IE Women’s Day 2019 was a celebration the world’s joint talent. Positivity and optimism about what we (Her and Him and You) can achieve together floated in the air. In this context, I was privileged to be invited to moderate a panel on Women Research for Legacy with most admirable speakers: Morten Huse, Professor BI Norwegian Business School and recently elected a member of the Board of Governors of Academy of Management; Kriti Jain, Professor at IE Business School and Marie Curie Research Fellow; Margarita Mayo, Professor at IE Business School and Keynote Speaker on Leadership and Connie Cárdenas, Full Professor at School of Management, Universidad de Los Andes, Colombia. Consistent with the overall nature of IE Women’s Day, we discussed the role of women in research and the role of research in advancing equal opportunities.
The proactive promotion of the participation of women in boards has been, and continues to be, a contested issue. Even among those who are convinced about the need to promote equal opportunities, there are questions about the value of diversity in the boardroom. Based on the wealth or his research in the matter, Morten Huse confirmed that interventions to increase the presence of women in top levels are useful but nowhere near sufficient to advance equal opportunities. In his opinion, the presence of women in senior management doesn’t need to be supported on improved performance but on basic justice for people equally talented. In addition, other measures related to access to education, equal responsibility for care-giving, etc are critical.
Morten Huse’s research has shed light on a very relevant issue. However, a prevalent criticism to researchers is that sitting in our Ivory Tower we have little impact in the real lives of people, that our work barely ever really moves the needle. Is this the case with gender research? Connie Cárdenas’ view is that gender research does sometime fall in this mistake. But, actually, she is an example of very much the opposite. Combining research with training in corporations, she makes an effort to bring cutting edge knowledge to decision makers. Kriti Jain also works closely with those involved in her research, in this case women entrepreneurs. In remaining in permanent connection with them she can enrich her knowledge and support them as well. Another example of research made practice and vice versa is Margarita Mayo’s work on leadership. Her latest book Yours Truly, is based on interviews with leaders and, based on their practical experience, speaks of the need to remain true to yourself as a critical source of authentic leadership. She recons that older leadership styles, more related to traditional masculine communication/behavior styles, are being overrode by more effective ones in which many women fit more naturally.
As much as academic research on women can be relevant for equal opportunities, all speakers agreed that there are still challenges to achieve equal opportunities for women in academia. Unfortunately, the academic profession doesn’t seem to be applying learning from research at a much higher speed than others. Nevertheless, speakers also agreed that we have come a long way and all talent can find broader and more interesting ways to contribute and advance nowadays than before.
The struggle for equal opportunities has come a long way and has engaged men in various ways, from positively inviting them as necessary allies to making them feel confused or challenged. What is the right fit for men in this puzzle? This final question generated an intense debate about everyone’s role in making space for the rest. Panelists agreed that the space each person needs is specific to each of us and generalizing about what men or women want is not only reductionist but rather unhelpful. Together, we need to create the environment in which we can each freely determine what leading a happy life means to us and then be able to pursue our happiness making it compatible with the everyone else’s.