Examining the “Service” of Business Education for Women: A Service-Dominant Logic Perspective
Numerous studies identify failures in business school output (Thomas and Corneul 2012). Citing a gap between the skills and knowledge desired by prospective employers and the preparedness of new business graduates, the business school faces increased pressures to improve education. A lack of relevance in topics, outdated teaching methods, and insufficient faculty diversity are among some of the most predominant arguments for improving the business school experience.
These failures, and corresponding need for improvement, are particularly important for women as existing research have been found to have a (greater) disproportionate impact on women than men Connell and Ryan (2011). Currently, business schools are said to evoke a male dominant bias due to the focus on “hard” management and the overly aggressive and competitive environment (Parsons and Priola 2010; White et al. 2011). A cumulative effect of sexist use of language, presentation of stereotypical views of women, and instructors favoring male students reportedly dissuade women from enrolling and achieving success in business classes (Crombie et al. 2003). In support of these claims, recent statistics suggest that business is the only area of graduate studies that has not seen a similar increase in women.
Stakeholder groups such as prospective employers, business practitioners, and incoming students benefit from an improved business school curriculum because students may be better prepared to face the reality of an increasingly complex and diverse business environment (McMurray et al. 2016). In particular, because the business school relative to other areas of education is the typical entry point for employers recruiting management-level trainees, many suggest the College of Business (COB) should improve business practice. Unfortunately, reports suggest the experience of a business school education may extend beyond graduation to perpetuate gender equality in the workforce (Warhurst 2011).
Our research into these COB failures suggests many are likely the result of traditional views of economic exchange (i.e., economic science) upon which a significant majority of business thought and, more importantly for this context, business education is based. Recent research in marketing has demonstrated the failures of many classic economic assumptions, or premises; yet these same assumptions and corresponding failures as a result of classic economic theory have not been addressed or articulated in any educational context. As such, we begin with a brief, yet critical, discussion of the (economic science) foundation upon which America’s COBs were, and continue to be, based. We use this historical foundation to frame (and explain) how current COB curricula and teaching methods have negatively impacted all COB students, and particularly women. We then discuss how new marketing theories relating to service (singular) provide not only an alternative lens for understanding education’s role and practice but also practical, and immediately actionable, avenues for improving the current COB educational system for women, as well as all students in general.
The Foundations of Business Thought and Education
When the opportunity of a formal business education emerged at the end of the nineteenth century with the creation of America’s first business colleges (e.g., the Wharton School in 1881 – University of Pennsylvania; the Booth School in 1898 – University of Chicago; the Tuck School in 1900 – Dartmouth College), the prevailing thinking was that a nation’s wealth, and therefore value, was rooted in one’s access to natural resources and the, subsequent, wealth (i.e., outputs) one’s resources could produce not only for the enhancement of the nation’s members but also for export in exchange for the desired resources and outputs one lacked domestically (Smith 1776/1904). The fundamental practices taught in early COBs were very functional by nature and focused on practical approaches to management. During this time, most faculty were either current or retired industrial managers (primarily men) teaching male students who lived and worked near the campus in which they were enrolled. As economic thought and the focus of business education began to shift toward research (to improve business practices), economic science became the fundamental curriculum of these business colleges. Specifically, these theories were rooted in the ever-growing need to enhance production and distribution efforts as production increasingly moved away from the agricultural fields and individual homes and into the factory. Theories pertaining to specialization of labor suggested these newly formed business colleges, and sub-disciplines (e.g., marketing, accounting), would provide the necessary efficiencies to enhances one’s (America’s) overall wealth (Vargo and Lusch 2004).
However, emerging disciplines’ early efforts to gain legitimacy are often grounded in justification, differentiation, and classification of what is being taught and/or studied. Like that of economics earlier on, each subdiscipline believed that if they were to ever be “accepted” as viable “sciences,” they must be able to model, in a deterministic sense, mathematical rules, and “laws” similar to those of mathematics and other (natural) sciences (e.g., Mill 1848). Quantifiable measurement became a critical, and enduring, focus.
Similarly, as economics was rooted in the transformation and subsequent sale of resources for maximal (exchange) value (e.g., selling price), COBs, too, became obsessed with the development of tangible outputs (goods). They, unlike their intangible “siblings” (services), were easily measurable, quantifiable, and highly similar to those resources empirically studied within economics. Furthermore, due to repeated misinterpretation and (mis)citation of Adam Smith’s, the “father of economic thought,” Wealth of Nations (1776/1904 – Vol. 1, Book 2, Ch. 3, pp. 314–318), services were deemed “unproductive” and, therefore, unworthy of any significant, much less leadership, role in business research/curricula.
