McGill has achieved a new milestone—appointing the first female Dean of McGill’s Desautels Faculty of Management, Isabelle Bajeux-Besnainou. Despite the overwhelming majority of male business executives, a Fall 2014 statistic shows that 48.3 per cent of the students enrolled in the Faculty were women, and little has changed since 2005. Bajeux-Besnainou’s presence in Desautels thus feels like it’s been a long time coming. The faculty has a vibrant female presence, greatly contributed to by the Management Undergraduate Society and Desautels National Women in Business Conference. Bajeux-Besnainou’s appointment should not come as a surprise; instead, it should be seen as a manifestation of women increasingly occupying positions at the top tier of leadership within the faculty.
Highly qualified, passionate about student interests, and ready to “listen and learn”, Professor Bajeux-Besnainou has the opportunity to become an icon of female presence and empowerment in the management community. But from an outside perspective, the Faculty appears to be dominated by men. While part of this misperception of male dominance in the faculty of management may be due to growing awareness of a gendered wage-gap with degrees in management, stereotypes associated with gender inequality in business are not necessarily representative of gender dynamics within the Faculty itself. As the first female dean, Bajeux-Besnainou stands as testament to the improving circumstances for women to take on leadership roles at the highest level within Desautels.
Women have already been bringing as much to the table as men in student associations, such as executives for the Desautels Leadership Management Seminar (DMLS), Fashion Business Uncovered (FBU), and the Entertainment Management Conference (EMC). In comparison, in the corporate world, the percentage of women who are executives in Fortune 500 companies is increasing at a snail’s pace. The appointment of Bajeux demonstrates that the gap in executive leadership is less troubling within the Faculty of Management than in the industries for which it is preparing its students.
In order to catch what may be a positive wave of female leadership, the Faculty should supplement the work done to promote the female community within the faculty. Women as mentors in positions of power and decision-making can inspire, motivate, and provide mentorship to other women—a process that is already underway in the Faculty, as now women enjoy executive leadership positions at all levels. Perhaps this very public crystallization of female leadership will help Desautels to maintain and improve its enrolment of women, especially in light of the declining recruitment of women into Canadian management programs. Leadership has already come from female students to ameliorate the gender gap at the student level, such as in the organization of functions such as the Desautels National Women in Business Conference. The creation of support networks and communities of women is crucial, and will help to increase the presence of females in the faculty.
While McGill has had a history of strong female academics, this trend is not commonly associated with the Faculty of Management. Bajeux-Besnainou’s presence in Desautels is a promising step forward for the faculty, both in terms of demonstrating the capabilities of female leaders and that, despite appearances, the Faculty of Management is leading the way towards greater inclusion of women in business.