Written on 04 Feb 2021.
Diversity, equal opportunities, the fight against discrimination: Hager Jemel, Director of the EDHEC Open Leadership for Diversity & Inclusion Chair, details the centre’s research and training initiatives.
We created the Chair in 2016 with the aim of making our academic expertise available to businesses and thereby accelerating their progress in terms of diversity and inclusion. The Chair enjoyed strong support from EDHEC, which believed in our approach and the usefulness of our research work for businesses and society.
We noticed a sizeable gulf between businesses’ stated objectives in the area of diversity and inclusion, and results on the ground. Much discourse and many resources allocated, but for a relatively modest impact. Which policies work? How to improve practices? To answer these questions, the Chair has assembled a network of partner companies, while developing activities geared to research, training and raising awareness of diversity and inclusion issues.
Learning on this topic cannot be viewed in the same way as a finance or marketing class. It is not a subject in the strict sense or a science, but rather a question of society. Nonetheless, it is vital to incorporate it without taboo into the education of future managers. It should even be tackled in class at the youngest age, given that diversity and inclusion are an integral part of learning to live together.
We put a lot of thought into the posture to be adopted and ruled out any top-down or moralising approach, even though the concept of morality is covered with students. We feel experiential exercises are the best way to raise their awareness of these issues. The first Diversity and Inclusion Springboard, launched in February 2020, arose from this belief. With assistance from two corporate partners – L’Oréal and Butagaz – and a team of coaches, we organised a day-long event devoted to these issues. Drawing inspiration from design thinking methods, we asked over 600 pre-master students to solve diversity and inclusion problems together, by imagining practical solutions with the corporate partners. The procedure was simple: How to activate empathy? Putting ourselves in the skin of a person with different characteristics (invisible disability, weight, parentality, gender, etc.), enables us to feel the person’s emotions and understand his or her needs, bearing in mind that prejudices and “categorisation” mechanisms are sources of violence and discrimination. The goal is to develop the ability to behave in a more inclusive manner, as well as the habit of reflecting on, or objecting to, an unjust or inappropriate situation. Questioning, dialoguing, working in groups, support from coaches… the most enriching aspect is this process that leads students to co-build solutions.
I was surprised by the quality of the work produced by these young students and the maturity they displayed, considering that most of them had very little experience of working in companies. They really took up the challenge. Had they not shown any adhesion or strong engagement, the experience would not have worked. We worked hard to structure the approach with the team of coaches, in order to give the groups autonomy and create a positive environment conducive to freedom of expression. Implicating businesses in the project also lends credibility to the approach and shows students the issues are completely real.
Yes, we are planning a new edition, but not necessarily in the same format or involving the same cases. We’ve notably looked at innovations in order to organise the event at distance, while retaining the same ambitions in terms of awareness-raising and contributions. This year we intend to work on the theme of sexist and sexual violence (SSV), which is a major societal issue. Looking beyond the Springboard, we want to disseminate more of the Chair’s expertise in the School’s programmes: the introduction of a Diversity and Inclusion Certificate is planned for Master 2 students, along with the creation of a Managing Diversity and Inclusion class sponsored by the Chair.
First of all by putting the subject under the spotlight. The first step in defeating discrimination is to take a public position and assert the importance of equal opportunities. The Chair then puts a whole set of actions into practice to fight discrimination: conferences, publications, awareness-raising initiatives, etc. Through these diverse initiatives and obviously by training students and managers in inclusive leadership, we help increase recognition of the issue. We notably work on representations of leadership in the collective imagination, the persistence of stereotypes and the question of practices of power. Lastly, the Chair partners the Revel@Her mentoring programme run by the Club XXI Siècle, which supports high-potential women graduates originating from minority communities in the challenge of breaking the double glass ceiling constituted by their gender and origin.
We have several priority projects. We are notably interested in measuring diversity and inclusion in companies. This is a key dimension for making progress on these subjects. We want to work on a relevant indicator for businesses. We also want to intensify our partnerships with not-for-profit associations, by providing them with our academic expertise, similarly to how we already collaborate with Club XXI Siècle or with Article 1, a not-for-profit association engaged with equal opportunities. The objective is to increase our impact on society. Lastly, we intend to invest more heavily in educating young people, by opening our Chair more to students and involving them in our work where possible, particularly since we can see their growing interest in these subjects. We are part of a school that “generates” tomorrow’s managers. It is a privileged position that gives us the chance to evolve practices and to contribute to furthering inclusive behaviours in society.