A Goods-Dominant Logic to Business and Business Education
This overt, almost singular, focus on production outputs ushered in what has now become commonly referred to as the goods-dominant logic (GDL), which has dominated business school curricula throughout the twentieth, and even early twenty-first, century (Bettencourt et al. 2014; Vargo and Lusch 2004). Value, wealth, and, therefore, success have all become inextricably linked to the production of tangible, homogeneous, and nonperishable goods. Thus suggesting that homogeneity in curriculum and students provide relatively more value due to increased efficiency. Services, conversely, have been commonly referred to as having IHIP (intangible, heterogeneous, inseparable, and perishable) characteristics; all of which are seen as largely negative for maximizing one’s (e.g., a company or nation’s) exchange value potential (Dunne et al. 2014).
A term that is almost ubiquitous in COB classrooms, corporate boardrooms, and even shareholder reports is value-added; this “value-added” lens is foundational to the GDL paradigm of business yet is easily applied to the current, educational, context. When viewed through a “value-added” (GDL) lens, students are “goods” or “products;” producers (faculty, curricula, administrators, etc.) add value (mold, create, or enhance) to their products (students). To further underscore how truly pervasive the GDL – and symbiotically the value-added paradigm – is throughout all of education, consider how often one might hear the phrase, “to shape individuals’ (or even the country’s) future” via education (or by being an educator).
Products need shaping (value-added) so they can later be sold in a marketplace for the greatest amount of value (exchange value). Understandably, a business education is heavily influenced by the value-added concept. The value-added concept may (un)knowingly be operationally appealing to educators because it positions (educational) value in terms of what each sub-discipline, college, and even university controls. Administrators do research what companies’ likely responses are to different variations in the bundles of attributes taught to students, but these responses are only done to maximize the course materials embedded upon students (output). This focus suggests the value of the materials, labor, and services contributed to each output (student) is unidirectional, and it simultaneously underemphasizes the importance of the customer (recruiters in the marketplace), as well as the students who bring their own knowledge, skills, experiences to the classroom. Consequently, the integration of these resources aids (future) employers in better identifying needs, solving problems, and providing solutions (i.e., to provide service) to their respective customers.
The Failure of a Goods-Dominant Logic for Business Education
As suggested earlier, a GDL perspective puts a heavy emphasis on analytical models and reductionism – what is measurable, quantifiable, controllable, and, therefore, easily standardized. It is a production-focused mentality centered upon generating outputs (e.g., students) that has led to a singular philosophy for educational exchange in the COB. Although this may have aided the efficiency of information exchange during that time, businesses, their resources, and therefore their current needs require business schools provide more than one (standardized) solution (e.g., vestiges of the assembly line). Students are not, and should not, represent production outputs. Similarly, not all students have, nor desire, similar capabilities either for jobs or, more importantly, their educations. What is needed is a change in philosophy – one that not only better addresses the needs of the marketplace (one’s future employers) but also, and more importantly, the service of education for all students.
A Service-Dominant Logic for Education
Over the last decade, a new, and significant, paradigm of/for business has emerged – a Service-Dominant Logic (SDL) (e.g., Vargo and Lusch 2004). At its most foundational level, it argues that individuals do not buy, exchange, or even produce goods; rather, service (through the performance of deeds, processes, and performances for others) is the root of all exchange – business, social, interpersonal, etc. While Vargo and Lusch’s (2004) initial conceptualization was framed for the marketing community, its application has grown significantly over the last decade to include many domains outside of business (see Bettencourt et al. 2014 and Vargo & Lusch 2016 for further discussion).
A Jobs-To-Be-Done Lens: Women and Business Education
If COBs are to best address the known impediments for women achieving a meaningful business education, they must view the problem(s) using a JTBD-lens. A JTBD-lens shifts the focus from what is being produced to enabling students to get their jobs done successfully. As such, this is achieved by asking the “right” types of questions, such as “How do women evaluate value when it comes to their educational experiences and desired results?”, “What unique know-how does (our) COB possess that might help women make the most out of their educational experiences?”, “How might our know-how be better integrated with the resources of partners (other colleges, company partners/recruiters, business thought-leaders, etc.) to help women cocreate the most meaningful educational experience(s) via the COB?”, and “What are some of the current needs, and problems faced, by our resource partners so as to better understand the desired jobs-to-be-done by our (future) female graduates?”
