Dancing Diversity at INSEAD

Joëlle Marsot

I am now in the heart of the programme. It’s already been four months since I started the Global Executive MBA (GEMBA) at INSEAD. Two modules have passed, we have already studied six different Core Courses and taken as many exams. Twenty years after I finished my studies, here I am again —a 45-year-old student!

The first word that comes to mind when I think of these past few months and that perfectly sums up my impressions is “Diversity”. 

When looking at the INSEAD website as an applicant, you see that Diversity is a foundational value of INSEAD. “INSEAD commits to cultivating a community that pursues equity, exemplifies inclusion, and cherishes diversity in all its dimensions, including race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and religion.

I thought to myself, “Okay, this is a good intention, but we’ll have to look beyond the window to see what reality the school will really give to this diversity.”

I was quite sceptical because usually the best business schools, especially in the United States, have an unfortunate tendency to overrepresent a nationality, a gender, a race … eventually whatever it is, there is always a dominant trait. How would INSEAD succeed where Harvard, MIT and others face so many difficulties? 

Well, a few months into the programme and it's clear to me that INSEAD can actually really avail itself of this asset, as it is in the very DNA of the school and persists since its creation.

INSEAD has every reason to claim to be “The Business School for the World”.

I remember my very first conversation with Pierrette Doz Perdrix from the GEMBA recruitment team. I had asked her, feverishly, the one question that agonised me: “Pierrette, I don’t want to waste my time or yours, so I’d like to know if it’s really worth to apply because I’m law educated, HR experienced and a woman!” Pierrette answered: “Of course, on the contrary, we are looking for very different profiles and not clones!

I even had the honour to receive a women's scholarship to help fund my studies of €10,000.

This diversity in career paths, professions and education is ultimately a precious complement that we also use outside of class.

My classmates have organised group tutorials for people who have encountered difficulties on new concepts: some, like me, discover the financial mechanisms or the principles that govern market pricing for the first time, and thus benefit from the support of the group’s “experts”. I especially remember Joao Costa who dedicated his personal time and patience to helping a small group do exercises together in preparation for the “Price & Markets” exam, or Marina Finken-Kapssu, who gave us her insights into accounting, or Cédric Favre-Lorraine who led the 'Corporate Finances for Dummies’ tutorial.

Another thing that's nice is that on our group's WhatsApp chats we regularly see questions circulating such as: "Who has experience in the Real Estate sector? Can anyone share their Joint Venture experience?"

In class, professors have exposed us to a myriad of organisation types, business strategies and ideologies. They constantly encourage us to share viewpoints in an unrestricted way and to voice criticism in a careful way.

And we do it spontaneously because we are in an environment without a single dominant culture which leads to a real freedom in the way we think.

The faculty puts a strong emphasis on collaboration and offers numerous opportunities to work in small groups and to mix up regularly, so that we can work with everyone. I particularly remember a tensed debate (due to differences of culture) about the question of "playing the game" or not related to institutionalised corruption when doing business: I was first very clear on that but the more I was hearing the opinions and explanations of “counter parts”, my opinion evolved.

But this diversity also has more festive and surprising sides: we have in our cohort Oswald Bloemen, a psychiatrist who is actually a true blues man when he takes out his harmonica.

I’m also thinking about Didier Lebon, educated in Maths, who has spent his career in the Arts and Culture sector as an event designer and who presented to us a workshop on "Creative Thinking Methods and Applications" and how to transpose these into our businesses. Didier completely broke my perception of professionals working in the art world that I had instinctively been reducing to artists primarily, and presumed to be less methodological than the business sector.

We also have wine enthusiasts who fight hard about crucial questions: What is the best wine, Prosecco or Champagne? Bordeaux or Burgundy? The jury is still out, and the tests are still ongoing!

Finally, before joining INSEAD, and even if I had already been broadly exposed to diversity in my personal and professional life, I realised I had a quite limited approach on how to contribute towards diversity.

Diversity is not about achieving a certain number of nationalities, a percentage of gender balance or a ratio of disabled persons.

I’m now convinced that if you are choosing people carefully because they are thinking differently than you, all formal characteristics of diversity (nationalities, gender, age, religion…) will fall into place by themselves.

Considering the maturity of diversity integration at INSEAD. As Verna Myers, VP of Inclusion Strategy at Netflix, would say: INSEAD is asking us to dance because “Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance”.

INSEAD is making sure that everyone counts. Diversity and inclusion are about giving a voice to people who don’t think, talk, look, move… like you. That’s the most important when you are looking for diversity and inclusion: value people who bring another perspective.

In that sense, diversity at INSEAD is definitively a great source of enrichment. INSEAD’s second promise kept!