Business and Economics

Author: Ken Chung, Assistant Professor of Management

Video 1: Watch Ken's students discussing what makes a conducive environment for discussing DSJ issues. (8 min., click to watch)

Video 2: Watch Ken's introductory remarks on why implicit bias is relevant to businesses in Dr. Alex Madva's on Understanding Implicit Bias in Higher Education. (6 min., click to watch)

Faculties have been facing increasing pressure to include not only the latest disciplinary knowledge into courses but also the latest "sensibility" demanded by stakeholders. These new sensibilities include ethics, sustainability, and the focus of this chapter: diversity and social justice. The challenge is how we incorporate such new sensibilities into our courses in a meaningful way with the least disruption.

This section aims to help faculty incorporate diversity and social justice (DSJ) practices and content into management courses. Specifically, I propose a framework for weaving content and critical thought as a way to bring DSJ issues alive in your classroom. The section is applicable to courses not only offered by the College of Business and Economics but may also be relevant to those offered in Project Management, Engineering Management, Construction Management, and Hospitality and Tourism. Although helpful, this chapter is not intended or sufficient for those who need to produce a whole course dedicated to DSJ knowledge, skills and practices.

This section is laid out to explain our shared challenges—why we are now in the state we are due to institutionalized classroom practices, the benefits of incorporating diversity and social justice into organizations (our ultimate goal as management educators), and how we might be able to achieve a better state through a framework for weaving DSJ (or any other "sensibility") content and critical thought. Finally, this section concludes with suggested DSJ teaching practices to Encourage Class Participation and Incorporate Broad Learning and a Reading List that many generous faculty members have offered.

When we are faced with a request to change our practices, we instinctively take the position that we have been accused of being evil. If we need to change, it must be because existing practices are bad and that we must be evil too. If diversity and social justice (DSJ) is good and we need more of it, does that mean we are not good now? Alternatively, why do we do bad things? This line of reasoning is common but misplaced!

Practices do not often reflect the practitioner, but better reflects the society we live in.

Our lives are gripped by institutions, i.e., rules, taken for granted practices and ways of thinking (Meyer & Rowan, 1977; North, 1991). These institutions strongly influence what we teach as well as how we teach. We can, however, consciously decide whether to perpetuate existing practices or adopt new and improved ones.

Our Teaching Practices Originated From Contextualized Situations

We often do not know how organizational practices originate, and institutional theory has illustrated that practices do not originate from rational efforts to maximize efficiency but instead from contextualized situations that specific individuals faced at specific times in specific places for very specific conditions. Sometimes we adopt specific practices merely because they provide a cloak of legitimacy (DiMaggio & Powell, 1983). Practices eventually spread and over time become fossilized. For example, almost all large corporations in the world today adopt the multidivisional form (M-form) without much thought (Fligstein, 1985; Palmer, et al., 1993) even though there are numerous alternative forms to organizing and coordinating activities.

Our "Thought World" Can Inhibit Our Ability to Innovate

There is little doubt among educators that schools and the classroom environment inculcate some of society's shared values. "We were all creative until education happened to us," observes Dhargalkar and Tsai (2013) in reference to how education shapes our minds. In organizations, we know this effect as "thought worlds" that form interpretive barriers (Dougherty, 1992). These interpretive barriers, at extremes, can prohibit us from seeing (interpreting) what others do and is a significant inhibitor of innovation—the lifeblood of commercial organizations. We laugh at crude jokes but it is often true that technical personnel in R&D do not understand marketing personnel. Engineers and scientists, who dominate technical positions in corporate R&D functions, are brought up in one thought world and marketers are brought up in another. As a result, these thought worlds have direct impact on organizational productivity and efficiency.

Institutionalized Practices Constrain strain Us, But We Are Free to Choose

The implication for management educators is that many of our practices have been institutionalized—we are not bad because we do bad things. Many institutionalized factors affect our practices. For example, our employers may place undue pressure through increased workloads and or lower pay and this conditions how much time we devote to teaching or selecting a textbook. We seldom consciously decide what students need to know before we create syllabi, and instead we pick topics from established textbooks or materials we can find. We teach what we learned; we teach what others before us taught; we teach what others whom we respect teach; we teach what our employers and accreditors want us to teach. We use lectures because that is how teaching is "supposed" to be done. The more pressure we face (consciously and unconsciously) and the less we think reflexively, the more we act in an "over-socialized" way to perpetuate institutionalized practices (Wrong, 1961). The reason we conduct "bad" practices is because of all the institutionalized factors that condition and constrain our actions to do otherwise.

Just because practices have been institutionalized, however, does not give us free license to evade responsibility and accountability. We are not over-socialized automatons that conduct life as social structures dictate. We are humans who can, should and do express free agency. We can choose which practices to perpetuate and which ones to abandon (Oliver, 1991).

