A highly productive female associate professor with a stellar record at a top U.S. business school asks to meet with her dean on a personal matter. She shares that her mother-in-law, who lives in Asia, has been diagnosed with late-stage cancer and requests family leave to fly overseas to care for her. The dean asked whether other family members are living nearby. She responds that her husband has two younger sisters who live in the mother-in-law’s city. The dean lifts his eyebrow and says, “So, why do you have to go then?”1
Gender equality has become a hot topic in management as business leaders face growing pressures to advance women who remain significantly under-represented in key leadership jobs and face an on-going pay and stock equity gap. Business schools around the globe have responded by offering – for a hefty price tag – “diversity” classes to “develop” women leaders and “train” men to be allies. Growing market interest has also spawned diversity and inclusion research centers led by star faculty as organizational vehicles to enhance fundraising, social relevance, and reputation. Then, Covid- 19 hit, and work-life tensions related to gender equality, which existed before the pandemic, were accentuated as women’s’ default parenting, schooling supervision, and other domestic roles rose at the same time that often-mandated remote work skyrocketed. Therefore, as leaders prepare to manage through and beyond the pandemic, it is important to identify how gender interacts with work-life inclusion issues in order for managers to take action to advance women’s career equality.
In this article, we share evidence-based insights from work-life and diversity thought leaders who convened at a 2019 workshop held at Purdue University sponsored by the. U.S. National Science Foundation entitled Fostering Gender and Work-Life Inclusion for Faculty in Understudied Contexts: An Organizational Science Lens. on the role of work-life challenges in gender equality in employing organizations. The NSF workshop and a subsequent 2019 National Academy of Management Professional Development Workshop entitled Fostering Work-Life Inclusive Business Schools: Improving Organizational Science & Women’s Equality that was organized by the authors examined career issues facing women faculty and scientists in business schools and other professional contexts where women are largely under-represented such as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math).2 These challenges are not limited to universities, but are highly relevant to business leaders. From Fortune 500 companies to start-up firms, women are similarly under-represented in leadership roles, and face comparable barriers. Business leaders are also consumers of business education and hire talent pipelines from business schools and universities. Further, half of all students in universities are now women, and higher education has long been a lever for equal opportunity societal change. Thus, it is important that educational contexts exemplify positive work-life and gender-inclusive environments. We, as did the experts we convened, believe that the impact of work-nonwork dynamics on gender career equality is under-developed as a continuing barrier to women’s advancement in diversity and inclusion (D & I) strategies. This omission is surprising as work, family, and personal life identities and demands squarely intersect with gender and shape career diversity and inclusion experiences, including lasting downstream effects on pay, glass ceilings, and talent retention.