Research Roundup: June 2023

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Tuesday, June 27, 2023
By AACSB Staff
The efficacy of blind evaluations, the educational preferences of Gen Z, and CoRe collaborations among African and European researchers.

Belonging Activity Boosts First-Year Completion

The results of a multisite randomized controlled trial are in: Students who completed a brief online reading exercise designed to instill a greater sense of social belonging finished their first year in college at higher rates than their peers.

Conducted during the summers of 2015 and 2016, the trial was led by researchers at two entities at the University of Indiana (IU) in Bloomington: the College Transition Collaborative and the IU Equity Accelerator. The trial involved nearly 27,000 first-year students from 22 U.S. colleges and universities, including IU.

Prior to coming to campus, the students were invited to complete a social belonging exercise that was included with other university-provided checklists. For the exercise, students first read survey results and curated stories in which older students emphasized that concerns about fitting in on campus are normal. The older students also shared how their own concerns about fitting in lessened over time and how they had grown through their experiences. Next, the first-year students were given the opportunity to write reflections on what they had learned.

The trial results, published in May in Science, show that students who had completed the exercise demonstrated greater persistence in their studies, finishing the first year of college at higher rates than those who did not complete the exercise. The intervention had the strongest positive effect at institutions with existing strategies that promoted a sense of belonging among students.

On average, the Education Data Initiative places the 12-month dropout rate at 749 four-year colleges and universities in the U.S. at 24.1 percent. If these schools adopted a similar belonging exercise, the research team estimates that annually 12,136 more full-time students would complete their first year of college, benefiting students from underrepresented backgrounds the most. 

“In addressing equity, it is important to have actionable results that can be used to improve student experiences and outcomes,” says Mary Murphy, founder of the IU Equity Accelerator and professor of psychological and brain sciences. “We hope institutions can build on our findings … to identify better ways to support their students.”

Do Blinding Strategies Mitigate Bias?

When managers assess their employees’ ideas, to what extent does bias affect their evaluations? And do “blinding” strategies—in which names, genders, departments, and locations of those proposing ideas are removed—make a difference?

Four researchers conducted a field experiment with 38 innovation managers at a large multinational company. The team, which published its results in the Strategic Management Journal, includes Linus Dahlander of ESMT Berlin; Arne Thomas of Amsterdam Business School; Martin Wallin of Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden; and Rebecka Ångström of the Stockholm School of Economics.

In the experiment, each manager evaluated nearly 50 ideas—half with identifying information removed and half with identifying information included. So that their evaluations would be genuine, the managers were not made aware they were taking part in an experiment. To remove information from idea proposals, the researchers used a tool similar to those used in blind auditions and blind academic reviews.

Blind evaluations can limit a manager’s ability to help employees connect to and learn from others with similar interests.

Past research has shown that evaluators often give greater credence to ideas that come from their own family members or social tier. The researchers wanted to see if that held true for gender and proximity in a business environment. “Often, evaluators use the information they know about an idea proposer as a signal for idea quality,” Dahlander notes. “This may be reinforced when evaluators lack information, expertise, or resources to assess an ideas details.”

Surprisingly, the team found that managers scored ideas equally, regardless of the gender or unit of the person who proposed it—blinding made little difference. The results suggest that while some groups, such as women, might experience bias in some circumstances, those biases are not universal, Dahlander says.

While easy and inexpensive to implement, blinding is not without its downside—it can limit a manager’s ability to help employees connect to and learn from others with similar interests. Given these findings, the researchers recommend that companies discover where and whether biases exist in their processes before putting any large-scale idea evaluation strategy in place.

Marketers: Don’t Stereotype Gen X Women

With its ample disposable income and buying power, Generation X is now of particular interest to marketers. But it could be tricky to craft marketing messages that resonate with members of this generation, born between 1965 and 1980—especially when it comes to women.

A study recently published in the European Journal of Marketing looks at how Gen X women perceive their age. Its co-authors include Sharon-Marie Gillooley, Sheilagh Mary Resnick, Tony Woodall, and Seamus Allison, all of Nottingham Business School at Nottingham Trent University in the United Kingdom.

The researchers asked 19 women between the ages of 41 and 55 to write online diary entries over three weeks, in which they described any incidents they found significant to their personal perceptions of aging. After analyzing more than 250 entries, the researchers identified seven categories of the women’s “self-perceived age” (SPA): affective, protest, acceptance, camouflage, life-stage, inequities, and inconsequence.

Traditional marketing techniques that assume generationally uniform attitudes are likely to alienate rather than appeal to Gen X women.

Some of these women considered age as just an attitude (affective), while others used products and clothing to hide their age (camouflage). Some rejected age as a culturally imposed label (protest), and others wrote that they often forgot about their chronological age altogether (inconsequence). The women’s SPA changed with their personal circumstances—whether, for example, they were caring for children and/or aging parents, going through menopause, or feeling as if they were less valued by society than either men or younger women.

Gen X women do not feel that they “need to conform to age- and gender-related roles/rules like their parents,” says Gillooley. For that reason, traditional marketing techniques that assume generationally uniform attitudes are likely to alienate rather than appeal to Gen X women, she argues. These findings suggest that marketers should instead adopt more versatile approaches designed to appeal to women across a range of attitudes and life circumstances.