Particular practices become institutionalized not because they offer the best/efficient technical solution but because they were deemed the most appropriate at the specific situation (Scott, 2001). These practices take on a life of their own and diffuse widely. Simple practices that have been institutionalized can have tremendous impact in either perpetuating existing social injustices or leading to a more equitable society. At some critical points in time, society may deem them inappropriate and imposes change on the practices. Let's look at a specific case of student participation in class, followed by an example of selective marketing.

Institutionalized Practice: Raising Your Hand To Speak In Class

For various reasons, we want to encourage participation among students in class. The institutionalized way to seek participation is to ask a question of the class and students who are willing will raise their hands before speaking. We have forgotten how this practice got started nor why we do it but this is just "the way we do it." Even the venerable Harvard Business School does it (Kantor, 2013). Raising your hand before speaking in class is an institutionalized practice.

As it turns out, raising your hand in class to speak is culturally dependent. The Harvard Business School discovered recently that the school was exhibiting excessive gender inequalities on a massive scale (Kantor, 2013). Women, both faculty and student body, were being intimidated. Women students, they found in one study, were not raising their hands thus not speaking up and as a direct result were not assigned favorable grades and consistently ranked lower than men. The solution: Harvard MBA women students were corralled into a workshop designed specifically to help them overcome their inhibitions. (See suggested practices to Encourage Class Participation to overcome this inhibition.)

Institutionalized Cognition: Selective Marketing

Every business school student is subjected to a truism we inculcate in marketing and strategy courses: firms are best served by carefully picking the target customer. Marketers use careful market segmentation to split their markets into ever-finer categories of customers. Students (managers in the making) are taught to ignore or avoid marketing to customers they do not want serve (Treacy & Wiersema, 1995). In the process, individual manager/business decisions inadvertently create a systematic effect through market voids—i.e., markets that are under-served.

One of these under-served markets that is beginning to catch our attention is the poor. Because managers create strategies to pursue wealthy or the mass (middle income) markets, they avoid the poor and opening stores in blighted urban areas where crime is rampant. These under-served markets are caught in a vicious cycle of cause-and-effect. The poor can only afford to live where everyone else does not; they cannot afford to buy many basic amenities; companies find it expensive to serve them; stores leave the area creating a further downward spiral because the poor spend more on transportation to shop and work making the poor even less attractive to commerce.

In a specific case, Alkon and Agyeman (2011) point out that the same supermarket chains (e.g., Safeway Stores) that created a food desert (i.e., an area where there are no fresh food stores) in West and East Oakland have also put themselves into a fiercely competitive situation. In their efforts to ignore and abandon the food deserts, the large grocers find themselves moving into the markets that are well served by upscale stores with competitive prices. As a result, mid-market stores such as Safeway have intense pressure on both the low end (poor customers in food deserts who cannot afford to shop at Safeway) and the high end (wealthier customers who have been led to believe that competitors such as Whole Foods offer healthier groceries).

One solution for the under-served has led entrepreneurs to a principle known as the bottom of the pyramid (Prahalad & Mashelkar, 2010). Some real obstacles, however, have caught up with the fad (Garrette & Karnani, 2010), and left the rest of us in an unsatisfying position of promoting (or resisting with less vigor) the institutionalized practice of selective marketing.

The implication for management educators is that we must be careful in advocating the "best" strategies as truisms. We offer selective marketing as an end-all without reflection. Instead, the institutionalized cognitions (e.g., business strategies) we bring to the classroom should be tempered with nuanced, self-critical, and responsible lessons. Course content that includes consideration for diversity and social justice is one way to achieve a more real-world complexity in our lessons.

Current State of Diversity

Businesses, in general, have been improving on diversity by some measures and falling short on others. At the end of 2010, women comprise 47.2% of the workforce, up from 38% in 1970 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2012). By 2012, women surpass men who are employed in management, professional and related occupations for the first time. However, women only comprise 38% of those in management positions (see Figure 1 & Table 1).

Gender diversity diminishes substantially as one moves up the ladder. Women make 27% of vice presidents; 24% of senior vice presidents; and 19% of executives in the C-suite; according to a McKinsey report (Editors, 2013). And, no women are not leaving because of family reasons; they are leaving the workforce because they have lousy jobs (Editors, 2013) (see sidebar Figure 2).

Benefits To Organizations

Organizations have been criticized for being ignorant about diversity and treating people unfairly (Bell & Kravitz, 2008). Businesses, in particular, have two fundamental reasons for incorporating any practice: social norms and organizational performance. There is less debate on the normative imperative but the link between diversity and organizational performance is subtle and nuanced.

