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Throughout human history, social norms have governed the behaviour of human beings in remarkable and sometimes troubling ways. Gender inequality is one of the clearest examples of this. For thousands of years, social norms have dictated—either overtly or covertly—that men and women should be treated differently.

Certainly, as a global society, we are making progress. In management education alone, we’ve seen significant change take place in the last 50 years. Up until the mid-1960s, for example, it was normal for business schools to only admit men to their MBA programmes. In 1967, INSEAD rejected that model when it welcomed Hélène Ploix MBA’68 and Solange Perret MBA’68 to the Fontainebleau campus, joining a small movement of schools advocating for women in management education. Today, virtually all business schools—INSEAD included—are actively working to attract more women to their programmes and striving to create a gender-balanced student body.

On a broader level, I believe that our global society has reached an inflection point in gender balance. We, as individuals and institutions, are starting to pay attention to gender imbalance issues in ways we haven’t before. We’re getting more comfortable with having uncomfortable conversations. We’re challenging ourselves to do more and be better.

For its part, INSEAD is working towards a future in which gender balance is the norm across all aspects of business and society. To bring greater attention to gender imbalance and celebrate 50 years of women at INSEAD, we’re devoting this academic year to iW50, a celebration of the past, present and future of women at INSEAD. In this special issue of Salamander magazine, we’re profiling some of the school’s top female graduates, exploring how men play an important role in promoting gender balance, and delving into current issues on gender balance in the workplace.

On a tactical level, INSEAD is currently using facts and figures to support discussions about gender issues; engaging both men and women in efforts to promote gender balance; and creating a culture that encourages innovation.