Over the past semester at Bentley , I took an “Introduction to Gender Issues” course. I know what you may be thinking – a gender studies course at a business school?! Yes, business schools DO, in fact, offer gender studies courses (and great ones, if I may say so myself).
After taking this class, if there is one huge lesson I have learned, it is that business schools and the business world are in greater need of courses like this than any other institution or group. Why? Because business schools are overwhelmingly populated by male students and workplaces are dominated by men, as well. I’m sure you’ve heard it time and time again – women are a minority in the workplace.
Catalyst released statistics this month about female CEOs in Fortune 500 companies. Equality in the corporate world would look like 250 female CEOs, but unfortunately the Fortune 500 companies are far from that at only 18 female CEOs out of 500 (3.6%) and 35 female CEOs out of Fortune 1000 companies (3.5%).
Even at my smaller scale institution of Bentley University, I am in the minority in terms of gender, due to 60% of the undergraduate student population being made up of men. So, what does this mean? It does not mean that women should be given privileges in order to rise above men in business schools or in the workplace, but rather that women should be given privileges in order to be on an equal level with men. In my experiences as a feminist at a business school, I’m often asked the question (by both men and women), “Why should women get extra privileges than men? Shouldn’t everything just be based on merit and achievements?”.
My response is usually: “Yes, I do agree that everything should be based on such achievements, so therefore women need to be given resources and support in order to rank equally with men. Why, you ask? Because men are typically promoted based on potential, whereas women are promoted based on their performance. Women are forced to work harder and “prove themselves”, which is unequal in terms of work effort and opportunities.
This common misconception, by both men and women, in the business world clearly points to the fact that more education is needed on these issues, not just for women, but for all genders. Is education the only solution to such inequality? No. Is change in business schools and workplaces going to be rapid? Absolutely not. However, perhaps that by promoting gender equality on the lower level in schools and universities, some change for the future could be fostered and set in place. In my gender studies class, women were in the majority and there were only two male students…yes – two. Perhaps its not “cool” to be a “dude” in a gender studies class. More likely, however, it is a social sign of weakness for men to identify with feminism or gender equality at a business school – a greater chance that a stereotype will be assigned to them.
Women convening and speaking about changes for the better is fabulous – there is no doubt about the power of women’s minds in terms of gender equality reform. However, true effectiveness for change will come if more men participate in the movement and these discussions. It is not enough for men to simply take a follower’s approach – all genders need to be working together to promote feminism and gender equality or else true change will never occur. Business schools and workplaces need to lead by example and practice fair treatment and opportunity-giving to all workplaces. Institutions need to start presenting gender equality as everyone’s issue, not just women’s issues. Bentley University has amazing resources in terms of working towards gender equality – a Gender Studies minor option, a Women’s Center, a Graduate Women’s Leadership Organization, a Her Campus branch, an 85 Broads chapter, and the Center for Women and Business. These resources are a “dent” in the area of gender inequality in business and provide current women at Bentley with a broad, high-level range of knowledge and tool sets regarding their future in the business world.
However, in order for women at Bentley and women around the world to be successful, large institutional changes must occur. All genders must work together and business leaders must join to engage in discussions around issues and solutions. Until then, women will continue to work twice as hard, while they get paid less.
Oh, and did I mention that they are constantly reminded about their “plans” for when they have children? To be continued.