Executive Degree Programmes: Female Scholars

How do we support 'Each for Equal'?

Each for equal

The International Women's Day 2020 campaign theme is #EachforEqual. An equal world is an enabled world.

Individually, we are all responsible for our own thoughts and actions. Collectively, each one of us can help create a gender equal world.

As a School, we are committed to gender equality in the classroom and in the boardroom. One of the ways we are making meaningful progress towards #EachforEqual is through our Scholarships for Women.

We asked some of our Scholars from across the Executive DiplomasExecutive MBA and MSc in Major Programme Management to share their thoughts on how we can each promote gender equality in our organisations and how their chosen degree programme has helped them as a leader to make a difference.

Here is what they said...

Diploma in Financial Strategy

Jennifer McGuiness

Jennifer McGuinness, Diploma in Financial Strategy 2019

As a starting point in the move towards equality, the acknowledgement that a gender imbalance exists is important. In this regard, the attitude from the top down will significantly impact an organisation's ability as a whole to promote gender equality and fundamentally change the platform for women as leaders in the workplace. The development of a women's network is a step in the right direction. However, while some of the networking events can be very female orientated by their very nature or restricted to women only, it is important to include male employees in some of these organised events to avoid the unintentional creation of a barrier and negative unconscious biases with it. 

Being awarded the Women's Scholarship on the Diploma in Financial Strategy has encouraged me to become more involved in gender balance initiatives and has given me the focus and inspiration to drive change within my organisation. I believe the extensive networking throughout the course has given me valuable insights into a range of topics including gender balance with many different perspectives. As a result, I have become more vocal and more considerate of the positions and concerns of all stakeholders in the wider gender balance debate. 

Diploma in Global Business

Ingrid Laslett

Ingrid Laslett, Diploma in Global Business 2019

The first step in promoting Each for Equal for us all is being serious about gender equality. It can’t just be a ‘nice to have’ or a box to check. If leaders are serious about making a cultural change to bring about gender equality within their organisations, then it will make a big difference at all levels. Recruiters and managers will be more aware of their decision making. More often than not this means giving women a chance – at all levels. 

I have long been an advocate for gender equality. The Diploma in Global Business did not change that but it has made me even more aware of how the business world needs to adapt. Research shows more diverse boards improve performance, yet statistics show boards lag behind. In my own work, I mainstream gender in my projects and take it into consideration for staffing appointments. I mentor young women and build coalitions of like-minded colleagues who wish to see gender equality in our organisation. Our actions really can make a difference on this issue – even in small workplaces.

We need to reconsider the way we work – especially for parents. ‘Motherhood penalties’ remain a problem. Employers need to be more adaptable, and opportunities exist for fathers to take up more of the parenting burden to reduce stigma on mothers.

Ingrid Laslett

Diploma in Organisational Leadership

Francesca Del Mese

Francesca Del Mese, Diploma in Organisational Leadership 2019

Rather than 'allowing' women to participate in strategic and high-level decision-making, organisations need to appreciate that women bring a fresh and valued perspective, derived from 'centuries of being outsiders' (as said by Virginia Woolf). However, arrival doesn't equate with acceptance. Merely tolerating women's input in the name of gender equality only amounts to tokenism if institutions fail to harness the power of inclusive working. Ensuring women are no longer outsiders doesn't devalue their proposition though; it ensures the creation of a rich workplace that facilitates different perspectives, ultimately pushing organisational thinking to new boundaries.

My working contexts are all traditionally male-dominated; I work as a self-employed security and justice lawyer, and a part-time judge. As a security consultant, I go in and out of country offices, meeting many people from different backgrounds. Whilst gender expectations and prejudices vary, I ensure that my own values and standards of professional behaviour do not. In doing so, this draws people away from focusing on gender, and more on the issues I've been hired to address. Ultimately, as a global community, we need to arrive at the point where we successfully balance the tension between being gender-sensitive, whilst also viewing gender as irrelevant when it comes to work outputs and expectations. 

Samantha King

Samantha King, Diploma in Organisational Leadership 2019

We can all help promote equality in our organisations by joining in more conversations to understand where there are areas that are not gender-balanced and find out why. No one is going to fix this but us, so if there aren’t enough conversations start them. Research data, ask questions, listen and work together to start experimenting with solutions.

The Diploma in Organisational Leadership introduced me to a hugely diverse group of leaders with the common goal of wanting to learn and become better leaders. It was incredibly motivating to learn from the latest research and from working with this fantastic group of people that there is no one manual for leadership. What we need is more diverse role models and conversations about different leadership styles.

The Diploma has increased my confidence, motivation and knowledge to start more conversations on different leadership styles to help break down the barriers to gender balance.

Samantha King

Diploma in Strategy and Innovation

Altyn Sincheva

Altyn Sincheva, Diploma in Strategy and Innovation 2019

Being aware of the biases whether it is gender, ethnicity or other and acting in ways that prevent them is one of the strongest ways to promote any type of equality. For example, if you see someone who hasn’t treated your colleague or friend equally, speak out and point it out to them. More often than not people just don’t realise it and they will thank you.

