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Women in focus: the Wo+Men’s Leadership Initiative at Cambridge Judge Business School

Women having discussions at Cambridge Judge Business School

In 2015, Cambridge Judge Business School’s Wo+Men’s Leadership Initiative (WLI) was launched at its inaugural conference, to serve as a platform to enable women’s empowerment and leadership in the business world globally.

It has since grown into a School-wide initiative headed by Sucheta Nadkarni, Sinyi Professor of Chinese Management, and supported by staff from areas of the School as diverse as Human Resources and Corporate Communications & Marketing, as well as by students from different programmes. It engages with issues of gender diversity, equality in the workplace and unconscious bias, through a host of workshops, debates, executive education programmes and research seminars.

One of the student founders of the WLI, undertaking the Cambridge MBA at the time, Siobhan Sweeney (MBA 2015) says “we felt very passionate about the topic and channelled this into helping to found the WLI. Its structure is unique in that it includes many different stakeholders all coming together to provide different ideas and execute different missions within their roles – faculty, staff, and students – and CJBS is the perfect place for this with its strong sense of collaboration.”

The WLI had support from the all areas of the School from its inception, as Siobhan and her fellow MBA Rena Zuabi (MBA 2015), along with faculty and staff, sought backing from the Dean of the Business School, Professor Christoph Loch, as well as Emeritus Professor and former Dean of the School, Dame Sandra Dawson. The WLI grew quickly, launching its inaugural conference in 2015.

The WLI gained further focus, as Professor Nadkarni’s research into “Womenomics”, commissioned by BNY Newton and Newton Investment Management, won the award for Most Innovative Event at the Investment Marketing & Innovation Awards in the same year, creating some lively conversations at the first conference. Since then, several cutting-edge research projects have been developed including the new ground-breaking research project launched this year in partnership with Level 20 on the individual, organisational and cultural factors influencing the career trajectories of executives in the private equity industry.

The WLI is still evolving fast, and from 2017 is taking its direction from Professor Nadkarni and the student, faculty and staff team members, who collectively carry the initiative into a new era, with ambitious plans for further research and partnerships. The committee are currently planning their upcoming conference on 10 June, which is based on the theme of “Balance”. Current MBA student Harshitha Balini, Chair of the WLI Student Interest Group, says “Panels and workshops will focus not only on the immediate question of work-life balance, but also look at the root causes behind gendered industries. We also plan to critically look at the questions of women’s equality in the workplace and whether it is an equally accepted notion among women of all nationalities, backgrounds, and classes.”

Student members of the WLI continue to contribute actively in furthering the goals of the initiative. They recently held a debate at the School, discussing the motion “Women’s groups disenfranchise men”. In addition to this, WLI students are coordinating a mentorship programme whereby female Cambridge MBAs are mentored by female Executive MBAs, and female Cambridge MBAs  are mentoring female undergraduates at the University.”

With the leadership of Professor Nadkarni, who believes that women should be “confident in their achievements and their ability to lead, as well as unafraid to take risks”. She believes that WLI is a collective achievement that everyone involved with can look forward to growing even further.