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Tuesday 21 June 2016

ESCP Europe Panel Discusses Gender Diversity in the Workplace

To mark its Executive MBA's trip to London, and to relaunch the Executive MBA Women's Network, ESCP Europe Business School hosted a fascinating panel discussion on 'Gender Diversity in the Workplace' on 7th June.

Moderated by Prof. Claudia Jonczyk, herself an expert on the career paths of women, the panel comprised:

Highlights from the discussion:

Women matter to the economy
If women were allowed to earn, produce and spend on equal terms they would equate to the biggest emerging market, adding $12 trillion global GDP by 2025. Gender equality should be a cornerstone of diversity initiatives, with women holding 60% of Masters degrees and 52% of PhDs in the OECD. 

Women bring benefits to organisations

With more women at all levels, organisations benefit from a wider pool of talent, increased retention, better connection to markets, and a more balanced approach to risk at board level.  For Vinay Kapoor, it was clear: women bring more innovation, creativity and diversity of thought, avoiding 'group-think' and providing clients with more potential solutions to problems from which they can select the best of the best.

In addition, there are benefits from visibly being a good employer of women in terms of corporate branding, both from being able to attract top talent of both sexes and as a signal to investors that the company takes corporate social responsibility seriously. Manuel Wachter explained how his company, EDGE, assesses and certifies organisations across a range of measures. The client companies then use the certificates as a marketing tool to attract talent and investors. Sebastien Deleval added that diversity policies are increasingly included in annual reports.

Katharina Arntzen said that the fact Google so publicly supports women in the organisation has a very positive impact on the morale of its female staff and means there are female role models at all levels.

L'Oreal and Stella McCartney were cited as two companies which are particularly attractive to women for getting it right.

Structural problems hamper progress

The career progression of women is hampered at each stage by the architecture of organisations which maintain structural barriers, with a number of gaps in recruitment, promotion, pay, training opportunities and maternity leave/return which create 'the sticky floor, the leaky pipeline and the glass ceiling'.

In addition, organisations cannot solve the problem alone. Penny Copleston talked about her experiences as one of the few girls studying mathematics at school, and how few female candidates apply for jobs in her team.  Katharina Arntzen agreed that how girls are brought up and treated at home and school, the subjects they are encouraged to study and the confidence instilled in them play a role.  The pipeline of female talent starts there and must continue all the way up the hierarchy in the workplace.

Progress, but more to do

The UK is ahead of the game compared with many countries, but it has still not achieved enough. This is partly because companies fail to address the systemic problems. They may recruit more women at the top, but there is a 'revolving door' effect, especially in France and Norway: they come and go because they feel uncomfortable in a male-dominated organisational culture and then there is often no pipeline of female talent to fill their shoes. 

Manuel Wachter said that unconscious bias training has its place, but behavioural design interventions are needed to remove the structural barriers – he used the example of hotel management failing to persuade customers to switch off the lights with signs, but succeeding by connecting the lighting to the room key.

BNP Paribas are addressing the systemic bias and 30-34% pay gap in the financial services sector. They use unconscious bias training and avoid affinity bias in recruitment by ensuring there are men and women in the room, they check the use of language and images in job advertisements, take the identity indicators off candidates' CVs, encourage succession planning, promotions planning and, when there are needs for staff reductions, they avoid targeting one group. In addition, they offer women employees free childcare for evening events, six months' maternity pay followed by 'return' programmes (95% of women come back), and free subscriptions to Women on Boards to prepare them for top management roles in the future. Vinay Kapoor stated that no one firm can go it alone. Companies must work together across the financial services industry to achieve real results.

Gender is only a part of the diversity agenda

For organisations, gender equality is the only aspect of their diversity agenda that is legally and consistently measurable across markets. The challenge is to create an inclusive environment for everybody.  Engaging men in the process is key in order to avoid a backlash. Creating an inclusive environment means changing the culture and working with managers on their inclusive leadership skills.

Diversity is demographic observation, whereas workplace inclusion is a business goal. Inclusion enables everyone to bring their whole selves to work and to focus their mental energy on performing, as opposed to trying to weather organisational inequalities and trying to fit in.


Research shows that networking is a key activity in career development. As ever, the evening at ESCP Europe rounded off with participants and panellists doing so, continuing the discussions over drinks and nibbles.  The men were as engaged with the topic as the women and all wished the newly relaunched Executive MBA Women's Network a very bright future.

Press Contact

Shireen Fraser, Head of Public Relations – UK
Tel: +44 (0)20 7443 8833

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