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PhD challenges gender bias in the workplace

UBC Sauder’s rigorous PhD program attracts impactful researchers that drive change in the global marketplace. It prepares students, like Leah Sheppard for ambitious roles, but also provides the framework for academic success in and out of the classroom.


Meet Leah

Leah Sheppard credits her ability to write meaningful research on exposing gender stereotypes at work, and more - to her time as a PhD student at UBC Sauder.

Leah

“If I could sum up my experience in one word it would be ‘challenging’ - but in a good way,” says Sheppard, now Assistant Professor at Washington State University’s Carson College of Business.

It was 2009, the economy was in recovery mode from the global recession and Sheppard had just finished her Masters in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from the University of Western

UBC ranked in Canada for Business and Economics

Ontario. Her first thought was to get out into the work world before considering more school, but a depressed job market and some unexpected funding led her on a different path.

UBC Sauder’s organizational behavior and human resources field aligned perfectly with her research goals of exploring gender stereotypes and their impact on the workplace. “Plus,” she adds, “I really wanted the opportunity to live on Canada’s beautiful West Coast for a period of time.”

Working with world class researchers Karl Aquino

“I think UBC Sauder was the first place where I had those moments of, ‘Can I do this? Can I really figure out how to make a contribution as a researcher? And I think that’s a good thing.”

Sheppard admits her advisor, Professor Karl Aquino, told her from the very beginning that UBC Sauder’s PhD program wasn’t going to be easy, but it would be worth it and very rewarding in the end.

“He was the first person who had ever told me, ‘I’m going to be very critical of your work and you’re going to improve through that.’ And he was and I did,” she recalls. “I really improved as a scholar through my experience at UBC Sauder.”

The point of challenging PhDs and their research is to prepare them for what they will face when they leave the program, explains Prof. Aquino.

“There is a limited amount of space in a limited number of journals,” he says, “so in order to get your research published it must be innovative, concise, and of the highest quality - that’s what we try and hone.”

Opening doors to the world

Her 2013 research with Prof. Aquino on the negative perceptions surrounding women in workplace conflicts - the so-called ‘catfight’ stereotype - continues to garner media attention to this day.

But it wasn’t solely about the research.

For Sheppard, the true value of her time at UBC Sauder was the transformation she experienced in the way she approaches a problem.

96.4%

“In terms of how I can make a real research contribution, I feel I now have the confidence to explore questions that have not been asked or fully answered - instead of expanding on what’s already been done. That’s where I notice the difference.”

And her love of original research translates to her current role as Assistant Professor. Sheppard goes beyond the textbooks to make sure her students are learning from the most up-to-date studies.

“That’s probably one of my favourite aspects of teaching – sharing new and interesting research findings,” she adds.