Equal to the task

Business Impact: Equal to the task
Business Impact: Equal to the task

For most people, the ratio of female-to-male staff at IU International University is simply staggering, especially given that many organisations still struggle to hire close to 50 per cent of female professors. More than 61 per cent of our employees are female, while among the academic faculty in the rectorate we are five women and four men. Colleagues ask how we have managed to accomplish that. My answer is: our culture and growth. To create an environment conducive to female leadership, we emphasise collaboration over competition. We recognise that women highly value collaborative spaces that encourage personal and professional growth.

Spatial flexibility for remote working is a key factor

IU’s culture thrives on spatial flexibility, enabling our professors, managers and administrative staff to work remotely from various locations. This is made possible, in part, because a large proportion of teaching at IU takes place online, reducing the need for physical presence on campus. By embracing remote working arrangements, we open doors for highly qualified women in remote positions, who would be unable to relocate to another city for a teaching or research position. The result is a vibrant and talented workforce, enriching our institution with their unique insights and experiences. I have never worked alongside so many brilliant women as here at IU and I feel so lucky to be part of this community.

Given our growth in recent years, we have been able to provide ample opportunity for individual growth. We did not have to wait for leaders to retire and make room for women to succeed, but instead we faced a dire need of people in leadership roles. Our growth presented us with new and unstructured problems that needed tackling. That way, many young and ambitious women with good ideas had a chance to rise up the ranks. We see leaders as people who achieve results, challenge the status quo, foster collaboration, go the extra mile, care for their team and achieve successful alignment with collaborators. 

For young female professionals seeking a rewarding career in higher education, I offer the following advice based on my own experiences. Try to embrace diverse opportunities and explore various job roles during your educational journey. I, too, was fairly entrepreneurial when I was in college. I always had a couple of student jobs. I was even lucky enough that one of these took me to work in London for a few months, while another had me work summers in Greek and Spanish seaside resorts.

During that time I learned a lot, but I remained fascinated by education and hoped to, one day, merge a management job with higher education. I am still fascinated by higher education as a professional service. There is so much room to create a fantastic

service experience for students, to create a great ‘servicescape’ both on campus and online and to facilitate learning in an innovative and better way. In that sense, I would encourage young women to learn by observing successful services and companies outside the academic sphere, where you can gather valuable insights and accordingly shape a more enriching educational environment.

Developing personal and professional growth

At IU, we constantly seek new challenges. Recent acquisitions of British and Canadian universities serve as perfect examples of our commitment to growth and continuous improvement. Integrating these schools into our group introduces lots of new and unstructured obstacles, providing the best learning opportunities.

We encourage our talent to tackle these challenges and, at the same time, offer resources and autonomy to find their own creative solutions. This not only builds self-esteem and resilience, but also promotes independent thinking, creativity and the seeking out of new ideas and collaborators. Moreover, IU provides coaching and formalised training programmes: feedback from a coach you trust is
a tremendous catalyst for personal growth.

As a manager, I actively mentor and empower younger and less experienced female colleagues by providing guidance, creating growth opportunities and fostering an inclusive work environment where their ideas and contributions are valued and encouraged. Some women fall into the perfectionism trap easily, or have trouble delegating effectively. Both are keys to a successful leadership role and to protect women from spreading themselves too thin. Preparing them for leadership roles always needs to include a healthy sense of self‑interest because we want everyone to be active and successful in a sustainable way.

Recently, I decided to offer an optional 10-week development programme for young talent at IU. We called it the ‘unicorn badge’ to signal that those who passed the programme would be uniquely qualified and that it would be fun to participate. We confronted the participants with complex IU challenges or case studies on a weekly basis and encouraged them to be creative, think outside the box and come up with radically new ideas. The personal growth achieved over the 10 weeks was remarkable and it became very clear who had potential to grow further in their career.

My recipe for high-performing teams is this: hire for intellectually brilliant, diverse and amiable people. Set quality standards very high and allow them a great degree of freedom to overcome problems themselves and deploy resources as they see fit. With this approach, I have seen KPIs soar, efficiency go up and employee satisfaction go through the roof.

Promoting diversity, zero tolerance and recognition

In 2022, our diverse workforce, spanning 79 nations, was recognised and awarded by the Diversity Charter (Charta der Vielfalt) for its commitment to equal opportunities and diversity. We have been a signatory of the charter since 2019, further underscoring our dedication to social and political responsibility. To maintain a respectful and inclusive environment, we strictly adhere to a zero-tolerance policy that prohibits any form of abuse of power, discrimination, harassment or violence within our institution.

The award further acknowledges IU’s various initiatives and practices aimed at ensuring equal treatment and opportunities for both learners and employees. These include efforts to minimise bias in the recruitment and integration of new employees, the provision of flexible working conditions such as remote work options, working from abroad and sabbaticals, as well as offering training programmes to support mental and physical well-being. At IU, we adhere to the motto, “A culture of everyone, by everyone”. This is the only way we can create a healthy working and learning environment where everyone can feel at ease, contribute their unique strengths and continuously grow and thrive. As our colleague Tim Kaltenborn, director of people organisation & culture, puts it: “Diversity promotes innovation and it is innovation and creative solutions that are at the heart of IU”.

With initiatives such as Women in Tech and the Study Access Alliance, as well as support for first-generation college students struggling with entry barriers, we have granted access to quality education for more students than most other universities. Embodying our vision of “Everybody can access education to grow”, we are driven to inspire and motivate females to pursue careers in IT. Our Women in Tech scholarship programme is specifically designed to offer educational opportunities for aspiring students looking to pursue degrees in any technology domain taught at IU. We firmly believe in empowering women in the IT industry and fostering a diverse and inclusive learning environment.

In line with our vision of inclusive education, we participate in the Study Access Alliance, a transformative initiative that aims to close the education gap for individuals in African countries by providing 100,000 scholarships for online degrees at top universities worldwide. We provide exceptional value to scholarship recipients by offering our bachelor’s, master’s and online MBA degrees for more than 10 times less the regular price of each scholarship.

IU University’s commitment to facilitating access and promoting educational equity has been recognised through the prestigious German Total E-Quality award. This acknowledgment stands as a testament to our exceptional dedication to fostering equal opportunities and implementing diversity-oriented policies. We take great pride in this achievement, as it reinforces our mission to create an inclusive and supportive environment for all members of our community.

I see IU International University at the forefront of cultivating a culture of equal opportunities and empowering women in leadership positions. With a workforce composed of talented individuals from diverse backgrounds, IU demonstrates its commitment to fostering a collaborative and inclusive environment. Through a dedication to spatial flexibility, emphasis on collaboration over competition and a strong focus on personal and professional growth, IU strives to provide a platform for women to excel and make significant contributions. As IU continues its commitment to diversity and innovation, we remain dedicated to building a more inclusive future in the field of higher education.

Regina Cordes is vice-rector at IU International University of Applied Sciences, Germany, where she is responsible for accreditation and certification. On the academic side, Cordes coordinates the university’s integrated formats such as upskilling/continued education and corporate universities, as well as blended learning through myStudium. She completed her doctorate in marketing at the University of Mannheim in 2010

This article originally appeared in the print edition (Issue 3 2023) of Business Impact, magazine of the Business Graduates Association (BGA)

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