A unique case study: gender representation

A unique case study: gender representation

“I look at the student population and want to see them reflected in the case studies that professors ask them to analyze. It came from anger and frustration, but where it goes is this idea of ​​how we can represent the real world.”

Lubin Ivan Fox Scholar and law professor Jessica Magaldi, JD, has spent her professional academic career at the intersection of business and law, a traditionally male-dominated field. However, that dichotomy is changing, at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. According to a 2021 study conducted by the Forte Foundation, more than half of business schools now report 40% or more female enrollment. And another study found that today’s MBA programs are much closer to gender parity, with 14 of the top business schools having achieved at least 45% female enrollment in their full-time programs, up from 27% two decades ago.

However, certain aspects of business education are in need of innovation.

As a 2023–2024 Faculty Fellow at Pace’s Wilson Center for Social Entrepreneurship, Magaldi has assessed the gender inclusivity of case studies. Through her research project, An investigation into how business school case studies reflect gender diversity in educating future business school graduatesMagaldi and her co-authors examine the representation of women as protagonists and antagonists in case studies from the past two decades, as well as the gender of the case study authors.

So what exactly are case studies? Case studies are broadly defined as stories and narratives that facilitate discussions about a particular topic. They are a primary source of teaching material in business school. According to MIT’s Sloan School of Management: “Case studies give students the opportunity to step into the shoes of a protagonist. Using context and detailed data, students can analyze what they would and would not do in a given situation, why, and how.”

Because of her status as a former board member of the Society of Case Research, a journal reviewer, and a case study author herself, Magaldi had a front-row seat to how these studies were produced. In reviewing case studies, she noticed a consistent lack of representation of women, sometimes glaringly so. After one particularly egregious example—one that was also illegal under the law—Magaldi and her co-authors decided to take matters into their own hands.

“We all think this is a noble goal: we want the materials we use in class, especially real-world examples, to be representative of the real world. Even though 50% of our students are women, we are far from having 50% case studies with women,” Magaldi says.

Magaldi is still compiling and analyzing results, but what she has gathered so far is that case studies have about twice as many male characters as female ones, and that there were no significant year-over-year changes in representation despite the large gains in female enrollment over the past two decades. She also found that when the writing team was all men, 49% of the protagonists were men, but when the writing team was all women, only 17% of the protagonists were women.

Magaldi is excited to continue this work and raise awareness of this discrepancy to better reflect the makeup of today’s student population and contribute to a more equitable classroom experience that empowers and inspires tomorrow’s business leaders.

“The idea is that if we use case studies to portray the real world, will they do it?”