Research Roundup: February 2022

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Wednesday, February 23, 2022
By AACSB Staff
Scholars seek solutions for keeping women in the workplace, reducing ostracism in the military, and persuading people to eat more sustainably.

Welcoming Women in the Workplace

Why do millennial women of color leave companies? For many, it’s simply easier to leave than to stay and struggle to make their voices heard. That is the conclusion of Davina Zietsman, owner of the consulting firm DEZ Advisory Services, located in Centurion, South Africa; and Kurt April, Endowed Allan Gray Chair and director of the Allan Gray Centre for Values-Based Leadership at the University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business in South Africa.

For their paper recently published in Effective Executive, Zietsman and April interviewed 25 women in South Africa to learn why these women resigned from their organizations. The interviewees shared that in their former jobs they had felt excluded by their male co-workers. Zietsman and April point out, however, that men might not have excluded women intentionally. Rather, many likely acted out of an unconscious bias to seek out others like themselves. This phenomenon, known as “homosocial reproduction,” frequently results in workplaces that are tailored to older white men.

“We know that people in ‘old boys’ networks’ receive twice as many job leads as women or individuals from other marginalized groups,” the co-authors write in an article on the UCT GSB website. In addition, “male-dominated environments can sometimes lead to a more ruthless culture at work, where men are driven to perform ‘at all costs.’ Working as a woman in a winner-takes-all environment is stressful, exhausting, and uninspiring.” 

According to a 2020 McKinsey report, companies with diverse executive teams are 25 percent more profitable than their less diverse counterparts. To reap this benefit, the co-authors suggest, companies should focus on making improvements in six areas. These areas include fostering diversity, amplifying women’s voices, providing developmental support, providing management support, enabling more inclusive work environments, and offering equitable rewards and recognition.

To foster diversity, for example, companies might appoint more women of color to senior positions. To provide developmental support, they could offer more mentorship and coaching support to both women and men.

For many women, “the decision to leave and start afresh can lead to a happier and more fulfilled personal and professional life,” Zietsman and April write. But companies can deliver more value, they add, by giving women “a louder voice” in the workplace and building more diverse, equitable, and inclusive organizational cultures. “Our communities and economy deserve it, and will be stronger for it.”

Reducing Social Ostracism in the Military

An ongoing research project in the U.S. seeks to increase inclusivity in an already challenging working environment: the military. Researchers at the Gatton College of Business and Economics at the University of Kentucky in Lexington and the Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts Amherst have entered into a three-year collaboration with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). The DoD has supplied 1.8 million USD in funding for research that promises to identify ways to reduce ostracism, create more socially inclusive environments, increase retention, and improve performance within military contexts.

The principal investigator for this project will be Susan Zhu, an assistant professor of management at the Gatton College. Her co-investigators include Mikhail Wolfson, assistant professor of management and Vernon Smith Fellow at the Gatton College; and Joe Labianca, Berthiaume Chaired Professor of Leadership at the Isenberg School.

Researchers will work to identify interventions that will reduce ostracism from the moment military personnel begin to form their personal networks during training and deployment.

A large part of this objective is to eliminate the abusive culture that can exist within military environments; such cultures can contribute to higher rates of depression, suicide, sexual violence, harassment, domestic abuse, and alcohol and substance use among members of the armed forces. Even more passive forms of abuse, such as social ostracism, can have an outsized impact on performance, says Zhu. “The feeling of being invisible, unimportant, and unworthy of attention can be deeply distressing,” she notes in an article on the Gatton College’s website.

Zhu and her team first will analyze data to discover the factors that lead to social ostracism, before working to identify effective interventions that will reduce ostracism from the moment military personnel begin to form their personal networks during training and deployment. Such interventions might range from teaching individuals how to address bad behavior when they witness it to integrating inexpensive behavioral “nudges” that set people up to do the right thing automatically.

The researchers hope their findings will be useful not just for the military, but for all organizations working to reduce ostracism and promote inclusivity within their cultures.

Stronger ESG Leads to Resilient SMEs

The financial health of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) might rise in proportion to their investment in environmental, social, and governance (ESG) practices, according to a new study from researchers at Vlerick Business School in Ghent, Belgium.

Professor David Veredas and doctoral candidate Dimitrios Kolokas examined how ESG investment affected the credit risk of 350 SMEs—the researchers used credit risk as a measure of an operation’s overall resilience. After rating the ESG performance of these businesses based on information posted on websites and highlighted in sustainability reports, Veredas and Kolokas found that, on average, an 11 percent increase in an SME’s ESG performance resulted in a 3.5 percent decrease in its credit risk.

