Developing Female Leadership at INSEAD

Cecily Liu

INSEAD is a community that champions diversity and equality.

As a female student, I am amazed by the amount of female leadership emerging through events, projects, and collaborations.

Furthermore, the depth of discussions on gender equality, and the wonderful female role models we have in alumni and guest speakers is phenomenal.

Upon arriving at INSEAD, one amazing experience for me was meeting many intelligent and inspiring female students, who share the common dream of being the leaders of tomorrow, and who won't let the fact that we are women hold us back.

With a group of like-minded female classmates, we decided to make the most of the INSEAD Women in Business Club platform to work towards advancing gender equality at INSEAD and in the world. A few months into the journey, I am amazed by how much progress we have made, and how much support we’ve had from the INSEAD careers centre, the INSEAD alumni community and other student bodies.

The first meeting of the INSEAD Women in Business Club leadership team in Fontainebleau in 2020
The first meeting of the INSEAD Women in Business Club leadership team in Fontainebleau in 2020

One highlight for me this week was hosting the ‘Less Trodden Path’ webinar, where I moderated a discussion with four exceptional female role models from tech, marketing, entrepreneurship and the non-profit sectors. We decided to host this webinar for students upon realising that whilst sectors traditionally popular amongst students, such as consulting and investment banking, already have many on-campus recruitment activities, other sectors have a less structured recruitment process.

To inspire female students in pursuing these ‘Less Trodden Path’ careers, we invited a panel of female leaders to share their experiences, and the feedback we received was phenomenal.

The sincere stories, courageous journeys, experiences and resilience, and tips for female students to navigate specific challenges in their industries were truly inspiring.

Ursa Ogilvie Thompson, Strategy and Operations Manager at Google, encouraged students to be persistent in working towards their goals and remain steadfast in pursuing what is ultimately important for them.

Dongming Wang, senior marketing specialist at Laetus, encouraged students to focus on their unique strengths, instead of comparing their own weaknesses with other people’s strengths. As a young female professional, she also shared her journey of being heard by being present in corporate meetings – both in person and in the virtual space, and speak more concisely and confidently when sharing her opinion.

Vivi Cahyadi, CEO of AltoVita, encouraged female students to leverage the natural female talent of being able to implement constructive feedback well. And Jemima Lovatt, founder of the non-profit organisation Thrive, shared stories of her perseverance in travelling forth a zigzag journey to pursue a non-conventional albeit very meaningful career. 

These female role models truly inspired us students. Their can-do attitude and drive to always go the extra mile to deliver above and beyond expectations and never stop short of excellence is so encouraging.

As a female student, I feel very liberated – I feel that anything I am able to dream, I am able to turn into reality – with tremendous support from my peers and the wider INSEAD community.

The INSEAD Women in Business Club hosting'The Less Trodden Path' event for students
The INSEAD Women in Business Club hosting 'The Less Trodden Path' event for students

Championing gender equality is not an entirely new topic. The significant awareness that the “Me Too” movement has attracted, and the diverse collection of celebrations in 2018 during the centenary of the suffragettes movement, all prove that gender equality is a mission receiving increasing traction in recent years.

Despite these trends, I am very pleasantly surprised by the way that male allies have contributed towards championing female equality here at INSEAD. Many student club leaders have been collaborating with us at the Women in Business Club to collaboratively organise events. When gender equality topics are being discussed as a part of class material, many male students offer constructive suggestions on how to level the gender pay gap, or designing the incentives and structures in society and the workplace to give women equal opportunities.

I feel to thankful that INSEAD is providing an environment for future female leaders to fully develop their potential, as they will catalyse improvements in gender equality in the world tomorrow.