MBAs And Tech: Open Arms Or Détente?


Case Studies: The Last Frontier For Sexism?

Coffee Meets Bagel…Stitch Fix…Hello Alfred.

What do these companies have in common? For one, they were all founded by women. For another, there is just a one-in-ten chance that these companies will ever have a case study written about them.

That finding was published recently in the Harvard Business Review by Lesley Symons, an INSEAD-trained leadership coach. Symons’ research is based on award-winning cases published by the Case Centre from 2009-2015 (The dispensary for case books to b-schools). Here, just 8 of 74 cases featured women as the case protagonist. More strikingly, men are predominate characters in 73 of the 74 cases, compared to just 41 for women.

Oh, and it gets worse. There were just three cases where women interacted with each other in a business. Even more damning, among the 21 cases published from 2014-2015, only 21 of the 222 characters featured were women – 9.5%. In fact, just 1 of these 21 cases even has a female protagonist.

In other words, the gap is even bigger than expected in top MBA programs where 36% of the students are women and female faculty representation is often below 30% (including 28% at HBS, 23% at Stanford, 20% at Wharton, and 17% at both Booth and INSEAD).

And Symons attributes some of this disconnect to the composition of business schools. “We believe there’s an underlying issue that’s harder to remedy: Professors often use their own cases to teach — and the majority of professors at business schools are men and write about other men,” she writes. “Best-selling and award-winning cases are reused and reused, creating a legacy system of male protagonists.”

As a result, she encourages professors to be more aware of this divide. “Business schools need to show their students (and the companies these students will eventually work for) that they are ahead of the curve and are committed to the leaders of the future…Business school professors can speak to the issue directly. Aside from being careful about how cases are chosen, professors can be transparent about each case by simply noting the gender of the protagonist, the industries that women protagonists are found in, and how women are represented.”

Symonds also calls on outlets like the Case Centre to better catalog female-driven cases. “Clearing houses should publicize and reward cases with diverse characters,” she emphasizes. “If you can measure it, you can start to change it. Data in this area is crucial. Case clearing houses, such as the Case Centre or Harvard, can assist by actively bringing the topic into the open. They could start by tracking the gender — and ethnicity — of the protagonist and making this information visible on their websites.”

Finally, Symonds believes employers can play a role by pressuring business schools to better represent both their future employees’ aspirations and realities. “Today’s businesses, many of which are looking to address gender balance on their staffs, need to start asking questions. What kind of schools are their students studying at, and is gender equality being taught or acknowledged? Do they know — or want to know — what business examples their future employees are studying? And do they want potential employees to be comfortable with and versed in women as senior executives?”

Symonds concedes some progress, notably Harvard Business School’s commitment to doubling the number of women in cases by 2019. However, she adds that MBA programs are far behind the businesses that they’re preparing students to enter. “Women and men who are poised to lead the companies of the future are still not reading about women as business leaders, to their own detriment.”

Do you agree with Symonds’ prescriptions – or is this a matter of taking a mallet to rid a fly? Let us know your thoughts…

DON’T MISS: How They Teach The Case Method At Harvard Business School

Source: Harvard Business School

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.