By embracing a JTBD (service) lens, COBs can do a better job in their quest to provide a meaningful, and by extension, more valuable, educational experience to women. Understandably, such questioning challenges long-term, firmly-held assumptions about value and the role of not only the COB, but also, and more importantly, its female student population. Students are no longer “products” to be shaped, created, or managed; they are active participants in the value creation process. Similarly, employers are no longer customers of COB-created value; they too are active participants in the value-creation process. Everyone (students, faculty, companies, and colleges) is a cocreator of value, and value is only realized through the exchange of service (knowledge, skills, and abilities through the act of deeds, processes, and performances for the benefit of others).
Primary Jobs-To-Be-Done to Improve Business Education
The following discussion is by no means and attempt at an exhaustive, or comprehensive, solution to the current criticisms/trends associated with COBs. Instead, it is intended to provide a baseline understanding, or framework, upon which further, more specialized, investigations can build. In so doing, the conclusion will describe the three primary criticisms voiced in the literature, while simultaneously identifying how a JTBD-lens might identify appropriate questions and corrective measures to be taken in the future.
Question 1: What Teaching, and/or Learning, Approaches are Most Desirable by Resources Partners (e.g., Recruiters) and (Female) Students to Better Address the Needs of the Workplace?
Extant research has consistently demonstrated that students have a strong desire to feel challenged while simultaneously learning topics that are relevant to future employment. Yet the traditional paradigm of business schools is hard-pressed to provide students with relevant business educations to meet the needs of diverse employers. COB courses largely require students to learn information that is often too technical, too heavily rooted in “best practices” (standardized), overly rational, and routinely focused on delivering short-term, non-contextualized, materials that lack lasting value applicable to the current (or future) business environments (see Augier and March 2007).
Such mechanized, overtly measurement-driven education has led many to suggest that COB students exiting college with underdeveloped, yet extremely important, behavioral skills, particularly those relating to effective communication, multicultural awareness, and leadership (Hawawini 2005). All of these “softer skills,” as many refer to them, are routinely pointed out by recruiters as critical for building relationships, establishing trust, and evoking a sense of commitment and “citizenship” amongst colleagues and businesses alike. Taken together, critics suggest COBs are failing to sufficiently prepare students for an increasingly complex business environment where relational skills, the ability to interact with, and operate within, diverse populations, and a keen ability to problem-solve are paramount.
For women, the lack of relevance in coursework has additional implications for their success. As a result of the indicated preoccupation with measurement and control in business courses, education theorists suggest students are taught under a pretense of a male moral bias. For women, relational theory (often considered to be a part of feminist theory) provides an approach to understanding women’s experiences (this theory does not propose to apply to all women) that may be indicative of their sense of self and morality (Buttner 2002). Relational theory suggests that much of women’s psychological development is rooted in connection to others. Relational practice in organizations contributes to employee effectiveness and enhanced work performance. Further studies suggest cultivating relational practices, particularly for women, operating in large corporations may lead to a competitive advantage in the marketplace as a result of better relationships, empathy, collective empowerment, and enhancing team effectiveness (Rapoport and Bailyn 1996). For women entrepreneurs, relational practices also reportedly enhanced the decision-making efforts of the startup team and aid in the development of a unified vision of their venture (Buttner 2001).
Thus one approach to improve the relevance of topics and materials covered in the coursework is to use relational theory in practice. For women, particular emphasis must be placed on the value of the diversity of experiences brought forth by various resource partners. Facilitating such relational, softer, skills in a classroom environment is sure to be both challenging and rigorous for faculty and students. From a faculty-member’s perspective, one is no longer able to “control,” or pre-plan, one’s lectures and classroom-experiences. Such classroom experiences are organic and dialog-driven, which will surely put a premium on educator preparedness. However, the challenging-nature of such a service-driven, classroom environment does not fall solely at the feet of faculty members. If students are to enhance the collaborative and relational skills employers’ desire, students must come (significantly) prepared to each and every class meeting; failure to do so will surely limit, if not eliminate, the possibility for dialog-driven, cocreative, learning experiences. Furthermore, cocreative learning environments are predicated on students’ willingness to put forward one’s own judgments/ideas for critical evaluation by other students and the faculty member(s) involved. Dialog-based, seminar-style classes should simply result in a more organic, more idiosyncratic learning experience emphasizing the knowledge, skills, and experiences of all participants (faculty and students). Absent relational theories in practice, all students, but particularly women, will not have an opportunity to learn, engage, and practice these skills during their business school experience and, thereby, lose some of their competitive advantage in the workforce.
