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The importance of female protagonists in developing the business leaders of the future

6th September 2021

Authors: Arpita Agnihotri, Assistant Professor of Management at Pennsylvania State University, USA and Saurabh Bhattacharya, Senior Lecturer in Marketing at Newcastle University Business School, UK. 

Almost every B-School uses case studies to develop decision-making skills among students based on challenges faced by managers or CEOs. In the real world, both males and females hold managerial positions; of course, we cannot deny discrimination. However, there is a an under representation of women in teaching cases across the globe. 

Unless we portray female protagonists in cases, students will be less likely to appreciate and understand differences in decision-making and leadership styles of male vs. female CEOs. Moreover, female CEOs and managers face different and probably more challenges than male CEO’s, such as obtaining venture capital funding. Their decisions are also more critically analysed in media. To make students explore these perspectives, it is critical that they put themselves in the female protagonists' shoes while discussing business cases. This makes leveraging cases with female protagonists equally important as male protagonists.

Business education is meant to develop future managers. Studies have shown that the more students were made aware of types of problems in the corporate world, the more they were ready to tackle and resolve those challenges. We believe using female protagonists would benefit both male and female students. Male students would be more aware of challenges women entrepreneurs face, and this understanding would drive them to be conscious about not being gender-biased when they take a leadership role in the future. Such cases would motivate female business students as inspiring stories would drive them to combat such challenges and become successful women business leaders. 

For instance, in the case titled Riteband: Combatting the challenges of cross-industry innovation, which we wrote for the 2020 Case for Women competition, we not only presented how a female entrepreneur successfully invested in cross-industry innovation, which should be equally inspiring to both male and female entrepreneurs, we also explain how she overcame venture capital funding issues, where women entrepreneurs struggle more for funding. The key concept that we explain why this biasness exists should be a meaningful learning experience both for male and female business students. For instance, knowing that the venture capitalists are more promotion-oriented in terms of their regulatory focus when listening to the pitch of male entrepreneurs and adopt prevention regulatory focus when a female entrepreneur pitches should make male students conscious about their regulatory focus and remain promotion-focused when listening to pitches of entrepreneurs, irrespective of their gender. On the other hand, female students would learn how to present their pitches, such as using more promotion-oriented words when responding to venture capitalists' queries.

Overall, we believe the Emerald Case for Women competition sets an ideal platform to drive both faculties and students to discuss women entrepreneurs’ cases and give equal emphasis to the same, especially when using case study pedagogy.

Find out more about The Case for Women case writing competition, what is involved and how to enter