David W. Zalaznick Associate Professor of Business
Columbia Business School
Sandra Matz is an award-winning professor at Columbia Business School. Holding a Ph.D. in psychology, Matz is a first-generation college student. Matz had more than two-dozen nominations, making her one of the most popular and highly nominated professors on this year’s list. A prolific researcher, Matz has more than 1,700 Google Scholar citations. Her research has made a massive impact both in academia and society and has garnered media coverage from major publications like Forbes, BBC, and Inc among others.
“I am currently investigating how hiring women into leadership positions can change gender stereotypes,” Matz says about her research. “The way we approach this topic is to look at the extent to which an organization’s language changes as a result of hiring a female CEO or appointing more women to their board of directors. We apply novel methods in natural language processing that allow us to capture the semantic meaning of words (e.g. woman, her or she) and see how closely the meaning of these words is related to the meaning of agentic, leadership-relevant traits that are typically associated with men but not women (e.g. decisive, determined, independent). What we find is that hiring women into leadership positions shifts organizational language such that women are being associated more strongly with agentic – and therefore leadership-congruent – traits.”
Between the nominations and her research, putting Matz on this year’s 40 Under 40 Professors list was an easy decision.
Current age: 32
At current institution since what year? 2017
Education: Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Cambridge
List of MBA courses you currently teach:
- Managerial Negotiations
- Lead: People, Teams and Organizations
- Executive Ethics
TELL US ABOUT LIFE AS A BUSINESS SCHOOL PROFESSOR
I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… I don’t think there was a magical moment in which I suddenly realized that I was destined to be a B-School professor. It certainly wasn’t “princess” at age 5, “teacher” at age 10 and “B-School professor” at age 15. As a first-generation student I hadn’t even planned on doing a Ph.D., let alone join academia upon graduation. But when I got a scholarship to spend a year at Cambridge University during my undergraduate degree I fell in love with research and the question of how we might be able to better understand people’s daily experiences through the lens of Big Data. However, it wasn’t until a friend of mine told me that she was applying for marketing positions that I even thought of B-Schools as an alternative home to psychology departments. With only three weeks to go to the application deadlines I scrambled together my application materials and submitted them to a handful of schools. I didn’t end up in Marketing (not surprising given how little I knew about B-Schools back then). But going through the application process and learning more about the world of B-Schools made me realize that they offered exactly what I was looking for: An intellectual home that values not just grand ideas and theoretical contributions but also real impact and a discussion of how to tackle current societal challenges. And I honestly couldn’t have hoped for a better place than CBS. Looking back now, it feels almost unreal how beautifully everything worked out. I found a job that I absolutely love, I city that I adore, and the most wonderful set of colleagues I could imagine.
What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it?
Together with a graduate student, Asher Lawson, and Professor Ashley Martin (who is also on this year’s list P&Q 40 under 40 list!), I am currently investigating how hiring women into leadership positions can change gender stereotypes. The way we approach this topic is to look at the extent to which an organization’s language changes as a result of hiring a female CEO or appointing more women to their board of directors. We apply novel methods in natural language processing that allow us to capture the semantic meaning of words (e.g. woman, her or she) and see how closely the meaning of these words is related to the meaning of agentic, leadership-relevant traits that are typically associated with men but not women (e.g. decisive, determined, independent). What we find is that hiring women into leadership positions shifts organizational language such that women are being associated more strongly with agentic – and therefore leadership-congruent – traits. What’s pretty cool about this is that the intervention doesn’t come with a trade-off or backlash for women who are oftentimes perceived as less likeable if they display agentic behaviors. In our case, the association between women and agency increases the most for the positive aspects of agency (e.g. active, resilient, persistent), and they are perceived and described just as likeable as before. What can we learn from this? When hiring minorities we often talk about the immediate benefits to organizations that come from increased representation. That’s amazing in and by itself. But what we show is that hiring underrepresented minorities can actually do a lot more: It can help organizations battle insidious stereotypes by changing the associations, meaning, and interpretations of what it means to be, for example, a woman, black, or homosexual.
If I weren’t a business school professor… I would open a small café in Barcelona! And I would make sure that it has the best coffee, bread and French pastries in town (because what else do you need in life, really?).
What do you think makes you stand out as a professor?
My lack of knowledge of anything that has to do with finance. No, seriously! But I guess this question is asking more about positive qualities. It’s still a tough one, though, because I don’t think I’m alone in the qualities that I personally like about myself. But if you asked me what I am the most proud of, it’s the fact that I deeply care about students and always try to walk the extra mile to positively impact their experience at CBS and beyond.
One word that describes my first time teaching: Surprisingly-fun
Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: You don’t always have to be the smartest person in the room (this extends beyond being a B-School professor).
