Celebrating International Women’s Day

By Eilif Serck-Hanssen

I’ve always known that communities, companies and countries are strongest when people are united, not divided. When we see strength in diversity, and do not fear difference.

I think about my 90-year-old mother Marianne, who, against all odds, was able to create a life for herself (and later, for her children) that was beyond anything she could have imagined as a child. To this day, she remains an incredibly passionate advocate for education since it was a critical element in her journey into the middle class.

I am grateful that I can pass on my mother’s message to my own daughters, Victoria and Ella. I never felt more strongly about the right of women to learn, contribute, and lead than when they were born. Now 14 and 12 years old, I look at both and contemplate the world they are living in. A world where statistically – in most countries – they are still likely to earn less and have fewer opportunities than their male peers. This is unacceptable and addressing this is a responsibility we all share.

It is impossible to be a leader in education today and not care about the fact that there are still an estimated 131 million girls worldwide who do not have the opportunity to attend school. Not only is this deeply unjust, it pains me to imagine what we are missing out on in terms of the innovation, creativity and achievement that could be amplified if their right to learn was honored.

We have approximately 65,000 employees across the world and approximately 50% are female, however, only 26% at the executive level. While this may be higher than many other companies, it does not accurately reflect the company I know we aspire to be. We are strongest when our leadership truly reflects the students and communities we serve and we incorporate diversity into the way in which we operate.

Not only does this inherently feel like the right thing to do, but additionally a recent McKinsey study demonstrated that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.

On International Women’s Day I think about the incredible women we have across our network, doing amazing work. I am tremendously proud of our student Melanie Tran at Torrens University in Australia for the way in which is she using disruptive technology to empower those living with disability.

And our two professors, Fatima Casa Nova and Alessandra Bahia, at Centro Universitario dos Guararapes (UniFG) in Brazil, who transformed learning environments for our students during the Zika outbreak, ensuring they were achieving strong academic outcomes, while making a significant impact in the local community.

On International Women’s Day I do not just want to pause and reflect, I want to reinforce a strong personal commitment. Myself, along with the Leadership Team, is determined to be more proactive in creating opportunities for women to continue to lead and thrive in this company and ask all of us to be more intentional in considering the values we wish to champion – with and for – our 875,000 students and our future graduates.

In 2017 alone, we provided US$ 925 million in scholarships and discounts across our network. Take a moment to consider what this means, and the number of women who have been able to access quality higher education because of us. We do not yet do enough to track the impact of this contribution. We will do better. We should understand this, value this, and ensure more of our efforts to create access are targeted specifically to women who may otherwise not have this opportunity.

Our company is in a strong position to change lives and I know we are all better when opportunity, knowledge, and empowerment are not granted to just a few.