Social norms in ethical behavior have driven organizations for many years now. Organizations, generally, accept these ethical responsibilities including the need for diversity and social justice (Berger, et al., 2007; Carroll, 1979; Freeman, 1984). In response to laws requiring equal opportunity, businesses in the 1970's began to hire professionals to ensure a diverse workforce (Kelly & Dobbin, 1998). The laws, however, were vague and enforcement was weak. Businesses, though, morphed their legal programs into practices to promote diversity.

"Diversity is good for business," according to Thomas and Ely (1996). Diversifying merely to achieve the right numerical targets of racial, ethnic, gender or income groups does not improve organizational performance. Hiring members of an ethnic group to market products to that ethnic group is ineffective. Instead, diversification to bring in varied ideas, approaches, sensitivities, and perspectives in terms of how work tasks, objectives and strategies are developed does improve performance. Diversifying to better improve organizational learning and effectiveness is a much better objective than policies to comply with laws, access markets or achieve legitimacy. Other studies, too, show how diversity is more intricately linked to organizational performance (Kochan, et al., 2003).

I propose faculty consider weaving disciplinary content with skill-and-knowledge building for diversity and social justice. I use the weaving metaphor in order to show how our courses need not be "modular" in that we insert and delete content in blocks or lessons, but instead may be incrementally enhanced and infused with new considerations for DSJ. Much like a fabric is woven, we may introduce and increase DSJ considerations and content at a suitable pace and place in each course.

The more traditional way of incorporating new content is in adopting modular blocks of content, much as sustainability may be added to curriculums (Rusinko, 2010). Rusinko suggests that we may a new concept (e.g., via lecture), case reading or exercise into an existing course. This approach may be intimidating, however, to faculty who prefer to master their materials before incorporating into the formal lesson plan and or course materials.

Instead, a weaving metaphor suggests we may infuse "non-modular" content into a fabric in horizontal and vertical threads (Brown, 2004). Content is non-modular in that it is not discrete items of knowledge but rather ways of thinking. Horizontal threads introduce transformative learning through critical reflection stimulated by events, people and context that challenge the student's existing worldview. Vertical threads focus on students' ability to conduct self-learning: setting their own objectives, finding resources, making decisions and evaluating progress.

Weaving Inclusion

In the horizontal threads, we may introduce assumptions, worldviews, values, and experience into the classroom in a non-threatening way (Brown, 2004). As faculty, we not only teach when disseminating content but also when we express personal values and opinions. We want to be inclusive and can lead by being virtuous role models.

As an example, I begin each lesson by asking students to tell me what they read in the news (see suggested practices to Incorporate Broad Learning). Allowing students to talk about sports scores or crime in the news, if that is what they decide to share, sends a message of inclusion: no knowledge is epistemologically superior to another, and we may learn from anyone anywhere at any time. This period of free association of students’ cognition may be the ideal time to raise news or issues of DSJ content with no particular "relevance" to disciplinary or course content, thus allowing faculty to introduce DSJ content without claiming, nor do students expect, any expertise—everyone is entitled to free speech. We may express delight, anger, frustration, sadness, gratitude, appreciation and a whole range of emotions to news items that have DSJ relevance in a relatively risk-free period. The DSJ lesson is imparted subtly with little effort, and I assert these little lessons develop a mindset that is more accepting of diversity and social justice over time.

Weaving Self-Reflection

In the vertical threads, we may provide tools for self-reflection, self-control, and reflective judgment (Brown, 2004). Having been trained in the disciplines, we have a tendency of think of teaching and learning in the same canonical forms we learned: theories, concepts, and practices. We may be enamored by our favorite ideas, and subsequently it colors what we believe students must learn. However, self-reflection is where we get students to practice skills rather than regurgitate knowledge. We will be better served by providing tools for self-reflection.

In my class on Business, Government and Society, for example, I ask students to write about a social problem they are concerned about, and how organizations are involved either in the cause or in solving the problem. By providing the broadest possible way for them to demonstrate their mastery in materials covered in the course, students come up with the most imaginative topics that reflect their experiences and the world we live in. It is possible that students are driven by social desirability (Marlowe & Crowne, 1961), but the exercise nevertheless drives students to consider ethical theories and ways to improve social conditions.

Incorporating diversity and social justice into our courses is not a matter of compliance but a reflection of good teaching. We may be practicing institutionalized ideas because we have not fully reflected on the consequences of our actions. However, we must now take time to incorporate good teaching practices.

The framework for weaving as a first step, I hope, will make it easy for you to incorporate inclusive and self-critical DSJ considerations without significant modification to your courses. Easy to incorporate practices are listed in the Appendix. I also encourage you to use the weaving framework for incorporating more modular DSJ knowledge into your courses in the future.

