Opinion + Voices

UCLA faculty voice: We need to do more for women at business schools

Judy Olian, dean of UCLA Anderson, has nine recommendations for creating a more welcoming and diverse environment

UCLA Anderson School of Management

UCLA Anderson School of Management

Judy Olian is the dean of UCLA Anderson School of Management and the John E. Anderson Chair in Management. This op-ed appeared July 24 in Bloomberg Businessweek.

In the eight years since I became dean of UCLA Anderson Graduate School of Management, the ranks of female chief executives in the Fortune 500 have nearly doubled — but only from 13 to 23. Business schools have the same problem: We are trying mightily to close the gap, but we are falling short.

A recent UCLA Academic Senate report on UCLA Anderson — part of the university’s standard peer-review process — indicated that some female faculty members felt disrespected and unsupported in our male-dominated community.

Judy Olian

As dean, and as a woman for whom championing women has long been a passion, I find that feedback hurts. We have doubled the number of female faculty members and tripled the number of women who are full professors since 2006. Yet women still account for less than 20 percent of our faculty.

The numbers are not much better across the rest of the leading business schools, where women represent about 20 percent of faculty. And in Anderson’s full-time MBA program, despite steady increases over the years, less than 35 percent of the students are women, a number that parallels other top MBA programs around the country.

Fellow deans and I lament the problem and compete fiercely over the same scarce talent; the pool of female faculty and doctoral candidates in the core business disciplines is far too small. Our students are deprived of a balanced complement of male and female faculty as role models. Our culture suffers because academic environments are supposed to play host to the most provocative and surprising ideas, yet homogeneity of experience doesn’t breed that creativity.

Gender climate is much more nuanced and complex than numbers. It’s affected by unconscious biases, unintended behaviors, and the sensitivities of a minority group in a culture dominated by a significant majority.

Given these complexities, here are some ideas to improve the numbers and the climate for women and other underrepresented faculty:

1. Create awareness among men of the consequences of unintended behavior toward women and other minorities, in the language that academics find compelling — research evidence.

2. Own the pipeline problem — the Ph.D. programs we ourselves run have too few women. With concerted efforts to attract talented women into Ph.D. programs, the entire industry will enjoy a more gender-diverse faculty pipeline and ameliorate the imbalance over time. A successful example is the Ph.D. Project, which attracts underrepresented minorities into Ph.D. programs and supports their degree and placement processes.

3. Strive to hire more female faculty over time — enough to create a critical mass — so that women are not alone in such departments as finance or operations, which are typically dominated by men. That augments the voice of female faculty and alters the male-dominated culture.

4. Track the service burden to determine if it weighs disproportionately on women and rebalance it where indicated. Shelley Correll at Stanford asserts that female faculty spend an extra seven hours a week on university committee work and student-related service activities.

5. Bring more women into visible leadership positions in the school so they both serve as role models and drive culture change.

6. Reduce the tradeoff between family responsibilities and academic productivity by offering a broader range of benefits that are considerate of family needs. For example, UCLA runs an innovative school (ages 4 to 12) that is available to faculty.

7. Monitor pay equity and eliminate any pay inequities if they exist.

8. Examine the criteria used to measure success — are they the right criteria; are they all necessary? For example, should time to tenure be rigid? Should we move beyond student teaching evaluations, which may exhibit gender bias, to other forms of professional review — e.g. internal and external peer reviewers, such as faculty from other universities?

9. Add accountability for diversity and culture changes to the dean’s performance metrics, on a par with the usual indicators, such as rankings, research output, or fundraising.

We’re considering all these at UCLA Anderson, in conjunction with the recommendations that will come in the next few months from the Gender Climate Taskforce I have appointed. Our goal, as Correll suggests, is to move from a culture that promotes diversity and is still conscious of dividing lines to one that embraces inclusion of all — where differences are celebrated as a source of cultural strength.

The presence of female faculty and leadership icons inspires our students, such as Anderson’s 2014 commencement speaker, Susan Wojcicki (’98), who is CEO of YouTube (GOOG) and the third female speaker in eight years.

Here’s how I’ll know we’ve created a culture of success for all — when among the commencement names I read, there are as many Janes as there are Jameses and when I’m surrounded on stage by my fellow faculty — an abundance of women as well as men.

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