The benefits of a diverse workforce are well known, and at London Business School students are already shaping a more inclusive future. Here, members of three of the school’s groups aimed at tackling employment inequality outline the changes they want to see in the workplace
Ed Boyanoski MBA2021, diversity and inclusion lead, Out in Business Club We chose “look back, act forward” as the theme for the 2020 EurOUT conference, which is organised by the London Business School’s Out in Business (OiB) Club because we felt it was important that we reflected on the successes of the LGBTQ+ community in 2020 while reminding ourselves that there’s still much work to do.
If we learned anything from 2020, it’s that we must work together to achieve the greater good for society. Populism, ideological leaders and a global pandemic have in many ways split the world apart. With lines being drawn on various issues amid an increasingly divisive political atmosphere, it can be easy to feel isolated – particularly in the LGBTQ+ community, where one in three face discrimination every year.
OiB welcomes everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. We work to bring LBS students, alumni, staff, faculty and professionals together to consider the challenges facing the LGBTQ+ community, and its intersection with business. As we look to 2021 and beyond, our efforts are focused on three main areas where we hope to grow our community at LBS and in the broader business world.
Visibility: You cannot be what you cannot see. Coming out – existing, openly – is one of the most powerful tools we have to change hearts and minds and foster a more inclusive environment. Whether at LBS or in the business world, visible LGBTQ+ leaders are critical to advancing LGBTQ+ rights. With one of the most globally diverse student cohorts in the world, we’re committed to shaping positive perspectives on the LGBTQ+ community that will be carried home to more than 70 countries.
And we champion companies that make efforts to promote LGBTQ+ visibility globally. Investment management firm Pimco, for instance, has been leading the charge on LGBTQ+ visibility and was recognised by the Human Rights Campaign in 2020 as the best place to work for LGBTQ+ equality for the fourth consecutive year. ‘Coming out – existing, openly – is one of the most powerful tools we have to foster a more inclusive environment’ Advocacy: Allies are a critical part of the LGBTQ+ community, and activism from students across LBS is what really empowers OiB. But being an ally is not just an act; it’s a mindset. True allyship comes when we’re not just pro-cause, but anti-discrimination.
In 2020, we formally launched Out in Business’s ally programme, engaging the broader LBS community on themes ranging from corporate inclusion, LGBTQ+ in sports, coming out, transgender rights and more.
And in 2020, OiB again had some of the world’s leading companies sponsor our club. BCG, Google, Pimco, McKinsey, Goldman Sachs, Levi’s, Bain, HSBC and more demonstrated how continued advocacy enables the LGBTQ+ community to thrive. Through our association with alumni, faculty, professionals and companies around the world, OiB reinforces support networks that empower and protect.
Engagement: Research shows that those who know just one LGBTQ+ person are more likely to support equality. Finding ways to interact with the community is, therefore, a critical part of OiB’s purpose.
OiB shapes events throughout the year where students can participate in many ways – whether through sports, career panels, conferences, or even an event at an LGBTQ+ establishment. It’s about creating multiple access points to our community so that we can educate and encourage.
While 2021 still brings uncertainty, we must remember that when we have each other’s best interests at heart and realise that we’re greater than our differences, we truly can make the world a better place. We all have more in common than we think, and each of us is made of the same stuff regardless of how we define ourselves.
Tsepo Serakalala MBA2022, president, Black in Business Club; and Martha Mends MiFPT2022, president’s adviser, Black in Business Club Last year the world grappled with racial inequalities in a way few could have predicted. The killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in the US and the devastating impact of the Covid pandemic further exposed the systemic inequalities facing the black community. These events catalysed real and open conversations about race and racism globally, and many people have become more open to listening and learning. And while there has arguably been some lip service paid, many organisations have started to take meaningful action.
Adidas and The Estée Lauder Companies, for example, have committed to making sure their employee demographics at least mirror those of the markets they serve. Facebook has committed to increasing black people in leadership roles by 30 per cent over the next five years. Major companies, banks and venture capital firms have committed billions to support black entrepreneurs through direct funding, training and other forms of support. Although the bar hasn’t been set high, these changes have brought a sense of cautious optimism about transformation in business.
