Rotman’s Institute for Gender and the Economy Aims to Make Change

Rotman’s Institute for Gender and the Economy Aims to Make Change main image

Almost two years ago – ahead of the #MeToo Movement – University of Toronto Rotman School of Management launched the Institute for Gender and the Economy.

Canada and the Western world to a large extent are having a moment, says Sarah Kaplan, director of the institute. And the Rotman school aims to make the most of it in the quest for gender equality.

“People believed my generation would change everything with the sheer number of women [in the workforce],” says Kaplan. “Then, I woke up 30 years later and nothing changed.” 

Now, however, many people have a hunger for information that can help in the fight for equality.

The land of equality

Canada has a government that boasts of its feminist leanings. While there’s still much work to do, new policies are being enacted to protect women’s rights around the world.

But Kaplan wants people to thoughtfully consider the changes they make rather than enacting laws that sound good but might not be the best for the cause. For example, the Canadian government recently changed maternity leave from 12 months to 18 months. On the surface, that seems like a positive move for women and families.

However, Kaplan says research shows it’s a bad policy for women because a longer maternity leave curtails careers. The research didn’t support the change. In addition, few people will be able to make use of the full 18 months because they can’t afford it.

Kaplan says, “The research showed this wasn’t a good idea. This elevates the importance of rigorous research in corporate and government policy making.”

Pillars to success

The first pillar of the Institute for Gender and the Economy is committed to scholarship.

“We haven’t moved the needle at all,” says Kaplan. “My sense is it’s because we keep having the same conversation. Our motto is using rigorous research to change the conversation on gender and equality.”

Because Kaplan recognizes most people don’t read academic research, she holds the second pillar as “translation.” In other words, she animates the research through briefs, videos, and events to make it accessible to the general public. You can see content describing relevant research on the institute’s website. The third pillar is to engage students in these conversations.

“We want the next generation to recognize the ways they can take action,” says Kaplan.

Here are the ways the institute is involving students in its work: 

  • Designing for Equality course – Students who sign up to take this class are exposed to gender-based challenges. Then, they have to use design principles to come up with solutions.
  • Student fellowships – Students who apply and get selected for this opportunity earn a $10,000 bursary and the chance to work on a relevant project. Bain & Company provides consultants to support the fellows as they work. Projects have included a video series on women’s experiences in companies and guidelines for adapting MBA courses to be more inclusive to women.
  • Support case competitions related to the cause – One case competition is about women and capital markets, and students must rely on design principles to make capital markets more accessible. A second is about the inclusion of the googLGBTQ community in the workplace. And a third is a hackathon on masculinity in the workplace. 
  • Student clubs – Groups such as, Women in Management (WiMA) and WiMen, which is the male ally group, are active on campus. They help members achieve goals, network, and confront challenges in the workplace.

Some students want to spend a substantial amount of time on these issues. In fact, 10 percent of the class – men and women – applied for the MBA fellowships. Last year, five students earned spots in the program. Now, there are six.

Still, not everyone is on board. “I won’t lie,” says Kaplan. “There are some students who feel this is a distraction from getting a job and an MBA.”

On a brighter note, she adds, others recognize understanding gender issues and creating a more inclusive environment is vital, and is one of the core leadership principles they will need in their career.

Ultimately, Kaplan aims for the institute to serve as a “beacon of ideas”. She says there is too much evidence of bias, and people have to consider what they can do differently to get more positive outcomes than in the past.

“We’re trying to break down the traditional conversation,” says Kaplan, “and break down the challenges and engage on solutions.”

Francesca Di Meglio

Francesca Di Meglio has written about higher education for two decades. She covered business schools and all aspects of management education for what became Bloomberg Businessweek from May 2004 to December 2013. Di Meglio was the consultant editor for the book Admitted: An Interactive Workbook for Getting into a Top MBA Program (85 Broads Publishing, 2011), which was written by admissions consultant Betsy Massar. In addition, she is a family travel and parenting blogger at the Italian Mamma website

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