Stronger together

Janaki Gooty
Monday, July 31, 2023

Business schools create and disseminate research in diversity, equity and inclusion, yet, gender inequity persists in their leadership ranks, says a new paper led by Charlotte Belk College of Business Professor Janaki Gooty. The paper’s authors offer practical solutions for systemic transformation in business schools to advance gender-inclusive leadership.

“Stronger Together: A Call for Gender-Inclusive Leadership in Business Schools,” published by the Journal of Management in late June, offers actionable solutions to three systemic challenges in business schools. Gooty is joined by co-author and Belk College Professor Scott Tonidandel and colleagues from across the world, including a number of editors of leading scientific journals and presidents of professional associations.

Rather than placing the onus on women to act differently, a better approach would rethink how societal meanings of leadership — and thus systems — are skewed towards masculine realizations of leadership, power and influence, Gooty said.

“For example, decades of leadership development programs have called for women to network more, communicate differently, navigate politics with grace, lean in, be empathetic and selfless in leader roles,” she said. “Our team’s work dispels the myth that women are less interested or less capable than men to take on leadership roles, or that they need to somehow fundamentally change who they are to do so. Instead, we call for a focus on systemic changes to business school power structures and cultures to create a new, vibrant playing field that benefits all.”

The three systemic issues the paper considers are business schools’ masculine social structure, schools’ muddled performance evaluation approaches and the underrepresentation of research topics that affect women in the workplace.

Gooty, a professor of management and organizational science who is director of the Master of Business Administration Program, co-director of the Center for Leadership Science and senior associate editor of The Leadership Quarterly journal; and Scott Tonidandel, a professor of management and Director, organizational science and associate editor of the Journal of Business and Psychology, are joined by these authors from other preeminent universities and organizations:

  • Enrica N. Ruggs, University of Houston
  • Herman Aguinis, The George Washington University
  • Diane M. Bergeron, Center for Creative Leadership
  • Lillian T. Eby, University of Georgia
  • Daan van Knippenberg, Rice University
  • Corinne Post, Villanova University
  • Deborah E. Rupp, George Mason University
  • Sherry M. B. Thatcher, University of Tennessee
  • Francis J. Yammarino, Binghamton University, State University of New York

The authors have drawn from the science of gender bias and gender equity and their own extensive expertise in leadership, diversity and inclusion, organizational justice, ethics, social responsibility, discrimination and performance management. They encourage action, particularly by deans, academic department chairs, members of committees that consider promotion and tenure, senior faculty, and faculty governance members. Donors and leaders in the publishing world also have opportunities to make meaningful changes, the authors say.

“We believe that addressing these challenges,” the authors write, “could benefit all members (of business schools), not just women, because it could signal more equitable pathways to multiple business school stakeholders and intended beneficiaries, such as students, donors, practitioners, and policy makers.”

The researchers also have curated a collection of gender equity resources from National Academies of Science, National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation research.

Challenge 1: The masculine social structure of business schools

Business schools originated from a trade-school model, which results in an inherently masculine culture and tokenization of women who rise to higher ranks. Solutions include monitoring and publicly reporting gender data at all career stages, including recruitment and advancement through faculty and administrative ranks. Business schools should increase transparency in the naming of chaired professorships and other valued positions. Other recommendations include a focus on inclusively celebrating accomplishments, particularly women’s research, and gender-neutral caregiving practices.

Challenge 2: A muddled approach to performance evaluation

Muddled performance evaluation practices present a second challenge, with inconsistencies about successful performance and dated perspectives on what is high impact, the authors write. Solutions include clarifying criteria, tying criteria to the goals of the department, school and university and allowing multiple ways to demonstrate impact. Another positive change would be to use behaviorally anchored rating scales for evaluating research, teaching and service. Third-party observers should serve on review committees, to ensure fair and equitable practices are followed, and evaluators should be trained on best practices, they say.

Challenge 3: An underrepresentation of research topics that affect women in the workplace

 The impact of business school research is limited by research topics and approaches, in part due to the view that research topics that relate to women are insufficiently rigorous or scientific. Solutions include broader approaches to building and testing research theories, drawing on scholars’ sensitivity and reflexivity and considering implications of gender inclusion. The effects of identity could be considered, rather than excluded as “noise” in research. Business school leaders should use research findings to address equity challenges within the schools. Senior scholars should actively mentor and sponsor early- to mid-career women.