But despite all this progress, black people continue to be underrepresented in the upper echelons of business. In the UK, where 3.8 per cent of the population is black, 0 per cent of chair/CEO/CFOs and 0.9 per cent of executives at FTSE 100 companies were black in 2020 (versus 1.3 per cent and 1.3 per cent in 2014). Even in South Africa, a country where 81 per cent of the population is black, only 15 per cent of CEOs at JSE Top 40 companies are black. The message is simple – the workplace of the future needs to better reflect the diversity of our societies. Moving forward, there are three main areas where we’d like to see more progress: ‘The future workplace needs more brave allies who are willing to go beyond the talking and do the hard work where it’s really needed’ Representation: We want to see better reporting on diversity and inclusion (D&I), a move towards more detailed reporting of workforce demographics, D&I policies, and targeted initiatives aimed at developing black and other minority senior managers and leaders. The presence of quantitative data benefits everyone and will lead to better-informed dialogue and accountability.
Inclusion: We want to see companies focus on creating more inclusive environments where employees can thrive, regardless of their ethnicity, gender or socioeconomic background. The business case for diversity has been corroborated many times over, and a focus on cultivating a sense of inclusion and belonging will only work to benefit all. Allyship: This will be central to achieving all these goals. In the Harvard Business Review, Tsedale Melaku et al described allyship as a strategic mechanism used by individuals to become collaborators who fight injustice and promote equity in the workplace. The future workplace needs more brave allies who are willing to go beyond the talking and do the hard, uncomfortable work where it’s really needed.
Melaku et al best describe the act of allyship as “[promoting] equity in the workplace by fostering supportive relationships, and both private and public acts of sponsorship and advocacy”. We want to see more people educating themselves about racial inequality and becoming allies who can help alleviate the “double burden” of the black community who not only suffer discrimination but also bear the brunt of educating others about their experiences. We want these allies to push conversations in their workplaces and beyond, and commit to concrete actions to pull down the barriers facing the black community today.
Parsha Hobbs MBA2021, co-president, Women in Business Club, and Ina Liu MBA2021, co-president, Women in Business Club Of course, 2020 brought about great hardship in the lives of most, but the extent to which women have struggled can’t be underestimated. The global pandemic has forced working women to take on even more responsibilities, with added pressure from childcare and household standpoint. Women are now said to be working a “double shift” or, as Sheryl Sandberg puts it, “a double-double shift”.
While the distribution of housework and childcare between men and women has continued to be a barrier to gender equality, some estimate that the pandemic has pushed us back decades in the pursuit of gender parity. In 2020, McKinsey calculated that two million women were considering leaving the workforce in the US alone.
But in times of immense hardship and struggle, new opportunities emerge. The pandemic presents a rare opportunity for us to collectively reflect, assess and reimagine the future of work and how it can better promote and support diversity. Having more women at the top of organisations will shift perceptions of what women can do (anything) and who women can be (whoever they want to be), and have a positive impact on unconscious bias and how future generations are treated. ‘If there’s one thing we hope to see at the end of 2021, it’s a higher percentage intake of women into LBS programmes’ The McKinsey Women in the Workplace 2020 report highlights that in 2020, only 28 per cent and 21 per cent of senior vice presidents and C-suite executives were women. This issue links back to the promotion pipeline from entry- to manager-level roles, with 62 per cent of management level roles carried out by men. Business schools like LBS can provide an avenue for more women to develop the requisite skills and confidence to accelerate their career progression.
The LBS Women in Business (WiB) Club’s diversity and inclusion efforts span all aspects of the student experience and are focused on fostering an environment that is attractive to and supportive for all women looking for the necessary propulsion in their future careers. If there’s one thing we hope to see at the end of 2021, it’s a higher percentage intake of women into LBS programmes. When we achieve this, we can then focus on diversity and inclusion collaborations with external companies in an effort to further counter the management pipeline issues that persist today.
It’s said that times of disruption are perfect for change, and if there’s one thing that 2020 succeeded in doing it was bringing these vital topics to the forefront of our discourse and crystallising the need for action. We hope to continue our endeavours to drive equality in business and beyond and invite you to reflect and question how you can drive the conversation of allyship and awareness forward in your life, too.