Professor I most admire and why: This question is a bit of a trap for me, because my partner is a Professor, too. So naturally he is at the top of the list. A close second is Betsy Levy-Paluck, who is a Professor at the Psychology Department at Princeton. She has done fascinating work on how we can use media and “Hollywood” to reduce prejudice. My favourite paper of hers looked at how exposure to a radio soap opera could help reduce prejudice and polarization in post-genocide Rwanda. The soap opera was set in a heavily divided society in which an interethnic couple starts a revolution that eventually reconciles the country. And those who listened to it were more likely to embrace efforts to welcome outgroup member and work together with the other side to solve local problems. How cool is that!?
TEACHING MBA STUDENTS
What do you enjoy most about teaching business students?
It’s so easy to get them to engage in conversations and contribute to class. There’s nothing worse than leading a class where nobody ever raises their hand and you have to constantly force people to speak up. Clearly not an issue with MBA students. And this engagement makes teaching so much more enjoyable for myself, because it feels more like an intellectually challenging discussion. I can provide input and expertise but then also learn from students how what we talk about relates to their own experiences or might stand in contrast to what they have seen in their professional lives.
What is most challenging?
It’s something that I think every young tenure-track professor is struggling with: Striking the right balance between looking after my own career and that of my students. Oftentimes, walking the extra mile when it comes to teaching and helping my students outside of the classroom, means taking away valuable research hours. And at the end of the day that’s what is going to really determine the future of my academic career. It’s something that I have been quite vocal about and am trying to change for the next generation of tenure-track faculty.
In one word, describe your favorite type of student: Curious
In one word, describe your least favorite type of student: Arrogant
When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as… I’d love to say fair but I think it might be lenient
LIFE OUTSIDE OF THE CLASSROOM
What are your hobbies? None.
How will you spend your summer? Teaching… I know, fun times!
Favorite place(s) to vacation: Barcelona, Mexico, and Thailand.
Favorite book(s): Harry Potter. I also love Yuval Noah Harari’s books (Sapiens, Homo Deus and 21 Lessons for the 21st century).
What is currently your favorite movie and/or show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much?
Money heist on Netflix. I love everything about it. The storyline, the music, the characters. Pure genius!
What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why?
Depends a bit on my mood. But my go-to is any DJ sets played at Katerblau in Berlin. You can easily find them on Soundcloud. It’s perfect for work and unwinding. And then for the more upbeat moments, I’m a fan of electro swing.
THOUGHTS AND REFLECTIONS
If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this…
Lifelong value for your money! It’s kind of outrageous how expensive our programs are. Given how much we ask for, we better do an absolutely outstanding job at giving back with an opportunity to not just learn during the two years of MBA but beyond that. Our promise to provide a truly transformative experience and community clearly shouldn’t just stop on graduation day.
In my opinion, companies, and organizations today need to do a better job at…
Thinking about value beyond counting $$$. There are so many more stakeholders than your immediate shareholders, and growth isn’t the only thing that should make it on your lists of priorities. As a part of an organization touching the lives of millions of people around the world and the founder of your own enterprise, you could offer so much more!
I’m grateful for… My colleagues! They are seriously the best and feel like family to me.
Faculty, students, alumni, and/or administrators say:
“She did a FANTASTIC job of responding to each and every comment made by a classmate in a productive and positive manner. This made sure that everyone would participate and it is the first class where I felt that I wanted to contribute significantly more than I could (because so many people also felt comfortable speaking).”
“Professor Matz was amazing!!! I thought she did a fantastic job navigating the hyflex model. She was responsive and made a clear effort to engage everyone in the cluster. I would love to take another class with Prof Matz.”
“Professor Matz was incredibly engaging both in demeanor and in the structure and content of her presentations. She stayed late and answered questions after each class and was very strategic when selecting which parts of the deck to speed through and where to slow down. She was funny, approachable, and incredibly well versed in the topic at hand, and she was a real pleasure to have as a professor.”
“Professor Matz is a gem! She’s so smart and was able to thoughtfully answer any question that came her way. She has a calming demeanor, which was nice considering this was the first course at CBS and I was a bit nervous.”
“Professor Matz was all-around phenomenal.”
“I loved the energy and enthusiasm the Professor brought to the classroom. She was super engaging and passionate about the topic, which made me feel really excited about learning. Specifically, I enjoyed her method of inviting students into the discussion and the way she added her perspective and knowledge to further support the student’s comments. This class was awesome!”
“I think that Professor Matz did a phenomenal job. She had wonderful energy and talking points. She did a fantastic job at ensuring that everyone in the class (remote or in-person) was actively participating.”
“Professor Matz is incredible – kind, funny, knowledgeable, respectful, and really makes you think!”