Leadership

Invisible or Clichéd: How Are Women Represented in Business Cases?

I’m excited to share with you the results of a recent study Dr. Rosemary McGowan (Wilfrid Laurier University) and I published in the Journal of Management Education.  We found that women decision makers were underrepresented in business cases, and when they were featured, their attributes and behaviours were represented in a stereotypical manner.

Women represent just less than 50% of undergraduate business graduates and 36% of MBA graduates. Despite their strong presence in management education programs, women are noticeably absent from business case studies—a key pedagogical tool for instruction within management education programs worldwide.

While case studies inform students about business processes, decision making, strategy, and leadership and management challenges, they also promote unintentional learning about gender. We argue that case studies contain a “hidden curriculum” that presents and reinforces implicit assumptions and stereotypes about women’s fitness to lead.

In a sample of 102 business cases we found that women decision makers were absent in more than 80% of cases, and when present, were portrayed as less visionary, risk taking, agentic, certain, and more emotional, cautious, and quality and detail oriented than men.

So why does this matter?

In a 2012 study, researchers found that undergraduate men did not associate female characteristics with a successful manager at any time during their four-year undergraduate program, while undergraduate women experienced declining associations between women’s typical characteristics and those of a successful manager.  In other words, women were being taught (implicitly or explicitly) that women don’t make good managers.  Women need to see themselves represented as successful business leaders to build their confidence that they too can lead, and men need to see successful female leaders to normalize the idea that women can be successful leaders.  We have to stop teaching students that women don’t lead.  For more information go to: https://goo.gl/koMtCh (Behind a paywall)

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