Dubai: Globally, women account for only around 30 per cent of MBA students, but London Business School (LBS), which has a Dubai campus, aims to achieve 51 per cent female representation, its dean François Ortalo-Magné told Gulf News.

In a phone interview from London, Ortalo-Magné said the ambition is to place women in leadership positions around the world, including in the UAE.

He conceded “the march” towards the goal is long, but remains confident the “winds of change” are blowing in the right direction, in the UAE and globally, when it comes to gender parity in graduate business studies and the workplace.

And a recent development has lent key support towards that march.

‘Generous gift’

In September, LBS announced it has received £3.69 million (around Dh17.14 million) from the Laidlaw Foundation to advance women in business.

LBS said the creation of the ‘Laidlaw Women’s Leadership Fund’ strengthens the School’s ambition of moving towards 51 per cent female representation across LBS’s degree programmes, in particular the number of women from socio-economically diverse backgrounds.

Ortalo-Magné told Gulf News the “generous gift” will allow women “who would not normally think of accessing world-class business education, because of the cost”, to now enrol.

Graduate business schools are expensive; tuition fees for the 2019 intake for MBA at LBS, for example, were listed at £82,000 (around Dh380,975).

The Fund will support 20 outstanding female scholars per year, for three years, in the MBA, Executive MBA and Masters in Management programmes. Ortalo-Magné said he is positive the candidates will include women from the UAE and the Arab world.

“We definitely want to increase the proportion of women within our Dubai Executive MBA and the gift will be one of the way that helps us, that complements, actually, some of the generous support we’re getting from alumni in the region,” he added.

Ortalo-Magné said women in some Dubai programmes of LBS represent only 19 per cent of students, in part because the Executive MBA women are in their mid-30s or early 40s.

“We want to be much higher than that [level of female representation]. At the very least, it should be 40 per cent, but across the School, I’m hoping that one day we will reach gender parity here.”

And he sees “no reason why” the ambition cannot be achieved. In fact, LBS, in its Masters in Management, this year reached 51 per cent female representation.

“There are qualified women out there, including in the UAE and the broader region in the Middle East. There is a real wind of change in the government efforts, for example, to promote more women in the position of leadership and we want to support those winds of change,” Ortalo-Magné said.

Glass ceiling

But women at the workplace sometimes hit a glass ceiling on their way up the corporate ladder. Lord Laidlaw, Chairman, Laidlaw Foundation, said in a media release: “Unfortunately, many women reach a glass ceiling, particularly in the corporate world. I am deeply committed to helping more of them break that glass ceiling through expanding access to top business education.”

Ortalo-Magné told Gulf News awareness of the issue has improved.

“If you look over the past 10 years at the kind of research that our faculty have done, it has demonstrated that it’s not enough to simply blame women for ‘not being driven or motivated enough’.

Level playing field

“We now fully understand that the context that we [as a society] set up within the workplace tend to favour men – and women have internalised that. So we understand the context for hiring, the context for working day-to-day, the context for promotions, for work-life balance – they favour men.

He added: “The awareness is there. I think there’s still a long way to go before we correct what we’ve created and before women can feel that we’ve levelled the playing field. But it’s a great first step that the awareness is there. Many organisations, us included, are making efforts to correct the issues that we’ve created over so many years.”