Diane Morgan knows how steep the hill is for women in academia. She’s been climbing it, on two continents, for most of her career.
Morgan knows — because it is an ever-present reality in her career — that female business school deans face different challenges than male deans face, from life as a working mother to the gender stereotypes at play within business school walls.
Morgan, currently associate dean of programs at Imperial College London, likes to relate a story about how things are sometimes different — and how much better for everyone it can be when they are. Prior to joining Imperial, she spent seven years in a similar role at London Business School, where for a time she was joined by a chief financial officer who was a woman, a woman head of executive education, and a woman head of advancement. It was an unusual situation — four of the top officers of a school, all women. And it took the usual gender politics of higher education completely out of the equation.
THE QUESTION THEY OFTEN GET: ‘WHAT’S IT LIKE TO BE A FEMALE DEAN?’
“I’m sitting around the table and all of the decision makers and all of the revenue drivers were women,” the New York native tells Poets&Quants. “That was very fun actually, and unusual. I left LBS for family, but I had a really good experience there in the sense that when you’re in a senior team that’s a majority of women — the dean was a man, Andrew Likierman — you kind of don’t notice gender at that point, because you’re just running your businesses.”
Morgan wants other schools in Europe to focus on running their business, too — in particular, by hiring more women as deans and professors. Many schools have embraced the idea, but challenges remain, and victories are gradual. To gain a sense of that progress, Poets&Quants recently interviewed four prominent women in top leadership positions in European business schools. Besides Morgan, they include Wendy Loretto, who this year became the first woman to assume the deanship at Edinburgh Business School, Vlerick Business School Dean Marion Debruyne, and Nathalie Lugagne, the newly appointed associate dean in charge of HEC Paris Executive Education.
They all take a rather optimistic view on the subject, while sometimes noting the struggle they had to endure to climb the ladder of success in academia. Still, as Debruyne points out, she often gets the question, ‘What’s it like to be a female dean?’ That may well be proof enough that it’s still uncommon for a woman to hold the top job at a business school because no one, she adds, would ever ask a man what it’s like to be a male dean.
PROPORTION OF WOMEN FACULTY IN EUROPE RISES SLOWLY
Women have comprised more than 50% of university graduates in the European Union since at least 1999. Yet, as of 2013, women represented less than 21% of top academic staff in most EU member state universities. Meanwhile, in the UK, the reality was only marginally better, with women holding just 4,415 (22.4%) of 19,745 professor positions, according to research firm Catalyst. (Compare that to the United States, where women held more than 37% of tenured positions and nearly half — 48% — of tenure-track positions.) Moreover, women academics in the UK earned 11.3% less than men academics on average; at some institutions, the gap widened to 27%.
At Europe’s business schools, the track record isn’t nearly as good. Although women make up 34% of graduates but only three of 30 deans at the top schools, Marion Debruyne, one of those deans at Vlerick Business School, noted in a recent article. (Ten of the top 60 U.S. B-schools have women in charge.) The percentage of case studies in which women play a starring role? Just 10%. In an April 2016 report for EFMD, a not-for-profit research group based in Brussels, Belgium, Lynn Roseberry of Copenhagen Business School wrote that most European business school leaders are committed to the principle of gender equality, and most agree the lack of it is an ongoing problem. Yet the proportion of female business academics continues to rise at a glacial pace, she wrote, in part because B-school leaders don’t know how to plug leaks in the pipeline of female academics to their ranks.
“The majority of schools lack the understanding of the issues,” Roseberry wrote, “and fail to consult with experts or their own female academics. The main lesson for European business school leaders? Commitment is only half the battle; you need to seek out input from experts, female academics, and your stakeholders if you seriously want to close the gender gap in your faculties.”
AT IMPERIAL, PROFESSIONAL PROGRESS & ONGOING CHALLENGES
After leaving London Business School for a brief stint back in the states in February of 2014, Diane Morgan returned to London to join Imperial, where she oversees the B-school’s marketing, recruitment, and admissions to 15 programs in a suite that brings in about 1,400 master’s and MBA students. She also oversees career services and education technology. “We have a very big online tech group, so I look after all of the commercial aspects of the school and then I report directly in to the dean,” she says.
It’s been a fulfilling career move for the Columbia MBA, but as positive as her experience at Imperial has been, Morgan quickly gained a renewed appreciation for the experience she’d had at LBS. Imperial, proud of its Victorian origins and scientific bent, was new to the business school game, having only formally created one in 2003. And there was a lot of catching up to do.
“The college has this strong history of building up people for careers in science, technology, and business management in the UK, so it attracts a huge number of international population, but the majority of the people that work there — the academic researchers, the professional staff — are from the UK, so it was different culturally in that I felt I had gone to more of a UK institution,” Morgan says. “And there were fewer women in the faculty.”