|Sauder School of Business
Mascot, Wally the Bull
In my post I gave general examples of masculinity contests and organizational cultures that support them, and I vaguely referred to “UBC leadership,” in order to avoid airing specific dirty laundry I’d witnessed in my first year at UBC. But others, some unwittingly, have rushed to provide examples and identify leadership. From a personal standpoint this has sometimes been troubling; from a research standpoint it has been fascinating. My post and its fallout have amounted to a form of action research, shedding light on how the masculinity contest plays out in others’ minds. Like a Rorschach test, reactions to the post were more diagnostic of its interpreters and their experiences than of the post itself.
I now know that some people saw themselves, and their colleagues, in my post, even if I did not have them in mind when I wrote it. For my colleague James Tansey, the post conjured the image of “tall, athletic white men bullying Dr. Gupta,” which my post did not describe. Tansey wrote, “the part of this story that really bothers me and has received the least attention is that, in her blog, Dr. Berdahl refers to the departing president as a ‘brown man’ who ‘isn’t tall or physically imposing’,” revealing that he considers being brown or short, and mentioning these characteristics, to be insulting. For UBC math professor Nassif Ghoussoub, the post summoned the image of trophy kills, from the head of a lion to university presidents. Others have written or spoken to me directly about masculinity contests in their places of work, and both “losers” and “winners” of these contests acknowledge their existence and the advantage they give to “masculinity” over merit.
The masculinity contest analysis of why so few women and minorities make it to positions of leadership has struck a deep and polarizing nerve, suggesting an uncomfortable but seldom spoken truth about the path to leadership in universities and beyond. Some seem unable to interpret this analysis as anything than blaming the so-called “winners” of the contest – primarily white men – for the lack of gender and diversity in organizations. They would miss the point that it is the contest itself that is the problem, and the harm that it does to everyone and the organizations in which these contests take place, including to those who find themselves masking up and competing to “win.” For those interested in scholarly work on this topic, please see some of the publications by members of the research group below.
Livingston, R. W., Rosette, A. S., & Washington, E. F. (2012). Can an angry Black woman get ahead? The impact of race and dominance on perceptions of female leaders. Psychological Science, 23, 354-358.
Rosette, A. S., & Livingston, R. W. (2012). Failure is not an option for Black women: Effects of organizational performance on leaders with single versus dual-subordinate identities. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48, 1162-1167.