Women In Leadership: Together We Rise

Women In Leadership: Together We Rise

Class of 2023 London Business School Graduation

Say fromageeeeeee…’

The distinctive French-rolled ‘r’ rang out across London’s Royal Festival Hall. The Dean of London Business School, affectionately known as Dean François, had paused mid-ceremony to snap an on-stage selfie. In the background were 551 gown-clad exuberant MBA graduates, crowding into the photo whilst swatting at the eye-level tassels of our mortar boards.

We’d made it. We crossed the stage to receive our degrees, some whooping, some teetering on pearly heels, some (Awele) even dancing their way to shake Dean François’ hand. The jubilation was a far cry from the ceremonial Latin of my undergraduate graduation – this was more like a giant party. The Hall rang with giggling MBAs, secretly throwing their mortar boards in the air (strictly forbidden by the supplier of said airborne item). As we processed across the stage, family and friends applauded in their thousands, the din reverberating from the Hall’s tall rafters. Afterwards, we’d rustled through our goodie-bags to find our names printed on the centre-page of The Financial Times: the MBA class of 2023.

Women In Leadership: Together We Rise

Graduation celebration at London Business School


You’d never have guessed we were graduating into a recession. In the months leading up, recruitment had been tough. Graduate schemes had contracted, offers had been delayed, first by six months, now by a year. Tech recruitment had oscillated non-stop, now shut, now open. We were hustling for too few roles in rattled industries. Rumours of MBB halving the number of summer internships for the year circulated, then were confirmed. Job postings across MBA schools were in short supply (through a reciprocity scheme, some US and European schools share jobs boards). For students still recruiting (me included), each week had brought a flurry of new updates, none particularly promising.

This felt far, far away that hot, sultry day in July. In his summing up speech, Dean François spoke about resilience and tenacity. The MBA isn’t just about knowledge, he explained, it’s about facing down adversity. Good leaders don’t fear downturns, they band together and attack with renewed energy. He called it the power of n squared (Dean François is, incidentally, a mathematician). On its own, 1 can’t grow in value. 1 squared is… 1. But when two numbers come together, they can. 2 squared…4, 3…9, etc. Working together, the pie only grows. In other words, the London Business School MBA class isn’t 551 individual future leaders. It’s a hive brain, heading out into the world to work together.

When I think back to my world of work before LBS, it seems full of leaders who skipped that lesson – to their peril. I worked in advertising, an inventive, edgy industry, filled with 20-somethings and friendly, relatable leaders. I loved it – the social life, the pace, the budgets, the blank pages ripe for creativity. Somewhere along the way though, I fell out of love. This catalysed when a colleague appeared on the breakfast news, lambasting the industry for failing to deal with sexual misconduct. I heard the rumours of affairs and inappropriate behaviour. I even witnessed two unsavoury incidents at the same Christmas party (from two drunk people, supposedly on drinking bans for prior bad behaviour). I wasn’t surprised when stories started leaking during the Me-Too movement. Zoe Scaman’s article, Mad Men, Furious Women, exposed the extent of the crisis. I was dismayed to recognise anonymous voices, to see my friends’ sad stories in print. But I felt even worse when nothing seemed to happen. No reckoning came. Leaders lay low, fractured into lonely silence, unable to move past the stagnant power of 1.

Dean François’ words couldn’t ring truer for the then-beleaguered CEOs of adland. By contrast, as the class of 2023 head into the next stages of their careers, we’re not heading out on our own. Instead, we are going together, our power multiplied (to drag the metaphor to its limits). When I think of the people who empowered me the most, there are three women whose stories stand out.


