CentreCourt London: Fireside Chat With Imperial College B-School Associate Dean Leila Guerra

Leila Guerra, associate dean of programs for Imperial College Business School

Symonds: Imperial actually compares very favorably to other top European business schools in terms of gender balance. U.S. schools have put more focus on this, and it’s clearly a priority for European business schools. Why does it matter?

Guerra: Personally, I think it’s the way it should be. Companies should reflect gender balance. The world is gender balanced. We have a personal commitment, for many years now, on bringing gender balance and bringing female via higher education into the fast track of their career. That has gone in many, many ways. It’s not just scholarships. It’s building an environment where women can see role models in students, faculty, and staff. You want them to understand and experience that they’re in a safe place, where actually they’re going to learn more, but they’re going to actually be also respected, and that this is not even a discussion anymore. It just needs to be gender balanced. Many of our programs do have 50-50 gender distribution or are almost there.

Symonds: So as you then sort of look into a crystal ball, in the next five or ten years, you’ve already worked at three of the world’s top business schools, where do you see the MBA heading in the next five or ten years, including perhaps that pipeline of all these talented women now in the MBA program that themselves will be in senior management roles in the next five to ten years? So what will the MBA look like ten years from now?

Guerra: I was doing a presentation the other day for our advisory board and I mentioned that seven years down the line we might not have a program as defined as it is at the moment. I think the MBA is certainly not dead. I can say that, and I’ve seen many headlines in the U.S, right? It’s Dead, It’s Dying. No, certainly not. I think it will move to a more flexible, more technology-driven program. We will no longer differentiate, as we do at the moment, with an online MBA, a face to face MBA. No, all the MBA programs will have a digital footprint. The STEM environment will be brought more into the classroom, and we will have to find ways of also assuming what’s currently happening in the markets and how we can shape society and how we can influence that.

What’s happening currently on the macroeconomic trends is something that business schools need to say, “What did we do about this? How could we help shape that? Did we talk to our students around ethics? Did we talk about social responsibility? Did we address climate change?” And all of these things. The MBA is still a very well suitable program to define it and to incorporate that, but it also requires us to be bold and to be addressing the challenges that are happening in this society and not ignoring them or saying that doesn’t have to do with me. No, we do have a role to play.

Symonds: Last year the Ed Tech Lab, within Imperial College in the Business School, produced a hologram which enables an individual to make a presentation, speak to a group from anywhere in the world. Do you think we’ll continue to see technologies like that?

Guerra: I think so, but at the end of the day, it wasn’t so much about the hologram. It was about breaking barriers. It was about trying to reach all the talent, all the potential students that are everywhere in the world and that have not heard about higher education, cannot afford an MBA, or would like to hear of a more diverse perspective. The hologram for us was a way of having people from the U.S. in different locations and people from London discussing around a career in high tech, but I got, right after that, people telling me, “Well, why are we teaching doing business in Asia?” Or, “Why are we talking about Africa here in London?” Why can we not just, via the hologram, loop them in and have them address your students and that will shape their mindset in a more diverse way and we’re going back to the role models, we will be able to offer a more global role model.

That’s the exciting thing about technology. So for me, holograms, yes, it’s amazing, I’m really proud that we did that, but it was more about we just broke a barrier. It’s not anymore you’re doing it on the phone and there’s you’re doing it on all these amazing technologies. You see that person. You can actually bring anyone in the world now to one place and have five different perspectives, and they all have to be there without traveling, without the obstacles that you might find physically.

Symonds: Well, perhaps the Center Court at 2020 we’ll have holograms, but we’re delighted you could be with us in person for today.

Guerra: That’s true.

Symonds: Leila, thank you very much for your time, and thanks to the global audience that’s been following us. Thank you.

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About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.