Networking event at Cambridge Judge Business School discusses the future of work: imagining a gender-free world.
The fireside discussion held on International Women’s Day, Tuesday 8 March, was hosted by Dean Mauro Guillén of Cambridge Judge Business School and focused on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women in the workplace. The event was held at Cambridge Judge, and other participants joined online.
The panelists were three Cambridge Judge Business School alumnae:
Maxine Nwaneri, Founder & Principal Consultant, The Future is Greater (MBA 2007)
Dr Vanessa Dekou, Managing Director, Clinical Services International (MBA 2002)
Dr Bola Grace, Founder, Orishi; Visiting Scholar, Cambridge Judge Wo+Men’s Leadership Centre (EMBA 2019).
Women have taken on a disproportionate share of household responsibilities during the pandemic, and it was discussed whether this has thwarted progress towards parity in business leadership. Maxine Nwaneri commented: “The main impact has been burnout. The lines between work and home are totally blurred now. A lot of my clients feel they should be on Zoom looking immaculate and meanwhile the kids are going crazy. It’s just a sense of being pulled in a million different directions.” While women are more likely to continue to work from home, it was agreed this could lead to them missing water-cooler moments in the office, and subsequent promotions.
Awareness is the first step
Intersectional factors such as race, age, and socio-economic status have also exacerbated the impact of the pandemic. Bola Grace said more needs to be done: “There are so many recommendations on an individual, organisational, and governmental level in terms of policies that you can help to change this, but I think where it usually goes back to, even with my own research, is the first step is awareness.” She referred to the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter campaigns, saying at the very least people know about them now. “I think we’re making some progress at the base level in terms of awareness, but when you start to compound the impact and intersectionality, there’s just so much work to be done, and it’s not just at an individual or corporate level – there are things you can do – but we’re talking about societal change.”
Mauro asked what he, and other leaders of organisations, could do to make progress in terms of gender. All the panelists agreed a good start was to listen and not assume you know. Dr Bola Grace added: “Your culture and relationship with people matters a lot more than your business processes and strategies. Happy International Women’s Day means little without recognising the gender pay gap, diversity, and listening to the challenges your employees face.”
Myths surrounding ‘free’ time
Questions were facilitated by Tracey Horn, Executive Director of the Wo+Men’s Leadership Centre at Cambridge Judge. Other matters raised included the “motherhood penalty” on the careers of women choosing to have children, and the false perception that women without children have more free time. When asked if employees’ working hours were different for an entrepreneur, Dr Vanessa Dekou replied: “Even when I was working for someone, I was working as if it was my own company. So I think you can’t really succeed, no matter what success means for you, if you can’t put the effort in.”
Connecting with the “break the bias” theme of this year’s International Women’s Day, Maxine Nwaneri concluded: “People’s bias can either break you, which is the intention, or maybe it’s even unconscious, or you can let it make you.” A networking event followed the discussion with Mauro commenting that “we have all been enriched by this exchange.”
Imagining a gender equal world
Cambridge Judge celebrated International Women’s Day with a ‘Women and the Future of Work’ event, the launch of a new thought leadership paper on Diversity Leadership and stories of our Cambridge women and their hopes for an unbiased future.