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Tackling the issue of under-representation of women in teaching cases

20th May 2021

Emerald joins forces with The Case For Women, Forté & MBA Roundtable to tackle the issue of the under representation of women in teaching cases across the globe.

  • Research from in a study of 105 business teaching cases found only 12 featured a female protagonist.
  • Of these 12, 10 falls into a business category perceived to be a ‘female businesses’ centred upon fashion, furniture, food or family and there was no female presence at all in 35 of the papers.
  • To address this, Emerald Publishing launches case writing competition.

Emerald Publishing has launched a second global case writing competition in partnership with The Case For Women, Forté and MBA Roundtable, in a mission to address the serious issue of gender inequality in the teaching material that is currently available to business schools throughout the world.

In a study developed by Lesley Symons, founder of The Case For Women, the next generation of leaders, both male and female, are being presented with learning material that suggests that when you think leadership, you think male. This was evident when the research looked at 105 teaching cases and 98% featured a male, and of these 79% focused on a male protagonist.

Gabi Rundle, Cases Publisher at Emerald Publishing, spoke of the need for more teaching cases featuring a female protagonist, saying, 'Role models are particularly important for students and young professionals who are just beginning to etch out their careers. But the lack of female role models in business is still one of the main barriers to women’s career progression, they need to see how the journey to success can be made in a women’s shoes.

'That is why we reached out to The Case For Women, Forté and MBA Roundtable to create this incredibly important competition with the aim of developing high-quality teaching case material that positively represents real women in leadership positions in the workplace to ensure that future learners can visualise women in these roles.'

The US-based Forté believes that business education, along with role models, professional networks and leadership training, are vital in helping to advance women’s careers. Since 2001, the organisation has been helping to increase women's enrolment in business schools, advance their business careers and rebalance the workplace.

The increase in women’s enrolment is a huge achievement, but Elissa Sangster, Forté CEO, points out business school culture and teaching haven’t kept pace and that there is still a gender imbalance in faculty, guest speakers and case papers. “With women now nearing equity on the business school campus, more eyes are focused on the types of leaders and leadership styles we are reflecting to the MBA student body,” she says. “For both men and women, it is important to see diverse leaders and leadership styles, otherwise, we aren’t preparing them for the future. We’re not giving women the aspirational goals of leadership by showcasing successful women leaders, and for men we’re not familiarising them with leadership styles different from their own.”

Lesley Symons, founder of The Case For Women, another organisation that is helping to drive change within business schools.

'At The Case For Women we are principally concerned with the way business leaders are depicted within teaching cases so supporting this important competition felt a natural partnership for us and we look forward to seeing the breadth of cases that will come from this', commented Lesley.

Through Lesley and her team’s research, they have shown teaching cases to be stuck in an old paradigm, having outdated leadership styles that do not reflect current workplaces.

Lesley was the first ever researcher to examine the gender balance of characters present in teaching cases. Her project looked at 105 competition-winning case centre papers from 2009–2018. During her research, Lesley created the Symons Test as a tool to evaluate papers, here the papers must:

  • Have a woman in it; (encourages women to appear in more case papers)
  • Who is the protagonist; (encourages women to be shown as leaders: middle, senior managers up to the boardroom)
  • Who speaks to another woman about the business (ensures she isn’t the only woman in the paper)

Lesley and her team then worked with Forté and MBA Roundtable to conduct similar work on over 600 MBA case papers from seven prominent US business schools. They found that women were mentioned in 67% of Case Centre papers and 50% of MBA papers, 11% of Case Centre papers and 17% of MBA papers had a woman protagonist. And just 4% of Case Centre papers and 5% of MBA papers passed the Symons Test.

Jeff Bieganek, Executive Director at the MBA Roundtable, commented: 'We are proud to have joined as sponsors to this year’s competition and to continue our work with Forte and The Case For Women for over the last few years. This competition fits perfectly with our mission of driving graduate management education curriculum to be fully inclusive and representative of the diverse students in their programs. The under representation of women in case materials needs to be addressed to ensure that we are encouraging women into aiming for leadership positions. Competitions like this are great platforms to raise awareness of the issue and create much-needed teaching content that can inspire women to do so.'

The The Case For Women competition, holds the principles of the Symons test at the centre of the judging criteria, which states that any submissions need to feature:

  • Cases that have a female protagonist
  • Her characteristics as a leader should be described in a positive way
  • There should be a general balance of genders across the characters in the paper. (This does not need to be precise although an approximate range of between 60:40 either way is considered balanced)
  • The female protagonist should speak to another woman about the business
  • Ideally, the industry or setting of the case should not fall into one of the ‘Four F’ categories: food, family, fashion and furniture. This is not a mandatory requirement.

This is the largest cases competition Emerald Publishing has ever launched. Since the 2020 competition, in which Forté and The Case For Women sponsored, the MBA Roundtable has also joined and the total prize fund for this year’s collection has increased to $12,000. The prizes are $6,000 for first prize and three runners-up at $3,000 for second prize, $2,000 for third prize and $1,000 for fourth prize, alongside this all case submissions will be considered for international publication in a new ‘Case for Women’ collection published by Emerald Publishing as part of its eCase collection. More information about the Case Writing Competition and how to enter can be found here. Submissions close August 17, 2021.

The winning cases from the 2020 The Case For Women competition are now available in our eCase Collection.

At Emerald, we believe that research is most impactful when a diverse range of voices are included, and this partnership shows our continued commitment to driving change and standing up for the under-represented. You can see more about the work we are doing, as well as viewing free content, by reading our 2020 Global inclusivity report.

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Emerald Publishing provides a range of publishing services to help authors tell their story in a meaningful and timely way, providing innovative tools and services to build confidence and capability in impactful research. For over 50 years Emerald’s core purpose has been to champion fresh thinkers and help them make a difference so that little by little those in academia or in practice can unite to bring positive change in the real world.