The Diploma in Strategy and Innovation has given me an amazing opportunity to meet and learn from incredible women who keep conquering the world and breaking the glass ceiling. Having their support and seeing them succeed gave me an enormous amount of confidence and made me realise that someone else might also look up to me as I look up to them. I now actively try to seek out mentees, openly share my experiences and challenge my colleagues and organisation to become more equal and more representative.

Arsha Cazazian

Arsha Cazazian, Diploma in Strategy and Innovation 2019

Today my firm carries less than 10 female members in leadership positions. As such, I continue to mentor female professionals in both my firm and industry assisting to equip them with tools and strategies to differentiate themselves, to be heard, respected and thrive regardless of their background or network. We each play a part in gender-equality in our organisations, with small gestures to large sweeping initiatives. It often starts at the recruiting process and criteria within which we evaluate and celebrate varying perspectives and backgrounds. 

In order to maintain a competitive advantage, innovation remains central to many organisations around the globe. Regardless of level within an organisation, we can all influence and support various subsets of innovation and inclusive thinking. Promotion of inclusion, searching to find commonality and celebrate differences is essential. Raising awareness and enforcing inclusive activities and equitable performance-enhancing measures require a dual top-down and bottom-up approach. Reinforcement, re-evaluation of job specifications, promotions criteria, policy revision, change management, and the vital role technology plays in these initiatives is key.

My aspirations to champion women’s growth, development and leadership continued throughout my studies at Oxford and beyond. As a Diploma in Strategy and Innovation student, it has been an honour to carry the message, the wisdom, and strength of this great institution while adopting a rich base of tools, perspectives and experiences that have assisted me in formulating unique frameworks to solve both every day and firm-wide solutions in my current role as a Global Head but also as a mentor to young woman, a teacher and active member in society. 

Having been afforded the opportunity of a scholarship, I gained a deeper level of confidence and unparalleled problem-solving skills learning how to put theory into action in an authentic way that is true to me but also activates gender-conscious initiatives that will pave the way for young talent to be heard, to be seen and to reach their greatest potential.

The “work” that we do as women, as ambassadors, through our careers independent of where we were born or raised, will always be integral to the creation of the next generation of great leaders.

Arsha Cazazian
Peace Ani

Peace Ani, Diploma in Strategy and Innovation 2019

Our appetite to take on new challenges as we drive to continuously add value will lead to more opportunities being made available to diverse candidates, and the resulting integration of diverse perspectives will lead to greater gender equality. 

The Diploma in Strategy and Innovation has increased my credibility and influence among senior stakeholders in my organisation. The exposure to senior executives that came from completing a valuable piece of Innovation Strategy consulting as part of the programme deliverable has created new opportunities that I would not have had access to otherwise. 

Shanti Narasimham

Shanti Narasimham, Diploma in Strategy and Innovation 2019

My work has focused more on the intersectionality of gender with other attributes rather than just gender. Other attributes include race, ethnicity and age. We find that there are women in leadership roles in organisations, however, there is a bifurcation when it comes to women and race. In my company, for example, there is a woman CEO, and more than half of the Board are women. However, there are no women (or men) of Latino or African American ethnicity and these are the constituents that my organization as a social impact fund is commissioned to serve. I believe that we also struggle with age - one of the groups struggling the most in the US is women over 50 who have never been married. 

Women might struggle due to the fact they are excluded from certain professions, or they are in certain fields of work that have lower than average remuneration. I believe we need to ask women what they want, and women need to feel completely safe in answering and exploring authentically. This is a deeper issue than gender equality, this is about economic and social contributions that are not rewarded adequately. It is complex and multi-dimensional. At the same time, it is simple. We need to create safe spaces of authenticity for both men and women to promote gender equality, and women in particular need to have support and guidance to continually re-invent themselves in this dynamic world we now live in.

Though I've appreciated the Diploma course, I noticed that there was only one female professor that taught on our course (*this is likely to change in 2021) and that there were only one or two articles written by women on the reading list. We spoke about networks on the Diploma course, and that networks matter. I believe there is an existing structure in place that inherently supports men in the workplace. In addition, I have observed that men do not find it difficult to move into a completely new career path without relevant experience. I've recognised that much of this is about networks. The Diploma course has enabled me to have the confidence to participate in dialogue regarding a mostly male field (innovation and strategy), although I view innovation and strategy as intuitive and believe that women inherently possess the knowledge and wisdom to excel in this area. I am grateful I have had the opportunity to begin to shift the participation by being in the Diploma course so that we can collectedly move towards balancing the network.

Executive MBA

Anya Roy

Anya Roy, Oxford Executive MBA, January 2019

To successfully promote gender equality, the benefits of diversity should be acknowledged. Almost everyone grows up with unconscious bias, attaching traditional/stereotypical roles to genders. Gender equality in the workplace can be promoted by regular coaching in the workplace, having active female role models and bringing both genders to the table to catalyse conversations to everyday actions. Equality cannot be achieved or sustained without buy-in from senior-level management or training staff ground-level up to tackle unconscious bias. 

