When Professor Jennifer Berdahl watched the Sochi Winter Olympics in February, it wasn’t just the flamboyant opening ceremonies and the triple axels on the ice that caught her interest. She was also struck by a realization. The countries ranking highest in the medal count were also the nations that ranked highest in gender equality.
Sauder’s new Montalbano Professor in Leadership Studies: Women and Diversity quickly pulled together a statistical model to explore the notion. She accounted for other factors that could influence medal wins like latitude, population, GDP and income inequality and added the medal count for the 2012 Summer Olympics for good measure.
When the numbers were crunched, it turned out she was right. Not only did gender equity significantly increase medals won by women, it also predicted how well men performed.
“Gender and economic equality may result from and nurture humanitarian values that lift everyone up within a country,” writes Berdahl about the results in her blog. “Olympic glory may be just the beginning.”
It’s this perspective that will guide Berdahl’s work at Sauder in her new role leading a research program focused on how business leadership can be made stronger through greater gender equity and increased diversity.
Formerly at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management and the Haas School of Business at the University of California Berkeley, Berdahl has studied equity in the workplace for over 20 years. Her research, which ranges from investigations into sexual harassment against assertive women to discrimination against less masculine men, has led to roles as a courtroom expert witness and advisor to Canadian Parliament.
Recently, it also put her on the radar of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, who leaned on Berdahl’s research in her bestseller Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. Contributing to the thinking that underpins the volume, Berdahl also had the chance to meet Sandberg after its publication to discuss the fallout.
“I got to talk to her about the impact of the book and how important it has been for business schools and getting the whole issue of female leadership on the map,” says Berdahl who met Sandberg over dinner after a recent conference at Stanford. “It’s tremendous to see the positive energy the topic has developed since.”
Berdahl plans to carry on this momentum at UBC’s Sauder School of Business, making the school a centre of excellence for the study of equity in the upper echelons of the corporate world. She will also guide the development of curriculum and programming at the school and take on an external role to influence practice in Canada and around the world.
“I’ve spent the first two decades of my research career identifying significant problems that exist in the workplace,” says Berdahl. “Now it’s time to figure out how to fix them and help create change by having a dialogue directly with people in organizations.”
Well acquainted with Sauder’s leading organizational behaviour research, Berdahl has already collaborated with Sauder professors. Most recently, she co-authored a study comparing the negative effects of ostracism and harassment at work with Professor Sandra Robinson, who is pleased her colleague is joining the school.
“Jennifer does an exceptional job of balancing rigorous empirical research and sharing her expertise with people and organizations outside the university,” says Robinson. “Her chief mission is to make the world a better place. I couldn’t think of another person more equipped to take on this professorship and its goals.”