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What Can Higher Education do to Address Gender Inequality?

According to a 2018 World Bank report, “globally, the loss in human capital wealth due to gender inequality is estimated at $160 trillion.” Presented differently and more positively, “human capital wealth could increase 21.7 percent globally, and total wealth by 14.0 percent with gender equality in earnings.” Three years earlier, the McKinsey Global Institute estimated that a “full-potential scenario in which women participate in the economy identically to men, would add up to $28 trillion, or 26 percent, to annual global GDP in 2025 compared with a business-as-usual scenario.” No matter how you measure it; improvements in gender equality can create huge benefits to society.

Numbers such as these make a big impression, but a lot can be lost. While they illustrate the overall magnitude of the problem, such measures don’t usually reveal much about the differences across countries and regions. These differences are especially important for the work of Global Business School Network (GBSN), which is built on the fact that business is still largely contextual. Our mission is “to improve access to quality, locally relevant management education for the developing world.” And one of our core strengths is to activate our global network to support local institutions and communities.

That was the idea behind our latest webinar, which brought together experienced scholars and professionals from around the world to explore the role of higher education in addressing gender inequality. It was offered in partnership with the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) and the PNGAus Partnership, and motivated by work that GBSN has been doing to assist universities in Papua New Guinea to develop entrepreneurship education and well as address gender inequality. To put things into perspective, in the United Nations Development Programme’s 2021 Gender Inequality Index, Papua New Guinea ranked 160 out of 161 countries.

I won’t try to summarize the webinar in this blog. Instead, I will highlight a few high-level themes and encourage readers to watch the video on the GBSN YouTube channel.

First, gender equality is inextricably connected with other important issues and challenges.

It’s not just SDG5, which aims to achieve “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.” Gender inequality affects (or is affected by) almost every other SDG, including the obvious ones, such as poverty reduction, health, education, decent work, and reduced inequalities, and also others such as clean water and sanitation and sustainable cities and communities.

Gender-specific benchmarks are formally tied to nine other SDGs, according to Juliane Iannarelli, Senior Advisor to GBSN and former Chief Knowledge Officer and Head of Diversity and Inclusion at AACSB International. With so many touch points across the SDGs, said Iannarelli, gender inequality is an inherently complex issue, and we should expect the issue to be viewed through many different lenses. Part of our responsibility in higher education is to unpack the issues and enable learners to view challenges from multiple perspectives.

Second, it is not only the right thing to do; gender equality also improves results.

In her opening keynote, Connie Gonzalez, Deputy Director for the Center for Women’s Economic Empowerment (CWEE), based in El Salvador, focused on the positive impact that gender equality can have on organizational leadership and performance. For example, there is increasing evidence that company profit, teamwork, and responsibility improve when more women are in leadership positions.

“To me, the key point is that this evidence demonstrates that gender equality should be a central part of core curricula and research agendas in business schools. It is not a side issue, nor is it strictly about social responsibility. Gender equality is as integral to business performance as finance, information systems, and strategy.”

Third, universities and business schools should think broadly and creatively about the ways they can foster gender equality.

The panelists addressed questions in three general areas, increasing access to women, increasing efficacy of education for women, and how to ensure that gender initiatives have the intended impact. Their discussion highlighted a wide range of opportunities that go beyond changing what we teach and study in business schools.

Panelists brought up the importance of role models and mentors for women—and pointed out subtleties, such as how much more beneficial it is when women are enabled to seek their own mentors, rather than have them appointed. They pointed to the value of developing entrepreneurial mindsets and skillsets, not only for starting a new venture, but also for the psychological impact of women knowing that they can. The panelists talked about the power of simple interventions that have been shown to work, activating alumni for gender initiatives, uncovering bias in assessments, strategies for strengthening the pipeline, and more. Again, I encourage you to watch the video. I will be happy to help you reach out to the panelists if you have questions.


Neha Agarwal, Lecturer (Assistant Professor), Department of Economics, University of Otago, New Zealand

Yvette Mucharraz y Cano, Professor of the Personal Management Area, IPADE Business School, Mexico

Kathy Korman Frey, Professorial Lecturer of Management; Director, Center For Entrepreneurial Excellence, The George Washington University School of Business, USA

Connie Gonzalez, Deputy Director, Center for Women’s Economic Empowerment (CWEE), El Salvador

Mahreen Mamoon, Assistant Professor, BRAC Business School, Bangladesh

Nicole Sutton, Senior Lecturer of Accounting, University of Technology Sydney, Australia

I want to close this blog by saying that this was a special group of panelists. Their interactions in the webinar say a lot about the GBSN community, which draws its strength from people like them who want to positively impact the world. This webinar is just one example of how GBSN creates value for participants, while engaging them in the mission. Our work often begins with events like this one, in which participants share ideas and resources, then rises to facilitating collective action. With that in mind, we look forward to seeing the community come together for GBSN Beyond 2022 in Amsterdam, 7-9 November.

Dan LeClair, CEO

Dan LeClair was named CEO of the Global Business School Network (GBSN) in February of 2019. Prior to GBSN, Dan was an Executive Vice President at AACSB International, an association and accrediting organization that serves some 1,600 business schools in more than 100 countries. His experience at AACSB includes two and half years as Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer, seven years as Chief Operating Officer, and five years as Chief Knowledge Officer. A founding member of the Responsible Research in Business and Management (RRBM) initiative, Dan currently participates on its working board. He also serves in an advisory capacity to several organizations and startups in business and higher education. Before AACSB, Dan was a tenured associate professor and associate dean at The University of Tampa.

Dan played a lead role in creating a think-tank joint venture between the European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD) and AACSB and has been recognized for pioneering efforts in the formation of the UN’s Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME), where he served on the Steering Committee for many years. Dan has also participated in industry-level task forces for a wide range of organizations, including the Chartered Association of Business Schools, Graduate Management Admission Council, Executive MBA Council, and Aspen Institute’s Business and Society Program.

Widely recognized as a thought leader in management education, Dan is the author of over 80 research reports, articles, and blogs, and has delivered more than 170 presentations in 30 countries. As a lead spokesperson for reform and innovation in management education, Dan has been frequently cited in a wide range of US and international newspapers, magazines, and professional publications, including the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, New York Times, China Daily, Forbes, Fast Company, and The Economist. Dan earned a PhD from the University of Florida writing on game theory.