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Developing a gender-aware and inclusive curriculum in Business and Management schools

Nikita Mehta, Yunyan Li, Valerie Stead and Sophie Alkhaled, Lancaster University Management School

The 2023 Global Gender Gap Report revealed that it will take over a century to attain global gender equality, with Europe projected to attain gender parity in 67 years. Increasing women’s economic participation and achieving gender parity in leadership, in both business and government, are two key levers for tackling broader gender gaps in households, societies and economies. Universities have a key role in achieving these goals by educating students about equality, diversity, and inclusion. Business and Management schools (B&M), in particular, have a responsibility towards achieving equality, as they shape and foster future business and organisational leaders, consultants and entrepreneurs.

There has been a growing call for the development of gender-aware and inclusive curricula in B&M schools. Researchers show that historically, B&M education including entrepreneurship, marketing, economics and accounting are (unreflectively) entrenched in “gender-neutral” or masculine, western, white and ableist norms. The adoption of these standpoints as “neutral” and “universal” has profound implications on the reproduction of knowledge and on what counts as legitimate knowledge. As a part of the TARGETED-MPI project, Lancaster University Management School has created The Guide to Developing a Gender-Aware and Inclusive Curriculum. The Guide is anchored in Lancaster University’s EDI Strategy, and its commitments to the Disability Confident scheme, and Athena Swan and Race Equality Charters. The Guide has been designed as a general guide for business and management modules taught across departments, and therefore, has not been created as a ‘one size fits all’. It is understood that each department, programme, and module will vary in their pedagogical approach, content, and mode of delivery.

The main purpose of The Guide is to support module convenors, programme directors and departmental teaching directors to reflect on the “hidden curriculum” – which are the unintended learning outcomes, values, and perspectives that learners absorb while in educational institutions – often related to biases, stereotypes, and assumptions about the world. Educators immersed in their academic discipline and its culture can unintentionally inherit and (re)deliver established modules without realising the extent to which some students may not relate to some of the material, or share the same culture and values embedded within these modules’ examples, case studies or assessments. The guide steers educators to recognise that the intersectionality of social identities – like race, gender, class, sexuality, and disability holds significant implications in education.

The Guide supports the development of a gender-aware and inclusive lens for educators as they teach/design/revamp their curriculum by outlining reflective questions that module convenors can contemplate and discuss with programme and teaching directors in three key areas:

  1. Promotion materials: the questions provide the educator with an opportunity to reflect on the way gender, diversity and inclusivity are represented in course and programme marketing materials. Promotion materials play a crucial role in shaping perceptions around the accessibility and inclusivity of students of all backgrounds, genders, abilities and identities.
  2. Teaching in the classroom: the questions provide the educator with an opportunity to reflect on the course content being delivered and whether the learning spaces or classroom spaces present an equal opportunity for the participation and learning of all students. It highlights the importance of reflecting on one’s own biases, and thus, encourages the practice of regularly revitalising reading lists and diversifying examples and case studies to expose students to academic perspectives from researchers from underrepresented groups, and case studies that include women and minority leaders and managers.
  3. Assessments: an important element of ensuring a gender-aware and inclusive curriculum is the use of a wide range of assessment methods across programmes that are mindful of various student identities, learning styles, and disabilities. Assessments can also provide a way for students to understand, challenge and reflect on stereotypical gendered assumptions and the impact these have on everyday life and work.

Developing a gender-aware and inclusive curriculum in B&M schools is an important formative step in shaping more critical and inclusive future workers and leaders in business and government. For the future, the aim is to develop The Guide even further and to embed it within Lancaster University’s Curriculum Transformation Programme, so it can be used more widely across the university.