Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg made big news in early June 2022 when she announced her resignation after 14 years with the social media giant. From the success of growing Facebook advertising into a cash-making machine to expanding the company’s massive influence, her career brims with seminal moments as she expanded the social media giant into the juggernaut now known as Meta.
However, for me, an academic who follows women’s leadership, it is Sandberg’s 2013 book on gender and career management that stands out as her most profound achievement. The publication of Lean In transcended the best seller list – it spawned a movement encouraging women to assert themselves at work. Lean In brought women together to advocate for change and served as a forerunner to the #MeToo movement.
Now, as Sandberg’s departure marks change, I believe the movement is also ready for a new chapter. As a Pepperdine Graziadio Business School faculty member and founding director of the Center for Women in Leadership (CWL), I see the winds stirring for a new era of women in leadership.
B-SCHOOLS: A ‘SAFE PLACE’ FOR SELF-EXPRESSION
Graduate business programs can create breakthrough change for women business leaders. Business schools can play a crucial role in identifying issues, elevating ideas, and encouraging women warriors (and bolstering the men who support them). There are many reasons why – here are five:
First, business schools encourage self-discovery. A business school setting enables women to journey from lack of awareness, to acquiring insight, to forming a refined ethical framework to make decisions. Outside the constraints of the workplace, a graduate business education also helps women unlock creativity, identify personal potential, and amplify novel ideas.
Second, business schools are a safe place for self-expression. Working in an academic setting enables participants to express thoughts, ideas, and feelings. In a modern business school, prejudice and negative judgement is discouraged. Instead, self-expression is advanced through civil discourse and thoughtful discussion.
Third, business schools generate massive thought leadership. The large concentration of expertise and research out of academic settings can inspire creativity and innovation. The output of hundreds of academic journals, public forms and mainstream media is a game-changing force. Understanding and expressing the role of women in leadership is a prime means of thought leadership to enhance broader social development.
Fourth, business schools offer academic freedom. In a graduate business school environment, instructors, researchers, and students have the freedom to express ideas without interference. Organized events, research and publication can proceed without intrusive influences. While not perfect, an academic setting is free from many trappings of the business world (such as a woman facing punishment for speaking up).
Fifth, business schools encourage peer and professional network environments. In a business school, people naturally develop and maintain relationships. The outcome of networks established in graduate business school extend into life-long personal and professional connections. For women leaders, these peer and professional networks are also vehicles to disseminate messages far and wide about vision and values.
‘OPTIMISTIC THAT PROGRESS WILL PREVAIL’
In the present day, survey after survey shows U.S. residents are increasingly concerned over recession and inflation. COVID, wars, market corrections, court decisions, congressional hearings, and other concerns are poised to distract global consciousness away from women at work. Maintaining breakthrough change requires intensive focus, research, resources, and motivated participants — all things that are available in a graduate business school setting.
To be certain, business school is not the only driver keeping women’s issues front and center. Media similarly plays an important role maintaining the dialogue (Pepperdine Graziadio is also home to the Institute for Media, Entertainment and Sports). In November, the film She Said, based on the book by the same name, will be released and will dramatically portray how the New York Times investigated and broke the story on convicted sex offender Harvey Weinstein. The shocking story, credited for launching the #MeToo movement and seeking to expose and end sexual harassment in the workplace, will keep the spotlight on the worst offenses.
Business school, though different in many regards, seeks similar truths — insights based on facts and exploration. Knowledge created in business school are seeds from which activity can be born. For this reason, I’m optimistic progress will prevail. Business schools should not miss the opportunity.
Dr. Bernice Ledbetter serves as dean of students and alumni affairs at the Pepperdine Graziadio Business School; she is the founding director of the Center for Women in Leadership and serves as practitioner faculty of organizational theory and practice, where she teaches graduate-level courses in leadership across a range of leadership topics.