Charlotte Clarke, Communities Editor Closed MBA gender gap – day three

As part of our MBA Gender Gap week, Christine Cheng, our blogger from Essec Business School, and John Hayden, our blogger from Hec Paris, are taking part in this live interactive blog to share their experience of studying at business school with our readers.

Find out firsthand what the gender dynamics are like in their classrooms.

Moderated by Charlotte Clarke in London.

Charlotte: Welcome Christine and John. Here’s the first question:

What is the male to female ratio in your MBA classroom and how well does everyone interact?

John: Hi, The MBA course at HEC is made up of three intakes that interact closely. Figures are as follows: September 2012, 39 per cent. January 2013 28 per cent and September 2013 22 per cent. The decline has been due to the number of female applications and it is believed this is an industry issue.

With regards to interaction, everybody gets on extremely well and due to the collaborative nature of the course everyone works alongside everyone. There are a number of leadership positions open each year with the most prestigious probably being the president of the MBAT (this is an MBA Olympics organised at HEC every year and attended by the likes of LBS, Harvard, Iese, etc). Last year Emilie Flanagan, a 2012 MBA student, was elected and by all accounts very much enjoyed the experience.

Christine: My MBA programme focuses on the luxury industry. Although this includes more “masculine” sectors such as watches, cars and wine/spirits, in addition to fashion, accessories and jewellery, my class includes just nine men out of 40 candidates. So I actually observe the reverse gender gap!

I find that friction in interactions are more related to cultural differences rather than gender differences.

John: It is also worth noting that HEC is a flagship business school with 2,700 students – many in the Grande Ecole and masters programmes where the gender split is approximately 50/50.

Do you think gender equality is important in business education? What can business schools do to improve the numbers?

Christine: I absolutely think gender equality is important in business education in order to influence gender equality in the business world overall. Women should have equal access to 1) the knowledge and skills learned, and 2) the networking and other intangible benefits afforded at business school.

John: I believe throughout the business world it is crucial. It is estimated that close to 60 per cent of graduates are now women and this is obviously a huge talent pool that businesses ignore at their peril.

With regards to business education, it is again very important and strategies for improving figures need to be found. HEC will not positively discriminate, however the school improves numbers through an active MBA Women in Leadership club and a strong alumni group called HEC au Feminin – both of which hold links with the European Professional Women’s Network. Specific scholarships for women also attract the very best talent.

Charlotte: The European Parliament has today voted to back the European Commission’s proposed law to improve the gender balance in Europe’s company boardrooms.

France endorses quotas for more women on company boards. Do you think quotas should be imposed at business school as well as in companies?

John: Personally I do not and HEC administration follows the same belief. People on the HEC MBA course are selected on merit only and there is no positive discrimination in place.

Quotas will not fix this problem. If a gender gap is present in an industry (including business schools) then they need to understand why and adapt their strategy to ensure the best people are attained/retained.

Christine: While I champion gender equality, I do not believe imposing quotas is an ideal solution at either the academic or corporate level. This presents the risk of compromising the quality of a class/board if the truly qualified proportion does not meet the quota. The gender gap in business schools and on company boards should be closed, but not artificially. This is not healthy in the long run.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced so far at business school?

John: Josh – I know at HEC employment statistics for men and women are very close with regards to jobs, salaries and industry.

John: My biggest challenge has been time. We all have extremely heavy workloads and try to balance these with pursuing further research into industries we hold an interest in. Business school presents you with a multitude of options and often you want to pursue them all.

Christine: The biggest challenge I’ve faced so far is in learning how to effectively work in teams composed of individuals of different gender, cultures and professional backgrounds.

I will admit, though, that I have become much more comfortable taking charge in a group now. Is this because there are more women in my groups than I have ever had in my previous academic and professional experiences? I’m not sure how much this gender gap influences my improved confidence and developing leadership skills, but I cannot ignore that it is definitely a factor that is shaping my professional personality.

What are your top tips for networking to improve career success?

Charlotte: Here is a great Ted video from Berkeley’s Laura Tyson

John: For me networking is about a common interest. If you have a passion that you want to pursue as a career then you should research that area as much as possible and attend or even organize related events. If you hold a common interest with someone then opportunities will be created.

Christine: I’m a fan of one of my fellow blogger’s philosophies: “Don’t network, make friends”. I prefer to make friends with my peers at alumni events, industry conferences and just out on the town (in the fashion industry, going out is part of the job!) That’s not to say I don’t reach out to the chief executives and vice-presidents at companies I admire, I just realize that the future chief executives and vice-presidents (aka my peers now) are just as important to build relationships with.

In addition to conferences and networking events, I am a big fan of LinkedIn to keep in touch with colleagues and people you meet at said events. It’s so valuable to have my proverbial Rolodex online and to be able to share professional updates and keep in touch with contacts at all stages in their careers in a genuine way.

Charlotte: Thanks Christine and John.

Come back to the MBA blog tomorrow at 1pm GMT to find out what it’s like to study for an MBA in Asia. Live blogs are taking place all this week. See the full schedule here.