Question 2: What Current Teaching Techniques Used in the COB are Likely to Stifle (Female) Students’ Maximal Learning Potential, and What Resources Exist That Might Later be Integrated to Enhance Students’ Future Classroom Experiences?
Unidirectional, lecture-based teaching continues to be the norm throughout much of the COB. This may be carryover from the GDL paradigm, the result of faculty fears over losing control of the material to be covered or perhaps some combination thereof. Regardless of its origin, predetermined, lecture-based classroom experiences fail to accommodate the learning preferences/predispositions of many students. Lecture-based teaching is a passive method of embedding knowledge in students. Furthermore, it limits the opportunities students have to meaningfully engage in conversation with faculty and students alike when a topic(s) of interest presents itself to the student. As such, it’s not surprising that recent research finds students are 1.5 times more likely to fail a course(s) if taught in a unidirectional, lecture-based format (Freeman et al. 2014). Lecture-based classrooms simply result in many students perceiving the learning environment as “closed” for active questioning.
For employers, the lecture-based approach can be problematic because students are not prepared to communicate and consequently advocate for their ideas. One alternative implemented by many COBs is the case-based method of teaching. Popularized by the Harvard Business School, this approach to learning was designed to give students the opportunity to learn by solving real-business problems. Unlike a lecture-based approach, the students lead classroom discussion while the professor is responsible for facilitating dialogue (i.e., coproducing knowledge and skills).
For women, the lecture-based and case-based approaches to learning provide different challenges. First, a lecture-based approach to learning is found to be less effective when students are not engaged in the classroom dialogue and to be particularly problematic for diverse student populations. For under-represented minorities’ (e.g., women in the business school), alternative approaches to traditional lecture-based courses can improve perceived leadership skills, positively reinforce core concepts, and help students break down complex tasks. However, currently, self-reports suggest business cases are not valued similarly by women and men. A recent study suggests more than half of the women enrolled in business schools could not relate to the characters in the case studies because they are absent in many roles (Catalyst Survey 2000).
Thus potential options for improving case-based dialogue and learning may require altering characters in cases to include women in leadership roles with specific case-scenarios identifying business success from the perspective of women leaders. Furthermore, altering the structure of dialogue may bring increased benefits to women as previous research suggests much of the traditional classroom conversation is dominated by male students. Additional resources may include classroom response systems (i.e., clickers), flipped-classrooms, and connected learning. Arguably, the transition from viewing female students as similar to males (output) to cocreators of educational value may also bring a significant refocus to future approaches to classroom dialogue.
Question 3: What Resource Partners (e.g., Faculty, Industry Experts) are Available, or Should be Integrated in the Future, so as To Enhance (Female) Students’ Ability to Cocreate New Knowledge, Skills, and Competences?
Lack of diversity limits exposure to diverse experiences, skills, and knowledge from which to best examine a problem for possible service solutions. Business, in particular, faces increasing globalization, rapid technology development, and changing workplace demographics. As such, the business school faculties, similar to business practitioners, are a critical catalyst of change to improve the diversity of students entering Corporate America. Industry experts suggest that gender-diverse companies are more likely to outperform their peers by 15% and ethnically-diverse companies are 35% more likely to do the same. Teams with diversity are much more likely to outperform their peers in team-based assessments, and for companies with women represented on the board of directors, they are also shown to outperform their peers.
From a JTBD lens, faculty are cocreators of service via their unique knowledge and skills. If students and business practitioners are to receive the reciprocal effects of improving gender and diversity profiles among COB faculty, then the COB must improve diversity of faculty teaching in the classroom. The value of these relationships is supported by recent reports suggesting that female COB students report not having adequate opportunities to work with female faculty while acquiring their business degree (Catalyst 2000). Furthermore, recent reports suggest a majority of the US flagship State universities lag far behind in their faculty diversity when compare with that of their student body (Myers 2016). Upon consideration of faculty as cocreators of knowledge, skills, and value, efforts to increase the diversity of faculty have critical implications to enhancing the diversity of students as well as that of future business executives. Thus industry practitioners must support the teaching of business facility to enhance the diversity of gender (and ethnicity) facilitating learning in the classroom today.
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