Due to their strong interconnections with the corporate world, French business schools are a mirror of today’s corporate world but also contribute to shaping the behaviors and beliefs of tomorrow’s business leaders. Hence, looking at business schools from a gender perspective gives us useful insights into gender inequalities in the workplace. In this first blog article, I will discuss the impact on women working in a culture that tolerates sexism and gender-based inequalities. The conversation will continue in another blog on what happens when female and male students work together.

Inequality in business schools

The business schools’ culture is still very much influenced by sexism, with behaviors considered “manly” or “virile” fostered by the most popular students’ clubs and widely accepted on the campuses as part of the “students’ experience” – “Boys will be boys!” Female students face recurring comments on their physical appearance, “jokes”, sexist representations, sexual harassment, etc.

Male and female students enter the corporate world being shaped by what they experienced in business schools. While male students learn that sexism is not only acceptable but recommended to gain power, female students learn that they are only “tolerated” in the top schools and in the business world; that despite gender parity and their personal achievements, they are neither included nor considered equal to their male counterparts. Sexism and harassment are two sides of the same coin: They are very efficient ways to remind women where they belong.

As a leader, what can you do about it?

As a leader, it is your role to shape, or contribute to shaping, the culture of your organization. When you aim at achieving gender equality in your company and creating a culture of inclusion, eradicating sexism is essential. Training people on stereotypes and unconscious biases is necessary but will not be sufficient. You must take a close look at the company’s culture from a gender perspective. Only then will you be able to intervene in the existing environment and establish new conditions for everybody in the company to thrive.

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