The more creditworthy an SME, the greater its access to financial resources and the stronger its relationships with stakeholders, say Veredas and Kolokas. Furthermore, less creditworthy operations not only have more trouble attracting capital, but also are more likely to resort to “greenwashing,” in which they present themselves to investors as more environmentally responsible than they actually are.

The study, commissioned by the bank ABN Amro Belgium, shows that less resilient SMEs would be better off securing enough capital to improve their ESG practices. “It is reasonable to assume that high-risk SMEs that manage to allocate financial resources to ESG projects would be able to enjoy the perks of ESG,” the co-authors argue, including improved stakeholder relationships, better access to advisors, and increased liquidity.

Ultimately, they add, these perks not only benefit the business, but bring society closer to achieving its sustainability goals. “SMEs are the backbone of the European economy. Therefore, the sustainability goals cannot be achieved without their involvement.”

A Call to Teach Strategy Execution

Many businesses see their strategies fail, not because their strategies are poorly designed, but because they are poorly executed. Unfortunately, many graduate business curricula do not teach students how to execute strategy effectively. That’s the conclusion of the Business Architecture Guild, an international membership organization for business architecture practitioners, and the MBA Roundtable, a global association of business schools delivering graduate management education.

In a survey conducted in July 2021, the two organizations asked business schools to submit syllabi from any courses they offered that cover strategy execution. Thirty-eight schools submitted syllabi, including 36 from the United States and two from Canada. Of these syllabi, 33 focused primarily on strategic management. Only ten of the courses in this group included a module on strategy execution.

Many strategy courses taught in graduate business programs focus primarily on the human elements of strategy, without discussing the link between strategy and execution.

Only four used the words “strategy execution” or “strategy implementation” in their titles. Moreover, these courses teach cases that “focus heavily on the human and organizational elements of strategy implementation,” such as managing people, overcoming resistance to change, and building effective teams, according to the report. None of the courses link execution with business strategy or use cases that focus on strategy execution, the researchers note.

“The need for business architecture is a critical, but often missing, link between strategy and execution,” says Whynde Kuehn, chair of the Business Architecture Guild’s Academic Program. “Business architecture offers a needed complement to business [curricula that prepare] business and IT leaders with the foundation and in-demand skills needed to execute strategic change.”

Registration is now open for a webinar, scheduled for March 15 at 1 p.m. EST, where representatives from both organizations will discuss this project in more detail.

What Could Persuade People to Eat Crickets?

Experts worry about two potential impending global crises: climate change and food insecurity. Of particular concern is that the world will not be able to produce enough food for its growing population. What’s worse, traditional protein sources such as meat contribute significantly to the production of greenhouse gases.

According to the United Nations, there is a far more sustainable, and nutritious, food source available: insects. But insect-based food producers are finding it difficult to convince people to make insects a regular staple in their diets. Luckily, a new paper shows that a prominent marketing strategy—the use of celebrity endorsements—might be just enough to increase the public’s willingness to give insect-based foods a try.

The cross-disciplinary study recently appeared in the journal Food Quality and Preference. Its co-authors include Jaewoo Park from the department of food marketing at Chuo University and Kosuke Motoki from the department of food science and business at Miyagi University, both in Japan; Carlos Velasco from the Centre for Multisensory Marketing at BI Norwegian University in Norway; and Charles Spence from the department of experimental psychology at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.

The research team created 66 fictitious ads for insect-based products, including a cricket protein bar and a mealworm burger. Of these ads, 64 featured endorsements from celebrities, including actors, musicians, and athletes; two featured no celebrity endorsements. Before viewing the ads, study participants were asked to read information about the benefits of eating insect-based foods.

The researchers found that providing participants with information about insect-based foods increased their “willingness to eat” (WTE) these products. However, ads with celebrities also swayed participants’ opinions, depending on the celebrity’s “perceived trustworthiness.” That said, the gender of participants mattered. Ads featuring actors such as Angelina Jolie and Dwayne Johnson increased WTE among both men and women, but ads featuring athletes increased WTE among men only. Ads featuring musicians had no effect on men and reduced WTE among women.

“Perceived attractiveness of a celebrity did not influence opinion,” says Velasco. “Our findings demonstrate that celebrity endorsement can be a very effective strategy to increase consumer interest in eating more insects, as long as the right celebrity is targeted at the right gender.”

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AACSB Staff
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