A centre for research into women in business at London Business School will fall victim to the financial crisis next month unless a corporate sponsor emerges to save it.
The threat to the centre highlights the difficulties business schools worldwide are having raising funds for research into areas of concern to companies.
The centre was established in 2006 with a five-year pledge of £1.75m from Lehman Brothers, the investment bank that collapsed last year. Its aim was to become the leading research centre on gender diversity in Europe, linking academia and corporate practitioners.
Its research, such as a study that demonstrates how gender balance in teams benefits innovation, has gained wide circulation.
“It’s really very sad,” says Laura Tyson, former dean of LBS, who established the centre in partnership with Lehmans. “This is a very important area of research that is underfunded around the world.”
Prof Tyson, who is now a professor of global management at Haas School of Business in California, says the global downturn has left a number of universities and research centres in financial distress. The private sector, especially financial services, was a significant source of support for business school research.
“It’s extremely unfortunate,” she says. “These are investments in understanding that will be important to our future growth. Cutting back on investments now will reduce our understanding for the future.”
Unhappily for LBS, Lehman made its funding available annually rather than up front. When the company went into liquidation, it owed the centre money, explains Lynda Gratton, professor of management practice and the centre’s academic head. LBS covered the debt and provided funding for six months to enable the centre to seek new sponsorship.
Prof Gratton, who is taking on a role working with the Singapore government on innovation, says LBS does not have the capital to keep the centre going and relies on sponsorship.
“Business schools are really suffering,” she says. “The development team at LBS worked night and day to try and raise that money and we talked to many potential sponsors. I’m sure that next year, when money starts to flow, people will say, ‘Why did we let it go?’”
The centre’s difficulties came against a backdrop of leadership changes at LBS. In January, the school replaced the dean, Robin Buchanan, a management consultant, with Sir Andrew Likierman, a professor who had been acting dean before Mr Buchanan’s appointment in 2007.
Women, work and research
The Centre for Women in Business has produced four main pieces of research:
● A survey of 61 European organisations, which highlighted how women have less access to activities, training and roles designed to prepare future leaders (2007).
● An investigation of gender and innovation in teams. It examined ways to unlock the innovative potential of teams and found “the optimal gender mix was about 50 per cent men and 50 per cent women” (2007).
● An in-depth study into MBA students’ attitudes and experiences. It discovered that both male and female students appeared to treat as inevitable the fact that business was done by male rules and that women played down their gender to blend in with the masculine business school environment (2008).
● A forthcoming study into the career aspirations of Generation Y women and men, which will take account of the impact of the recession (2009).
Sir Andrew says the business school “would welcome the chance to work with a new sponsor who feels as passionately as we do about the importance of women in business”.
The centre is due to present early findings from its research on the career aspirations of Generation Y (people under 30) next month. This project has been funded by a consortium of eight companies: Accenture, Allen & Overy, Barclaycard Business, Baxter International, Cargill, KPMG, Johnson & Johnson and IBM.
Gerald Lema, corporate vice-president and president of Baxter’s Asia-Pacific region, says gender diversity is not only a social issue but also addresses one of the core challenges for organisations – talent.
“[Gender diversity] is an important focus of Baxter’s talent management programme globally. While there has been research to show the value gender diversity brings to corporations, there is much more that can be done,” he says.
“Organisations like the Centre for Women in Business play an important role in facilitating the exchange of ideas and generating awareness of the value of diversity and inclusion in the workplace.”
Lamia Walker, outgoing director of the centre, says it has survived until now largely thanks to the £250,000 she raised from the eight-strong consortium. She still hopes a sponsor will come forward.
“We have made 15 corporate proposals for sponsorship, most in response to requests from supporters of our work,” says Ms Walker, who is taking up a post as European marketing director for the Graduate Management Admissions Council.
“We had nine pitches at board level, so we did get a long way. Three companies were ready to join a consortium deal for three years, but at the last minute one company said it could not do it.”
Very few business schools house centres for research into women in business, even though companies are increasingly focusing on ways to promote more women into their top teams. The exceptions include the UK-based Cranfield School of Management, which has the International Centre for Women Leaders, and Babson College in the US, which has a Center for Women’s Leadership.
Leading business schools have in general struggled to redress gender imbalance in their own student bodies and faculties. On average, little more than 30 per cent of MBA students are female.
Wharton and LBS, which shared first place in the Financial Times’ Global MBA programmes ranking this year, have 19 per cent and 23 per cent women faculty respectively. At Wharton 36 per cent of students are women and at LBS the figure is 25 per cent.
Ellen Miller, pictured above ,a former Lehman managing director who is executive-in-residence at the centre, says its continued existence is a matter of great interest to female applicants to LBS.
“There aren’t enough female students,” she says. “The MBA proposition for women is a good one. It’s a real-world degree and it counts. In a downturn more women should be thinking about that.”
Ms Miller, who is staying at the centre in a caretaker role, adds that the issue of women’s advancement will not go away.
“The centre did provide some really interesting research and acted as a great forum and it would be a shame for it not to continue in some shape or form, whether it focuses on women, or on work in the 21st century, or on leadership. Women are in the middle of those things and they should continue to be the main thrust.”