Diversity gaps

Apr 28th, 2022

Susan White

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Diversity gaps

Two studies examining different aspects of gender diversity gaps have been recognized for their practical impact by leaders at Memorial’s business faculty.

Dr. Alyson Byrne and Dr. Erin Oldford are the first dual winners of the Faculty of Business Administration Advisory Board Research Impact Award, which recognizes research impact on teaching, practice or policy.

“It’s meaningful to know that business leaders from Newfoundland and Labrador who are on the advisory board appreciated the work that my colleagues and I did, particularly with respect to the topic of gender diversity in leadership,” said Dr. Byrne, associate professor of human resource management and organizational behaviour at the business faculty.

Beneficial strategies

Dr. Byrne’s study, Women leaders’ views on demand-side strategies, analyzed the results of interviews with senior female leaders across North America to consider ways the gender gap in senior management may be narrowed.

It was published in the Journal of Managerial Psychology and co-authored by Dr. Ingrid Chadwick of Concordia University and Dr. Amanda Hancock, then a PhD in management student at Memorial’s business faculty.

The results were surprising, with 65 per cent of participants identifying demand-side strategies as beneficial, if controversial.

Demand-side strategies are policy interventions, such as gender targets, gender quotas and reporting requirements, that aim to increase the minimum standards of gender representation in organizations.

Such strategies do increase the numbers of women in senior roles, Dr. Byrne says, but they may also create a perception of those positions not being earned or based on merit.

Conversations need to change

Dr. Byrne says in order for gender quotas, targeting and reporting to be effective, conversations need to change. “People need to feel safe to talk about gender and leadership within their organizations.”

There also needs to be support from the top down and as from male allies, she adds.

“I hope the findings from our study will influence leaders and organizations to navigate the challenges associated with gender diversity in leadership roles, ultimately improving the goals for diversity in leadership.”

Gendered language in finance recruitment

While Dr. Byrne’s research explored attitudes about gender diversity in senior leadership roles, Dr. Oldford’s looked at an issue for women just starting their careers.

In her paper, Decoding bias: Gendered language in finance internship job postings, Dr. Oldford examined job postings for internship positions in the finance industry to determine whether they contribute to the industry’s gender imbalance.

“… companies will continue to face challenges recruiting women to posted positions … unless they address this subtle bias.” — Dr. Erin Oldford

Along with co-author Dr. John Fiset from St. Mary’s University, they assessed the language of finance internship job postings across North America, finding that primarily agentic language was used – even at organizations known for their diversity and inclusion policies.

“Research to date shows us that women and men respond differently to different kinds of language,” said Dr. Oldford. “Men tend to respond to language that is agentic, which is self-oriented and focuses on power and achievement. Women respond more to communal language, which focuses on harmony and collaboration within an organization.”

Industry first

The result, says Dr. Oldford, is a mismatch.

Firms want to attract female interns but the ads trying to recruit them are turning them away.

“We surmise that companies will continue to face challenges recruiting women to posted positions – and even more, recruiting women into the finance industry – unless they address this subtle bias,” she said.

Their study is the first to examine this issue in the finance industry.

“It’s important to me to pursue research questions that are relevant and contribute to understanding and resolving real-world problems,” said Dr. Oldford. “Being recognized with this award gives me confidence that I’m heading in the right direction.”

Dr. Oldford is an assistant professor and interim associate dean (undergraduate programs). The paper was published in the Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Finance.