As a proud 30% Club Scholar, there was a great responsibility for me to use my EMBA to further women in the workplace. As the CEO of a women's health business, I fight health inequality on an everyday basis. Improved communication and standing for what I believe in has allowed me to strive towards a gender-equal organisation. Oxford equips you with a network to call on to solve issues at the workplace, including prioritising gender equality! The collective wisdom is unparalleled! 

Dirkje Jansen

Dirkje Jansen, Oxford Executive MBA, September 2019

The case for gender diversity is compelling, yet organisations are struggling to ensure proper gender representation at all levels of management as is evidenced by the limited representation of women in leadership positions or in board-rooms. There is a need to look again at how to accelerate the cultural shift where women take an equal stake. Culture change is a messy process, however, many things can be done to push it in the right direction. Think of continuously lobbying CEO's and leaders to obtain their buy-ins. Setting Key Performance Indicators (KPI) to ingrain diversity in all aspects of the business. Let the KPIs cater for changes in the reshaping of the social norms and attitudes, a rethink of work-life balance, and leadership styles. Not one initiative in itself is sufficient. It’s all about the blend, consistency and persistence. The female role models will inspire change and provide a powerful communication story, which further amplifies their reach.

I work in an industry which is considered ‘soft’: international development. Working for the largest African health organisation (Amref Health Africa) I see that the more technical jobs tend to be occupied by men, and the rights and social work by women. I would advocate moving away from the stereotypical gender roles and move towards a more gender-balanced blend of jobs that men and women do. As a woman improving my leadership and (soft and hard) business skills and expanding my network, this EMBA programme is the perfect platform to lead and accelerate movements of social change in my industry. An example is the end-Female Genital Cutting work across Africa. We need to move away from the parochial approach and embrace (industry and gender) diversity to help to solve the challenges of our time.

Madonna Okpaleke

Madonna Okpaleke, Oxford Executive MBA, January 2020

I think it’s important to note that there should be no gender distinction when it comes to a person’s capabilities, intelligence and experience. I believe that anyone who meets a required criteria or qualification deserves the same consideration, be it a man or a woman. To promote equality, we must first change the narrative and show our colleagues and employees that equal rights are not special rights. This means that for the competitiveness and growth of any organization to be effective, we must individually promote a culture that alters hiring practices to increase diversity, supports a healthy work-life balance environment, promotes equal pay, and penalises gender based harassment and discrimination against women.

As an African woman, it is important for me to treat people fairly, and ensure equal access to opportunities for other women. The EMBA program has given me the opportunity to have open conversations about gender and racial diversity and access to vital information that has moulded my views and given me a much larger perception. As a change process to transform organizational culture and distribution of equal power, I am currently working on a company policy that incorporates gender action learning to ensure that female employees are supported and protected. This policy would include company-funded professional certifications, learning development, and skill acquisition to empower female employees and enable them to compete for leadership and management positions within the company, as well as access to new technologies in the Agricultural sector. Finally, the policy seeks to establish quotas for women on the Board of Directors, Management and Leadership teams. That way, they can lobby for their views to be heard and their rights to be respected.

The EMBA program has given me the opportunity to have open conversations about gender and racial diversity and access to vital information that has moulded my views and given me a much larger perception.

Madonna Okpaleke
Pamela Walker

Pamela Walker, Oxford Executive MBA, September 2017

In the UK, we’ve recently seen a dramatic transformation in terms of shared parental leave. This has been truly incredible. Enabling men to actively partake in a traditionally female work interval means that they now have the ability to experience first-hand the challenges women face juggling work and children. An important shift in mindset has been encouraged as a result. I’ve seen mutual respect on both sides as women and men tackle this demanding (albeit joyful) time, in partnership. This has also led to greater empathy post-leave as couples settle into the ‘new normal.’ It is the championing and participation of both genders in initiatives such as this that can most effectively break down barriers and foster a greater sense of equality.

I have always believed that integrity teamed with significant contributions and outstanding outputs are the best ways to get ahead. From an early age, I recognised that education is one of the ways in which we can improve our skills, positions, and abilities to do this. My grandmother went to University and my mother has a Master’s degree; I grew up surrounded by women who were academically on a level playing field with men, whilst also being mothers and wives. This experience encouraged me to higher education and to use my learnings to set a strong example as a role model in the workplace. Graduate degrees in professional disciplines can help build the confidence to contribute and compete equally for leadership positions. From my personal experience of the Executive MBA, I now have this confidence across a broader range of skills which allows me to more effectively create change.


MSc in Major Programme Management

Farah Chatila

Farah Chatila, MSc in Major Programme Management 2019

In our organisations, each of us can promote gender equality by developing an equal vision of a gender-neutral employee. To view the employee as independent of gender, age, and all such parameters. Equal rights such as equal pay, equal opportunity, the same level of respect and professional courtesy should be established. The merit of each employee should simply be based on the quality of work. Based on that, the gender gap discussion becomes futile.