The case of the missing woman: addressing the issues

Here, Lesley Symons discusses a number of ways in which the issues she highlights in her recently published thesis, Where are the Women Leaders?, can be addressed.

The first step is for business schools to understand the scale of the problem and the overall message they are giving to students across each individual programme studied.

Business schools need to look at the totality of cases on each programme and rate them against the Symons Test* (Harvard may be doing this). If they cannot do this through their systems, then a quick questionnaire to each professor about the cases used on their programmes and how they rate on the Symons Test would achieve this.

Carrying out this exercise would give schools a rough idea of how big the issue is at their institution. At the same time, it would help to highlight the issue to professors. 

Women in key leadership roles

There needs to be a focus on getting more cases written that feature women in key leadership roles. Professors should be encouraged to write and use them; maybe this could be achieved through prize money or grants. Perhaps The Case Centre could introduce an award for the best case that features a woman protagonist/and or that’s gender balanced! It could also help by highlighting more cases that feature women.

Institutions should follow Harvard’s example of specifying how many cases on each programme must feature a female protagonist.

Championing the cause

Business school leaders, including deans, need to believe in this and have someone close to them championing and leading the cause (preferably male).

I also believe that organisations that run case competitions and awards, including The Case Centre, should actively ask case writers whether the protagonist in their case is female or male.

Finally, business schools need to have a gender initiative to review and address the number of women on their boards and female professors teaching on their programmes.

*Lesley adapted the Bechdel Test to analyse the cases. The Bechdel Test is used to measure the active presence of female characters in Hollywood films. See main feature for more details.

About Lesley

Lesley Symons is a Leadership Coach and Mentor. Her MA Thesis 2014, INSEAD Executive Masters in Coaching and Consulting for Change, Where are the Women Leaders? Invisible Selves: Writing Women Leaders into Business School Case Papers. Lesley is committed to increasing the presence of women in business schools.
tw @LesleySymonsC

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