Blackboard Introductions

Thanks to Asha Rao and Zinovy Radovilsky
Have students introduce themselves in a Blackboard discussion board. Ask them to say who they are; what they expect from class & you may also comment on their intros to encourage more. You may find that students that usually don’t want to speak in class are more prepared to write.
Everyone Has A Unique Perspective

Thanks to Asha Rao and Zinovy Radovilsky
In a warm-up exercise for class (e.g., the 1st meeting), separate students from their usual preference to sit with others of their cultural group. Then, ask students to talk about what they bring to the group or class, and what their weaknesses are. Some will explain how they are perceived as loud or argumentative, or how they bring a woman's perspective, etc.
Everyone Can Contribute

Thanks to Mary Anne Brady
Instead of a final group presentation, students sit in a circle (in the front of classroom) to discuss their group’s impressions of a book they read. The remaining students in the class can jump in with questions, comments and or reactions.
Calling On Students

Thanks to Ken Chung
The customary practice is to call on students who raise their hands but students may be too timid, shy, introverted, fearful of attracting attention to themselves, or uncomfortable with their speaking skills.

What I do is read students body behavior. Sometimes, students nod to show agreement or shake their heads in opposition to a suggestive question. Instead of waiting for these students to raise their hand voluntarily, I call them by name and ask for their opinion or to expound on the discussion.

Practice 2. Incorporate Broad Learning

Begin Class With News

Thanks to Ken Chung
Have students speak up about any news item they read recently.

I do not censor whether that news is relevant for class; any item is worthy of mention. I may make a comment or two on how the news is relevant to the class, if appropriate. Almost all students pay attention, and few if any are disengaged.

This practice also helps students who are more shy, timid, introverted, or have poor language skills because they need not "fit" into the flow of the class lesson and discussion. Speaking up is completely voluntary and (should be) unintimidating.
Use DSJ-Thought Provoking Examples

Thanks to Shirley Yap
When trying to illustrate disciplinary concepts, try to use examples that provoke DSJ thoughts. For example, using water flow (thus introducing environmental sustainability) to illustrate fluid dynamics.

Similarly, you may use DSJ examples in exercise, quiz and exam questions. For example, you may mention famous minority mathematicians, physicists, etc. (and make it explicit for those less aware of their reputations) instead of a generic "Joe Smith" as a character in test questions. Use "wheelchairs" instead of "widgets." Use "Marissa Meyer" instead of "an executive" or "Steve Jobs." Pick case readings from poorer developing nations instead of rich European nations. Use examples that break stereotypes.

Figure 1. Civilian Labor Workforce by Sex

Civilian Labor Workforce by Sex

Table 1. Management, Professional & Related Occupations by Sex

(Source: updated Feb 5, 2013)

HOUSEHOLD DATA - ANNUAL AVERAGES (Employed persons by occupation, sex, and age)
16 years
and over
16 years
and over
20 years
and over
16 years
and over
20 years
and over
Total 142,469 143,929 75,555 76,353 73,403 74,176 66,914 67,577 64,640 65,295
Management, professional, and related occupations 54,043 54,712 26,208 26,597 26,071 26,458 27,834 28,114 27,633 27,928
Management, business, and financial operations occupations 22,678 22,794 12,779 12,898 12,749 12,867 9,899 9,896 9,862 9,856
Management occupations 16,042 16,037 9,849 9,906 9,823 9,882 6,194 6,131 6,167 6,104
Business and financial operations occupations 6,636 6,757 2,931 2,992 2,926 2,985 3,705 3,765 3,695 3,752
Professional and related occupations 31,365 31,917 13,429 13,699 13,321 13,591 17,936 18,218 17,771 18,072
Computer and mathematical occupations 3,816 3,980 2,841 2,941 2,834 2,926 976 1,039 972 1,034
Architecture and engineering occupations 2,846 2,806 2,457 2,410 2,449 2,402 390 396 387 393
Life, physical, and social science occupations 1,316 1,307 720 705 719 703 596 602 590 599
Community and social service occupations 2,265 2,332 819 879 812 869 1,446 1,453 1,438 1,439
Legal occupations 1,786 1,809 885 891 884 889 901 918 898 914
Education, training, and library occupations 8,543 8,623 2,253 2,261 2,219 2,240 6,290 6,362 6,210 6,293
Arts, design, entertainment, sports, and media occupations 2,814 2,879 1,456 1,520 1,419 1,476 1,358 1,359 1,317 1,325
Healthcare practitioner and technical occupations 7,977 8,182 1,998 2,092 1,987 2,086 5,979 6,090 5,959 6,074
NOTE: Updated population controls are introduced annually with the release of January data.

Figure 2. Why Women Really Leave

Why Women Really Leave

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