How we identify: a critical moment in levelling the playing field

As the Business School (formerly Cass) considers its own identity, experts from the Global Women's Leadership Programme discuss the big issues facing society when it comes to ensuring equality.

Across the globe and in every walk of life, human beings want to be accepted for who they are – no matter their race, gender or other aspects of their identity.

The search for identity stretches beyond individuals into every corner of society. A case in point is the Business School (formerly Cass). Last year the decision was taken to change its name, because of Sir John Cass’s ties to the slave trade, additionally pledging to ‘change more than a name’.

In the run up to International Women’s Day, research has shown that gender equality is low in British people’s priorities while the Hampton-Alexander Review shows that, although progress has been made, women are still significantly underrepresented in executive director positions.

Professor Canan Kocabasoglu-Hillmer, director for the Business School’s Global Women’s Leadership Programme (GWLP), believes the challenges around gender equality are further complicated by intersectionality.

“There are issues across multiple traits – race, sexual orientation or economic drivers – and it comes at a time when we, as a Business School, are in the unique position of reflecting on who we are and how we should use our voice. Gender equality is part of these discussions.”

Alison Maitland chairs the GWLP Executive Board and is a senior visiting fellow at the Business School. She and Dr Sionade Robinson recently introduced a session on inclusion into MBA inductions – to widespread approval – and she believes we are at a pivotal point in tackling these issues.

“As we get to grips with Covid-19, we are at a critical point for gender and racial equity. Progress could backslide unless we pay serious attention to it.

“What is most worrying is the social and economic fallout of Covid and the disproportionate effect on women – in terms of both job losses and exacerbating the difficulties of balancing care and work requirements – and particularly women in already marginalised groups,” said Ms Maitland, co-author of INdivisible, which explains how to create inclusive work environments.

“While many organisations appreciate the need to address prejudices, everyday microaggressions continue to deplete energy. We need a leadership commitment – from government and employers – and a willingness to keep the foot on the pedal, data and structures that underpin diversity and inclusion, and support for reskilling and upskilling.”

Jumana Abu-Hannoud is currently studying the Business School’s Executive MBA, alongside her full-time role as General Manager of Corporate Communications for Nissan (Middle East) and raising two children with a distinct age gap, which comes with contrasting learning needs.

“Both my career and family are an integral part of my character and identity and to compromise on either one, would be to lose a key part of myself,” said Ms Abu-Hannoud, who is a scholar on the GWLP executive board.

“The idea of nurture may not make its way into the meeting room, but it sits in your consciousness. As women, when confronted with a challenge, we need to be able to remove ourselves from the equation to objectively evaluate the situation. Whether we feel able to help or experience the guilt or the need to be perfect, learning to balance this will help us better navigate through difficult situations and achieve better outcomes.”

Join an expert panel in reflecting on the challenges individuals and organisations have faced in recent times - Overcoming job challenges and achieving professional growth during the Covid-19 pandemic at 3pm on Monday 8th March.

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