Gender diversity program built by students, for students
A gender diversity program is being developed by university students for university students, in a project with the Workplace Gender Equality Agency.
The WGEA is both a regulator and an educator and it has been looking at the potential for a higher education program to achieve change not just now but as graduates move into workplaces. In considering how a national university program might be structured, it sought the help of UTS Business School’s Executive MBA program (EMBA), where postgraduate students consult on real projects for real clients.
“We were asked to develop a program that would create awareness about workplace gender equality,” says Nalini Prakash, who was part of the EMBA team that worked on the WGEA project.
The EMBA candidates conducted original research that came up with some interesting insights, including that many people felt disempowered when it came to gender equality. “We found that workplace gender equality is impacted by a ‘bystander effect’,” Prakash says. “People care about gender equality but don’t feel they have the power to change things, so stand on the sidelines waiting for someone else to do something about it.”
The team came up with a strategy and business plan for the WGEA, which says it is delighted with the report and is now considering how such a program might fit into its long-term strategy.
“Working on the WGEA project challenged my thinking and helped give me an insight into how I could apply my skills in another setting,” says Prakash, a project portfolio manager with health insurer HCF. “The project appealed to me as it was totally different from what I normally do at work,” she says. “It was also aiming to tackle gender equality, which is a significant issue and something my children may face in their future careers.”
'We found that workplace gender equality
is impacted by a ‘bystander effect'
EMBA candidates like Prakash are mid-stage career executives, with five to 10 years’ experience, ready to make the move from a tactical to a strategic role. In the EMBA’s Integrated Business Consulting “capstone” subject, they are assigned real problems to fix for real clients, giving them the opportunity to put theory into practice. Students work in teams, engaging in intensive, live consulting projects with clients such as the WGEA. Rather than poring over case studies from textbooks, the focus is on practical, “experiential” learning, EMBA Program Director Jim Hutchin says.
Each team is supervised by a Project Executive who is either a Business School academic with industry experience or a senior business executive from industry. Paul Thambar of UTS Business School, who has academic and industry experience in strategy and accounting, was Project Executive on the WGEA project.
“Many business schools have a focus on applied learning,” Thambar says. “Our program is different as our focus is on a ‘live’ experience. The interaction with clients and industry project executives provides students with a practical learning experience that cannot be replicated by using a case study.”
The EMBA program also has an Advisory Council made up of senior business people who volunteer their time to review the work done by the students before it goes to the client. PricewaterhouseCoopers, for example, provides senior staff to serve on the council.
Prakash saw completing an EMBA as a way of enhancing her skills and improving her capacity to perform at a strategic level at work.
“I’ve been with HCF for more than 15 years and held many different roles over that time,” she says. “I completed a Masters in project management in 2003 and found I was able to use what I’d learnt to deliver stronger workplace outcomes. I want to continue to add value to my company, and I see postgraduate study as a great way to do that.”
Prakash enjoyed gaining insights into the theory of design-led innovation [video] and is now looking at ways of applying this approach – successfully pioneered by the likes of Apple and Google – at HCF.
Prakash says she chose UTS because its EMBA program allowed her to achieve what she describes as a work, life, study balance. “Besides working full time, I am married with two children, so I needed a flexible course. UTS offers evening and weekend classes which fitted in with my other commitments.”
Completing the demanding EMBA program required Prakash to be clever with her time management. “I tell people that I did my EMBA on the bus because I used the 90-minute commute to and from work each day to study. That might not suit everyone, but it was perfect for me.”
For more information about the Executive MBA program, click here.
Main photo: Nalini Prakash Image Credit - Lesley Parker