The Privilege of Power

The Global Women’s Leadership Programme hosts panel event addressing the ways women in leadership can leverage their power to create more equitable workplaces

The Global Women’s Leadership Programme at The Business School (formerly Cass) hosted an online event ‘The Privilege of Power: How women in business can leverage their leadership to create more equitable workplaces.’ The event included panellists Isabel Berwick, Work and Careers Executive Editor at the Financial Times, Luigia Labelle, Founder and CEO of B’Inspired, and Rana Salhab, People & Purpose Partner at Deloitte Middle East and was moderated by Programme Scholar and Full-Time MBA student Kiara Goodwin.

The event – which welcomed over 200 attendees - explored privilege, personal bias, and how women in leadership can use their influence to create more diverse and equitable workplaces.

Ms Goodwin opened the event by speaking about the death of George Floyd and how it prompted people worldwide to reflect upon discrimination and racism. She mentioned the Business School’s decision to rename itself due to Sir John Cass’s ties to the slave trade.

“I wanted to talk to women in business about gender, race and ethnicity and about how we can drive positive change in our professional lives. The panel was a space for attendees to strategise how they can leverage their power to create more opportunities for everyone in their spheres of influence,” she said.

A seat at the table: creating opportunities for others

All three panellists have dedicated themselves to levelling the playing field by creating more opportunities for fellow women and people of colour.

For Ms Berwick, this has meant addressing the gender bias of experts quoted in the media. She is co-leading the Financial Times 50/50 project, which is working towards equal numbers of men and women being quoted by the publication.

Ms Labelle is a digital strategist and business development and leadership specialist. To counteract the lack of diversity with the marketing and advertising industry, she founded B’Inspired, an organisation aimed at helping young people of colour break into the sector by matching talent with large organisations.

As for Ms Salhab, she has 25 years of experience in talent and human resources management. She advised on gender inclusion and economic empowerment projects with global UN organisations and was ranked among the top “Global Champions of Women in Business” lists by the Financial Times and HERoes in the UK in 2017 and 2018.

Understanding privilege

Privilege is multifaceted— it encompasses gender, race, socioeconomic status, religion, disability, sexuality and age. Ms Goodwin asked panellists how they define privilege in the workplace.

Ms Labelle said: “Privilege means being exempt from burden. If you have privilege, use it as a platform to create opportunities so others may thrive as well.”

Ms Berwick said privilege can be unpacked into two things: institutional privilege and personal privilege. “Privilege impacts whose voices are heard and in which contexts. Women are being heard in the workplace, but it is overwhelmingly white women like myself. My role is to open the door for other women. The burden cannot remain on women of colour to speak up for themselves alone,” she said.

For Ms Salhab, individual success is not a solo sport. She said:

“No leader has reached that spot by themselves. They had sponsorship, support from colleagues or bosses, support from their spouse. Sponsoring people to assume leadership roles is not new or exceptional— it’s been happening for privileged groups— predominantly men— for hundreds of years.”

Strategies for diversifying the talent pool in the workplace

As a manager of talent and people, Ms Salhab believes in the power of quotas to move the needle. She said: “A quota system for having equal representation in the workplace is a necessary catalyst to create change.”

Many of us have internal biases and don’t look outside the immediate candidate pool. At Deloitte Middle East, the company has implemented gender smart hiring processes to remove bias in recruitment. In some of its global practices, managers do not see the university an applicant studied at, their name, their gender and more, which Ms Salhab reported improved the pool of talent.

“As we reach leadership positions, we must think not only of our authority but also of our influence across the board when trying to redress imbalances. In every project or new role, nominate women and minorities to join the initiative. Think of the hidden pool of people you can encourage to fill the role. If you can’t find candidates, consider sponsorship to widen your recruitment pool,” she said.

For Ms Berwick, a successful initiative she has seen at the Financial Times is a ‘next generation board’ in which a diverse group of young employees shadow the current board.

“A shadow board is reverse-mentoring. The process is fast-tracking change as our board is listening to young people and learning from them.”

There are many benefits to diversifying leadership. “A more diverse and representative company leads to greater success for organisations. If you’re sitting in a decision room and everyone looks like you and thinks like you, you’ll come up with less good work. You make better decisions with less uniformity of voices,” Ms Labelle said.

Supporting the next generation

For women in leadership roles looking to create more equitable workplaces, Ms Salhab said: “The biggest gift women in middle management can give to the next generation is staying on the career ladder by not making short-term decisions related to your current circumstances that impact your long-term prospects—you are closer to and could be a role model for the next generation.”

To people starting out their careers, Ms Berwick advised the audience to avoid underselling themselves. “Gen Z is a generation of digital natives with a complex understanding of green initiatives and ESG that will change the workplace.”

No matter where you are in your career, Ms Labelle reminded attendees that there is always someone one step behind you that admires your journey.

“To have more impact you need to move collectively. I’m a big believer of the shine theory— when you help other women rise, we all shine."

"Join hands with people who can help you amplify your voice. Decisions come from the higher up, so you need greater voices backing you up,” she continued.

Watch a recording of the event.

Find out more about the Global Women’s Leadership Programme.