How Gen Z Views Education and Career

Two new reports shed more light on the preferences of another generation, Generation Z. According to both reports, Gen Z students, born between 1996 and 2012, want two things from their educations and careers: flexibility and meaning.

■ According to “Gen Z in the GME Pipeline,” released by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), Gen Z now accounts for more than half of all applicants to graduate management education (GME) programs. According to GMAC, Gen Z students want flexible options that allow them to study online and in person. Gen Z views business education as a way not only to achieve career stability and make money, but also to achieve work-life balance. Gen Z students seek programs that promote inclusivity and diversity on campus and in the workplace, and they want education that prepares them for fulfilling careers where they can make a positive societal impact.

To garner the attention of Gen Z, the report emphasizes, business schools should communicate the return on investment of their programs not only professionally or financially, but also emotionally. Schools should “deploy impactful messengers already in their networks—like current students, young alumni, undergraduate professors, and admissions professionals—at strategic times” during Gen Z’s educational journeys.

Members of Gen Z are looking for GME experiences that help them achieve their aspirations through personalized programs and career advice. “They want to know that GME is worth it,” the report’s authors emphasize. “They just need some help filling in the blanks.”

■ Symplicity, an online student experience company, recently released its 2023 State of Early Talent Recruiting Report. The report is based on a March 2023 survey that asked 3,700 Gen Z students, all currently enrolled in four-year colleges and universities in the United States, for their views on work, recruiting, and campus career services.

Regarding their educations, 61 percent felt confident they were graduating with the skills necessary for their chosen careers, but only 46 percent felt confident they’ll find jobs after graduation. Ninety percent prioritized job stability, salary, and work-life balance as important or very important. Only 42 percent pointed to hybrid or remote work options as important or very important—down from 75 percent in the company’s Fall 2022 survey. One possibility for this result, the report notes, is that Gen Z wants “to develop more interpersonal connections” and “to establish a network outside of computer screens that can jump-start their careers.”

Most respondents said they value employers with cultures and policies that support diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). The aspects of DEI that respondents rated as important or very important included pay transparency and equity (53 percent), diverse teams and leadership (31 percent), and inclusive benefits (29 percent).

Regarding on-campus career services, students asked for greater accessibility, more flexible appointment times, and more events for those seeking careers outside typical business roles. “Get in front of students as early as possible, in their freshman and sophomore years,” one student wrote, “so they know what services are available when the need arises.”


■ The EU releases report on digital teaching and learning. Erasmus+, an initiative of the European Union, has released its report on the future of digitally enhanced learning and teaching (DELT). The report outlines the final results of DIGI-HE, a three-year Erasmus+ project jointly conducted by the European University Association, Dublin City University in Ireland, Baden-Wuerttemberg Cooperative State University in Germany, Vytautas Magnus University in Lithuania, and the University of Jyväskylä in Finland.

The DIGI-HE project included gathering comparative data on the state of DELT at European higher education institutions, reviewing self-assessment tools that schools can use to improve their “digital ecosystems,” delivering a workshop series on these instruments, and providing self-paced training on assessing DELT adoption across the institution.

■ African and European institutions form research CoREs. The African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA) and The Guild of European Research-Intensive Universities have partnered to create Africa-Europe Clusters of Research Excellence (CoRE). Led by ARUA and The Guild, CoRE will connect researchers from approximately 30 universities and institutes across Africa and Europe to address inequity in research relating to Africa.

Part of the African Union’s Africa 2063 strategy, CoRE aims to spark dialogue on both continents and create opportunities for investment in societal impact.

The initiative will focus on research in four areas: Public Health, Green Transition, Innovation and Technology, and Capacities for Science. These areas encompass subtopics, ranging from migration and health to sustainable food systems, which will drive research at co-leading universities on both continents. Part of the African Union’s Africa 2063 strategy, CoRE aims to spark dialogue among academics, policymakers, and funders on both continents and create opportunities for investment in societal impact.   

Jan Palmowski, Secretary-General of The Guild, expresses the hope that CoRE collaborations “will act as an inspiration to other researchers and institutions … to address our pressing societal challenges collaboratively and equitably, in a deeply unequal world.”

■ Researchers road test an autonomous bus. Faculty at the University of Western Australia (UWA) are collaborating on a three-year research project piloting the use of a driverless bus. The nUWAy Bus will operate along a section of road in Eglington, a suburb in northern Perth. The road trial will involve UWA students and faculty from the School of Engineering’s Renewable Energy Project and the UWA Business School. Faculty and students in the UWA Business School will collect data to determine the enablers of and barriers to the adoption of autonomous vehicle technology.

The road trial of the bus, which engineering students began constructing in 2020, is being funded by property development company Stockland and sponsors of the Renewable Energy Project. nUWAy is the university’s third project testing autonomous vehicles—the first two involved a BMW X5 and a Formula-SAE race car.

Send press releases, links to studies, PDFs, or other relevant information regarding new and forthcoming research, grants, initiatives, and projects underway to AACSB Insights at [email protected].

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