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  • Sam McLoughlin

Rugby School tackles Women in Business and Economics

In February of this year – over my cornflakes – I read an article in The New York Times: 'For Women in Economics, the Hostility Is Out in the Open' by Ben Casselman. Casselman discussed research by Dr Sasser Modestino and Dr Wolfers who concluded that women at economics’ presentations – if invited to present at all – receive 12% more questions than men and are more likely to get hostile or patronizing questions. Women economists are also less likely to be recruited, promoted or published. Whilst not peculiar to economics it appears this type of discrimination is more prevalent in the economics’ field than many others.

I am in my final year at Rugby School and taking Economics at A Level. I, like many 17-year-olds, am looking ahead to leaving school and found this article unsettling. I did some impromptu research of my own: looking at websites of single-sex, co-ed, state and private schools in the UK – 55 altogether, randomly selected – and particularly their economics’ departments. Not only was it rare to see women economics and business teachers, but it was even rarer to find a female head of department – just 4 out of 55. I was surprised, disappointed – and proud – to discover Rugby School is very unusual, with 4 out of 5 of the economics and business teachers being female, headed by the inspiring, Helen McPherson. I decided Rugby was extremely well-placed to host an online event – Rugby School’s first ‘Women in Business & Economics Conference’ – to promote Economics and Business at A-Level, university, and the workplace.

I recruited a range of speakers from both sides of the Atlantic and Africa. Discussing the conference idea, I found the women I contacted so enthusiastic about the idea and willing to give their time to inspire current students.

Iona Bain, founder of Young Money Blog and author of ‘Own It!’, kicked off the conference. Iona talked about her career path, youth financial literacy, keeping records of our finances and the benefits of investing early on.

Next was Adema Sangale, Managing Partner of C-Suite Africa, based in Nairobi. Adema started her career at Procter & Gamble and spoke passionately about a campaign she ran – and won! – to abolish taxation on sanitary products in Kenya, as young girls were missing school because they could not afford them.

Deirdre O’Connor, CFO of BlackRock Alternatives Investments and International Advisor to the Irish Government and the Irish Financial Services Advisory Committee, spoke about ‘having a plan’ and the drive to achieve it. A Cork native, Deirdre spoke animatedly about arriving in the States, sitting outside the New York Stock Exchange, watching people bustling in and out, and deciding there and then she wanted to work on Wall Street. She urged us to make a plan and not give up – making us laugh as she described a long day of calling head-hunters from a payphone with a pile of quarters until one person finally said ‘yes!’

Tasneem Dudhia, Senior Manager at Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets, is based in the UK. We heard about Macquarie acquiring Green Investment Group from the UK government in 2017, thus enhancing Macquarie’s capabilities to develop, sponsor and invest in renewable projects globally. Working in the Renewables team, Tasneem spoke about an issue close to her heart: a renewable project with a £30 million investment into green, affordable homes in Kenya.

Anuoluwapo Adenuga is a master’s student studying at the London School of Economics and working on #DiscoverEconomics campaign at the Royal Economics Society. Anu has been instrumental in promoting diversity in economics and founded #BGM. Talking about her ground-breaking initiative: “Black Girl Money is primarily a network for women to talk about money, to talk about business, to talk about finance. In my Economics’ lectures I was the only one who looked like me and I was the only one who had the point of view that I had, and it became very clear to me there was an issue.”

Patsy Doerr also joined from New York. The CEO of The Association of Junior Leagues International, Patsy has built a career specialising in corporate social responsibility, diversity and inclusion and sustainability. She discussed for-profit versus non-profit and the importance of EDI within both sectors. “I would encourage you to be a voice and to be a leader. It doesn’t matter what position you are in. There’s an expression, “Lead from every seat.” Remember you will always be a leader and your voice are what makes you a leader, so use your voice! If you are particularly interested in DEI&B and being an advocate, be an advocate for women. That has slowed us down over the years but there has been a lot of progress in recent years for women to really support one other more actively, and here’s a perfect example of what is happening today!”

Fifteen schools attended live, from Rugby High School to Marlborough College - from Bradfield College to Gordonstoun. It was exciting to see so many people logging on and I hope this becomes an annual conference at Rugby. Feedback after the event illustrated a real need for this type of event, as illustrated by Sonia Barber, Head of Business and Economics at Bedford Girls School: “Listening to engaging and successful businesswomen from a range of career paths gave them an insight into the global challenges faced but also the confidence and desire to make an impact in the corporate world.”

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