myself that I would have not realized otherwise. I learned to trust, gained confidence and a bit of humility.

Let me end with a question that a former colleague of ours, the late Professor Stewart Hamilton, asked me a long time back – and I know I have asked this question to some of you before: “How many years are between 30 & 40?”

The answer is “Less than you think … may be three … So as you pursue your career don’t forget to live!

On that note, all the best to you and your families.

Ralf