12 Inspiring Female B-School Deans Share Leadership Lessons

Dean Delphine Manceau

NEOMA Business School (France)

“You are the game changers of tomorrow. When you join a company, you can change the rules, modify the way things work. Learn and listen, but do not hesitate to suggest changes and innovations, this is also why you have been recruited. Share and dare: share with other female leaders and with the role models you will find, you will see that the challenges you face are faced by others and that you can find solutions together”

Where you’re from/place of origin: France

Where you have previously studied: PhD at HEC Paris, France, and a post-doc at the Wharton School (University of Pennsylvania) as senior fellow in marketing.

Previous roles:

My career has been mostly devoted to Management Higher Education. I started at ESCP Business School as a faculty member in marketing and innovation, then as Associate Dean for Programs at a crucial time for the evolution of European Higher Education with the implementation of the Bologna process, and then as Associate Dean for Executive Education and Corporate Relations. In 2009, I wrote the report “For a new vision of innovation” (with P. Morand), commissioned by Christine Lagarde, then Minister of Economy in France. I then founded i7, the Institute for Innovation and Competitiveness, an academic Think Tank. I also served as a member of the RISE Expert Group (Research Innovation and Science Policy) for the European Commission (2015-2018). I became Dean of NEOMA Business School in 2017. I have been the Chairwoman of AACSB European Advisory Council and am now a member of the EQUIS Committee (EFMD).

How has your business school adapted to the Covid-19 crisis, and what initiatives and innovations has your business school implemented? 

Distance learning, student welbeing, adaptation of international partnerships, career service in a changing job market… Higher Education has been facing many challenges since the beginning of the pandemic. Among the key initiatives that NEOMA Business School has taken, I would mention:

  • The very first digital campus in Europe with over 80 rooms, lecture theatres, offices, where students, faculty and staff interact, which enables them to bump into each other and recreates spontaneity and serendipity just like on a real campus. It tries to create the richest possible student experience, even remotely. 3,000 students and faculty have already created their avatar. We now also organize events and concerts on this 4th NEOMA Campus. 
  • Intense wellness services to students to help them face loneliness, isolation, financial difficulties… The health and well-being of our students has been our top priority. Our wellness center has developed its activities with psychological support, consultations of nurses and psychologists, an emergency funding scheme for students in financial distress, zoom cafés, and many other activities. We have also created a buddy system amongst students and with Alumni. For instance, during the first lockdown when we had 500 students abroad on an exchange program, the buddy system with Alumni living in the same country helped them feel less isolated.
  • Intensive training of faculty members to help them adapt their course design and teaching approaches to remote teaching and suggested ways to highly engage students despite the zoom fatigue. More than 25 webinars were organized with the faculty over the past 12 months.  The pandemic was a great opportunity to try new approaches, since students were indulgent to mistakes and failures. We could adopt a trial-and-error to get better at remote teaching and then share best practices.

What do you feel are the most important skills needed for managing a business school through a crisis (a couple of bullet points and why is fine)?

  • Combine a strategic vision with a strong operational agility. Operational aspects and very short term adaptability have become very important due to the necessity to react to ever changing health and teaching conditions. However, it is very important to keep a clear view of what the key strengths of the school are and how we want it to change and develop for the future, since the crisis is also an opportunity to lead change, innovate and reinvent ourselves. The combination of short-term and long-term view has been key to providing an extremely quick response whilst keeping our strategic direction.
  • Communicate, reassure and make the community feel stronger: Internal communication to faculty, staff, and students is more important than ever. In uncertain times, everybody needs to understand the decisions that are made and to feel that we know where we are going. This is a real challenge in a context of high uncertainty like today! In my opinion, transparency is essential. We must be able to communicating what we know, without being afraid to tell what you do not know.

How has your career helped to shape your leadership capabilities, and your priorities for your role as Dean? Can you share an anecdote about a previous instance/moment in your career that you feel has left a lasting impact on you?

As an academic, I am a specialist of innovation. I use and implement theories about innovation to foster innovation at NEOMA Business School. For instance, specialists of innovation make a strong distinction between exploration and exploitation. I have implemented this approach in the School’s organization. On the one hand, the Department of Digital Transformation is charge of exploration, and they have for instance developed our very first Virtual Reality case studies or, recently, our Virtual Campus. On the other hand, the Department of Innovating Pedagogy is in charge of exploitation and making sure more and more faculty members use our innovations in their teaching and research approaches. Their job is about making innovations adopted internally.

Another example would be to really promote gender balance in our Executive Committee (to date, we have 2 female and 2 male as Dean+Associate Deans) and to promote conferences and classes for students on gender balance and gender equity, with workshops and courses on such topics as better negotiating salaries as women, making students aware of unconscious gender biases in the workplace, and other key topics.

What do you see as the greatest challenges and opportunities for business education in the coming years and what is your business school strategy to tackle this? 

I see 3 key challenges which are also opportunities: interdisciplinarity, social responsibility and innovation. 

Interdisciplinarity: In the future, managers and company leaders will need to work more than ever with scientists, ethnographists, digital experts, artists… They need to be prepared for that and to learn their language and habitus. This is why we need to develop more multidisciplinary programs. For instance, at NEOMA, we have a program named TEMA at crossroads between technology, management and creativity. Business schools also need to forge stronger links with schools of engineering, design, architecture, human sciences… At NEOMA, the hybridization of skills is at the heart of our strategy, and we regularly build partnerships or double degree programs with schools in other fields from management. We have also just launched the NEOMA Coding School, a digital, community-based and collaborative learning platform for web development. We also need to reinforce the teaching of humanities in our programs since geopolitics and ethics are becoming more and more important in company decisions. Soft skills are particularly important in a future world where Artificial intelligence will automate certain tasks, and managers will need to focus on emotional and creative intelligence to lead. 

We are also facing a challenge on social responsibility to make our students the builders of the world of tomorrow, a world where companies will care more about environment, CSR and diversity. Young generations are very sensitive to these topics, we need to encourage them to act and understand how to make real-world decisions and trade-offs that will push these priories in the companies they will join. It means understanding the difficulties related to such topics so as to combine their ideals with real-life constraints, in order to be real game changers.

Innovation is about fostering research on key topics for companies and for society (the future of work, the transformation of the world with more social and environmental responsibility) and increasing our impact on companies and society, while also inventing new pedagogical approaches and new student services combining differently presential and digital learning. In a nutshell, we are at crossroads and we need to reinvent Management Higher Education by learning the lessons for the last 14 months. The challenges for our sector will be very strong in the years to come and this is precisely what being a Dean now is so stimulating!

What would you say is your biggest achievement in your career so far?

When I joined NEOMA, the school had recently merged and we needed to recreate a full community with a strong ambition and a common vision. We built the ImagiNEOMA project where we organised hackathons, workshops and surveys with students, alumni, faculty and staff to share and define together the future we wanted for the school. I feel it really strengthened the NEOMA community and enabled us to address together the challenges we are currently facing.

If you could give one life lesson/piece of advice to your younger self/young female leaders, what would it be?

You are the game changers of tomorrow. When you join a company, you can change the rules, modify the way things work. 

Learn and listen, but do not hesitate to suggest changes and innovations, this is also why you have been recruited. 

Share and dare: share with other female leaders and with the role models you will find, you will see that the challenges you face are faced by others and that you can find solutions together; build a network of supporting women who are more experienced and of younger women that you will support; and dare to suggest new approaches and changes.

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