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To Increase Gender Diversity, We Need to Go Back to School

When your company’s human resources problems attract the attention of a famous politician, you know you’re in trouble. At a rare public appearance a few weeks ago, Hillary Clinton spoke about the need for more women “at any table . . . where decisions are made” — and called out Uber by name over those recent accusations of a culture of sexism in its workplace.

Related: Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In 2.0 and Corporate Gender Bias

Uber’s recently released “diversity report” has done little to assuage the concerns of critics, as it shows that close to 80 percent of the company’s leadership is male. Yet Uber isn’t alone in this regard, and many people have pointed out that its numbers are not that different from those at other tech companies.

Indeed, our research here at Babson College Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership shows that gender diversity is a problem throughout the startup world. Only 15 percent of VC-funded companies have a woman on their executive team, and a mere 3 percent have a woman CEO. Although women are gaining ground, men are still 50 percent more likely than women to become entrepreneurs.

This lack of diversity isn’t bad just for women; it’s bad for business. Numerous studies have shown that greater gender diversity on boards and in corporate leadership positions is associated with greater profitability and higher stock values.

How do we increase the number of women entrepreneurs and executives? Part of the solution is to revamp the educational pipeline that shapes future talent. We need to train students of all backgrounds and genders to envision women as CEOs, entrepreneurs and innovators, and to understand how gender dynamics affect their teams, products — and bottom line.

As the training ground for tomorrow’s leaders, business schools and university business programs play an important role in setting the tone. Yet we often present an outdated vision of business leadership. Research shows that women are marginalized throughout business school, from the language used in classrooms to the makeup of the faculty, to the representations of entrepreneurship in academic papers and case studies.

That needs to end.

The missing gender

As an example: Business students spend hours poring over case studies that disproportionately feature CEOs and key decision-makers who are men. One study found that only 11 percent of the 74 most popular cases from 2009 to 2015 had a woman protagonist, and nearly half failed to include any women at all.

Business students also learn primarily from men, since typically only 15 percent to 25 percent of professors at top business schools are women. These disparities present future CEOs, entrepreneurs and managers with a vision of business leadership that is almost exclusively male.

Related: Kleiner Perkins Cleared of Gender Bias in Pao Case; Jury Ordered to Deliberate Retaliation Claim

That’s unfortunate because, in today’s economy, gender acumen is a requisite leadership skill. Understanding gender is essential for optimizing relationships with employees, customers and colleagues. We expect MBA programs to expose students to a variety of business sectors and experiences, ranging from entrepreneurship and corporate leadership, to finance and marketing. Shouldn’t gender be as important as race, ethnicity and other dimensions of diversity?

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