Women In Leadership: Together We Rise

Jemima (Right) with a classmate

The first is Olivia’s. I met Olivia on day one, a Californian consultant-slash-spray-tan-business-owner. She’d spotted a captive audience in the US sorority scene and she was everything I imagine that scene to be – a magnet of energy, with boundless generosity and a wardrobe to die for. She’d set up her salon shortly after arriving in the UK, arousing much interest among the LBS ladies. Even the boys couldn’t resist the golden glow. After negotiating a strict ‘boxers on’ policy, Olivia was inundated with male tanning requests. But Olivia was heading for a career switch into private equity. The best hustler in our class, she’d nevertheless been battling a flat year in private equity recruitment. Over-qualified candidates were giving up, 6-round interviews leading to nothing. Undeterred, she’d stuck it out. We’d spent the summer comparing notes, both recruiting, both reluctant to mollify our ambitions. I became invested in her recruitment, so I was over the moon when she secured an interview with the most sought-after firm in the industry, seeing off 800 other candidates.

How did she do it? ‘I just love your energy,’ said her interviewer. She leant into her glitter, colour, warmth and razor-sharp business acumen – and stood out from the crowd on personality alone (she always has).

The second story is Veronika’s. Veronika is an ex-banking mum of two very little ones. Together, Veronika and I headed up advocacy for the Women in Business Club – a time-heavy commitment. I soon discovered Veronika also headed up not one, but two other clubs. Plus an internship. Plus a full timetable of lectures. Plus making it to our regular lunches and soirees. Predictably, Veronika was fearless in swatting down last-minute timetabling – even when heavily outnumbered. Rearrangements complicated childcare. During one summer school lecture, I watched in admiration as Veronika immediately squashed a lecturer’s suggestion to move tomorrow’s session an hour later so we could stay in bed longer. Despite facing 87 sleepy (and lazy) yes votes, she prevailed.

Veronika fought countless battles, often behind the scenes and invisibly, to set better standards. She had no fear. I was delighted to see, when Veronika ascended the stage to graduate, two little extra heads appear, bobbing up the stairs. Dean François bent down to shake her toddlers’ hands, before receiving shortly after, another little person, and then another. Parents across the MBA beckoned their little ones to cross the stage with them. It was the cutest thing.

The third story is Jess’. It’s a short and redacted story, but one which qualifies most strongly for Dean François’ power of 1+ analogy. I met Jess early in the MBA, when we captained the rugby team together. I liked her immediately, when, my new co-conspirator, she covered for me after I missed 5 practices in a row (due to a genuine injury…obtained on my least-finest-moment-of-all-time on an MBA night out). Since then, together, Jess and I have weathered the storms of a two-year mid-career break. An MBA is full of drama – exams, assignments, hook-ups, break-ups, assignments, interviews, failures and successes, assignments, friendship drama, invitees / non-invitees…and so on. For those who love the T (apparently, the new word for drama), an MBA won’t disappoint. But this can wear thin and feel bleak at times. Jess resisted the pull of this world (I could not, in any way), and helped me when it all got too much. Just two heads together can be enough to solve the world’s trickiest drama, whether real (job rejections) or entirely imagined (no one needs to stress about Bogan Bingo).

Women In Leadership: Together We Rise

Jemima Maunder-Taylor

It’s very fitting that all three women played a big part in my graduation. Jess came up to introduce her partner to my family. Olivia arranged a huge meet-the-parents party the night before we graduated. And one of Veronika’s little ones pipped me to the post in the race for the last strawberry amuse-bouche. We partied with 4,000 people in LBS’ Regent’s Park campus, with its banquet of canapes and Pimms on the manicured lawns with their drooping Weeping Willow trees and verdant green Mulberry bushes. I’ve never been to such a huge party and known so many people’s names and stories so well. Despite saying a temporary goodbye to so many of the 551 MBAs, this community will only grow and grow and grow.



Bio: Jemima graduated with distinction from her MBA at London Business School in July. During her MBA, Jemima was a Forte Foundation and BK Birla scholar, Vice-President of the Entrepreneurship club, Women in Business club and Touch Ruby club. She was runner up in the Entrepreneurship Summer School and won the school’s Lasting Impact award for co-authoring the Little Blue Book, a guide to combatting sexism in professional and personal settings. Prior to LBS, Jemima received an MA is Classics from Queens’ College, Cambridge and qualified as a Coral Reef Research Diver before spending 8 years in advertising and communications.





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