Global Women - Marianne Lewis

Marianne sees it as her responsibility to build a pipeline of female leaders — in academia and in the corporate world

Before Marianne Lewis became Dean of Cass Business School in London, she was offered another job in the US that would have paid better and been by the beach. Torn between the two offers, Marianne was sent an article by a peer on the low proportion of women at the helm of top business schools.

She called Cass the next day. “I knew then that I needed to come to London, because if you’re going to make a difference, the bigger the platform, the bigger the potential impact,” she says.

Marianne, a management professor who spent a decade at the University of Cincinnati in the US, took the top job at Cass in 2015. Although female academic leaders are very much a minority, she is grateful to have never experienced discrimination directly. But she understands the problem, empathises with those who have experienced it and believes Cass has a role to play: “Business schools need to practice what they preach,” she says.

Becoming dean usually means leading programs and faculty, which is demanding, says Marianne. “If you’re trading off family, you may put your head down and focus only on research. That is a shame, as I think greater diversity of business school leaders is only a good thing.”

Marianne Lewis, Dean of Cass Business School in London

She sees it as her responsibility to build a pipeline of female leaders — in academia and in the corporate world. Being on the fringes of the City of London, which is male-dominated, Marianne is acutely aware of the diversity challenges faced by the UK capital and beyond. This was the motivation behind the launch of the Global Women’s Programme at Cass, which fuels the development of thriving female leaders and supports them throughout their careers.

“We want to inspire, equip and connect women,” Marianne says. The programme includes networking opportunities in global business hubs, from Dubai to New York and beyond, as well as skills development. For example, Marianne hosted a discussion with retailing legend Marty Wikstrom at Cass earlier this year.

“It’s a great example of what is powerful about this programme,” Marianne says. “The Cass Community is remarkably energising and it’s powerful to know you’re not alone, to learn from each other, to commiserate and work with each other.”

Having earned a PhD and MBA in the US, she joined Cass after a long spell as associate dean at Cincinnati. An award-winning researcher, her work has focused on the paradoxes, or tensions, in leadership and organisations. “I study demands that pull us in a tug of war at a personal level — work and family, performing and learning, being financially and socially responsible,” she says.

She believes that strategies cannot exist in isolation — saying “they’re not trade-offs” — and adds that leaders can utilise paradoxes by shifting their mindset and practices. “Individuals that do this best separate and connect tensions,” she says. “They pull apart two sides and connect them with a vision and purpose that acts as an umbrella that holds the strategy together.”

As dean of a venerable business school, Marianne faces her own leadership paradoxes. “Our social responsibility is probably clear and takes priority in higher education, but you still must run these institutions financially well,” she says, as an example. “They must run like well-oiled machines, but they have higher and far more human purpose.”

Women often face tension between performing and “giving”, or supporting others, Marianne adds. “Women tend to get stuck in what feels like a double bind. You can’t give in everything you do, but you can find ways to give that are aligned to your strengths.”

She relates the example of the former CEO of Lloyd’s of London Inga Beale, the first woman leader of the 332-year-old insurance market and who recently spoke at Cass. “She is very high-performing and is highly committed to diversity and inclusion. She champions both of those passions.” In picking Cass for a deanship, Marianne is striving to do something similar.

Read more about our Global Women's Leadership Programme.