At SOM, women face murky landscape

Nearly a month after a School of Management professor filed a lawsuit against the University alleging gender discrimination, a contradictory picture of the status of women at SOM has emerged.

SOM Professor Constance Bagley’s suit — which names SOM Dean Edward Snyder, Deputy Dean Andrew Metrick and Professor Douglas Rae as defendants — claims that Bagley was not reappointed to her position because of gender animus. Additionally, a report that was commissioned by University President Peter Salovey to investigate Bagley’s initial complaint over her reappointment proceedings described the school as a “chilly environment for women.”

“[The report] found that Professor Bagley had been subjected to a hostile environment at Yale SOM and that there had been ‘inappropriate comments and behaviors based on gender,’” Bagley’s suit reads. “Comments made to the committee during interviews [characterized] her ‘in a manner that may be deemed offensive to women.’”

But still, the full context under which the report criticized the school’s attitude toward women remains unclear, with the University declining to comment and Bagley declining to speak further on an ongoing legal matter. Several SOM students and faculty members interviewed described the school as an environment that is not exactly hostile, but nevertheless presents unique challenges to womena minority. Bagley’s lawsuit cites the fact that only 10 percent of the school’s tenured faculty are women, and it suggests that the dearth of women at the school contributes to an antagonistic climate for female faculty and students.

“An internal promotion took place this year, so that will make four [tenured female faculty members],” said Judy Chevalier, one of the tenured professors. “That’s certainly not enough.”

A somewhat higher 20 percent of the tenured, tenure-track and full-time lecturer faculty at the school are women. However, not all tenure-track professors or senior lecturers eventually receive tenure.

Chevalier said the school has had significant difficulty in recruiting women to tenured positions.

“I can’t count how many full professor offers we made to women from the outside over the last few years — a lot,” Chevalier said. “But those recruiting efforts weren’t successful.”

The percentage of female students at SOM is higher than that of faculty, with women making up 35 percent of the full-time class of 2014 pursuing master’s degrees in business administration. Compared to other business schools, according to SOM Spokeswoman Tabitha Wilde, this statistic places the school “solidly in the middle.”

SOM Dean Edward Snyder acknowledged the imbalance of men and women at the school to the News, but added that he plans to rectify it in the years to come.

“SOM has a low percentage of women among its tenured faculty,” Snyder said. “It is a high priority of mine to increase that percentage and to have a more diverse faculty, and it is important for the SOM community to make progress on this issue.”

Alison Damaskos SOM ’12 said that during her time at the school, women were not well-represented as teachers, as guest speakers or even as the protagonists in case materialtreatment at the school. One SOM faculty member expressed enthusiasm about the role of women — but only in the context of her specific department.

“The climate in [the Leadership Development Program] is one in which we recognize the value of many types of diversity, which includes but is not limited to gender diversity,” said Sarah Biggerstaff, citing that two of the three full-time faculty in the department are women. “As educators of leadership and leaders ourselves, the necessity of diversity, both gender and otherwise, is consistently on the forefront of our mind in LDP.”

Still, Biggerstaff noted that she could not say the same about the culture at SOM as a whole.

Socheata Poeuv SOM ’12 said she feels that women at SOM are pressured to conform to standards driven by the male-dominated business world. Poeuv said she was encouraged to learn about sports and how to play golf in order to better interact with male colleagues and superiors.

“I think that there was a sense that we as women, in a way, were there to learn how to be in business,” Poeuv said, “which sometimes means that you may have to adopt behaviors that may be characterized as stereotypically male.”

Poeuv also said that female students are often not given the same consideration as men. She recalled an instance during a class in which a female student made a point that went unacknowledged by the professor or other students. Minutes later, a male student made the same point, albeit with different terms, to which the professor responded, “Yeah, that’s exactly right.”

Such occurrences, Poeuv said, were not isolated.

Damaskos, who served as the co-head of Women in Management, the largest SOM organization for female students, said she was “reminded on a daily basis of the lack of female visibility” during her time as a student.

According to a current SOM student who asked to remain anonymous, the 35 percent statistic is far more shocking when experienced in person than when read on paper.

The experience for female students — who are well represented in student clubs and government — differs from that of female academics at SOM, Damaskos said, adding that she has seen unsupportiveness and undercurrents of disrespect toward some of SOM’s female professors.

In her suit, Bagley claimed that Rae, a professor who cotaught her class, frequently exhibited gender animus by slamming his office door in Bagley’s face and mocking a woman’s voice.

Bagley said there are further, more specific examples of Rae’s misogyny, but declined to comment further because of the ongoing nature of her lawsuit. She also did not elaborate on the contents of the University-commissioned report that found her to have been subject to a discriminatory environment.

University Spokesman Tom Conroy also declined to elaborate upon the contents of the report or speak further on the case beyond the University’s initial statement in early January, which said that Bagley’s suit is without merit.

But across SOM, female faculty and students interviewed agreed that they have seen instances of gender discrimination. They also all said that the attitudes towards women at SOM are a symptom of the broader culture amongst business schools and in the corporate world.

“It absolutely applies to other business schools,” Damaskos said. “It’s not unique to SOM in the least.”

However, women at other business schools suggested that cultures across business schools may not be identical.

Elea McDonnell Feit, an adjunct professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, said that unlike Poeuv, she had never been pressured to conform to any stereotypically male behaviors, such as learning to play golf.

At the University of Wisconsin Business School, 50 percent of students and approximately 20 percent of tenured faculty are women, according to Joan Schmit, who served as the first female interim dean of the school.

“Do people recommend that MBAs learn how to play golf? Yes, they do,” Schmit said. “I personally chose never to learn precisely to be a renegade, and it clearly hasn’t hurt me.”

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