Business schools make heavy use of “the case method,” a form of teaching in which short narratives pose problems confronting a company. The case studies teach students to put themselves in certain situations and use the given information to reason their way out.
Unfortunately, most of the case studies that have been produced for this purpose feature only men as the main characters, as well as mostly Western situations. Indeed the lessons usually are built around challenges peculiar to very large companies.
This “rich white male world” is quite a bit less relevant in the global economy and is seen as an exclusionary vision by many of today’s students. So, pressure is rising to produce cases that are more inclusive, especially from a gender perspective. For example, in January 2014, Nitin Nohria, Dean of Harvard Business School, promised his alumni that HBS would be adding cases where the protagonists are female, raising the number of such cases from 9% to 20% of the total in five years. The HBS Dean took a risk admitting that his school had a gender bias last summer. Lots of people criticized him and his team’s efforts to turn it around. However, Nohria is now being lauded for his courage and leadership in this increasingly important area.
My team doesn’t have the resources of Harvard Business School, but I think we are onto a better model for gender-inclusive cases than just making the protagonists female. It isn’t really enough to change the names from “Bob” to “Sue.” If students are truly going to grasp how women interact with business, the real conditions of gender need to be reflected—from lesser access to capital to mobility constraints.
We have developed cases that address various gender issues within a business context. Most of them are also international in scope and several are set in developing countries. They are all free for download here.
The most recent case is The Maasai Women Development Organization Teaching Case, developed for Power Shift 2015. This case features the Walmart Empowering Women Together (EWT) system and bringing an ancient craft to contemporary consumers. It is taken from our research initiative undertaken to develop measurements for evaluating the impact of the EWT program. The full case study is here. Companion case studies: Katchy Kollections, Kenya case study and the Women’s Bean Project, USA case study illustrate the questions that arise in designing appropriate metrics, while also showing how the difference in local conditions affects business potential. An advisory note on measures reviews existing measures in light of the EWT experience.
Finance After Hours, a teaching case developed for Power Shift 2014 and taught there by three of our most senior professors, all of whom, as it happens, came from Harvard. The case focuses on the way informal barriers to credit for female entrepreneurs in China block formal access. It is based on research I did with Jiafei Jin, professor at the Southwestern University for Finance and Economics in Chengdu. The case is a puzzle because the bank’s lending criteria are gender neutral, yet their portfolio has few female entrepreneurs–in an environment where 73% of start ups are begun by women.
We produced three major cases under a grant from the Pears Foundation between 2010 and 2013. The first of these was a two part study of the Pampers/UNICEF campaign to eradicate maternal/neonatal tetanus. The first part concentrates on the branding decision behind the campaign (Pampers UNICEF Case Part 1), while the second half looks more at the problems faced by UNICEF in delivering the vaccine–and in leveraging the value of its own brand (Pampers UNICEF Case Part 2). There are teaching notes for both Part 1 and Part 2.
The second Pears case focused on a rural distribution system devised by CARE International in Bangladesh. The system, now an award-winning social enterprise called Jita, is set up to enable women among the extreme poor earn living, but it uses the consumer goods produced by large companies to provide items for them to sell. Here are the CARE Rural Sales Program Case and Teaching Note.
The last Pears case, on Avon in Africa, is about poor black entrepreneurs working with the 125 year old cosmetics giant in South Africa. The case also intends to foreground the cultural prejudices that underpin Western judgments about the “morality” of certain consumer goods. There is also a teaching note.
My doctoral student, Mary Johnstone-Louis, developed a brilliant case on the International Women’s Coffee Alliance for the 2013 Power Shift Forum. It has been taught successfully here and at the Harvard Business School. This case is a really good one to begin teaching gender issues in a business context because it takes a broad overview of an entire industry. The case is downloadable at the Power Shift official site, which is here.
Sanitary Pads in Ghana: This case documents, with names changed, the research results from the study first undertaken by our sanitary care research team. Since this first study, we have expanded to a larger, longer term project in Uganda and have also tested eco-friendly sanitary technology. Today, international agencies and NGOs all over the world have accepted what once seemed a crazy idea: that if you give poor girls free pads, they will go to school.
I was privileged to teach two years in the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women program. While working with them, I wrote two very basic marketing cases based on real women’s businesses there. The first, Ning Du Lemon Science and Technology Company, is the most basic possible branding case: it takes an agricultural commodity and explores the reasons to brand. There is also a teaching note here. The second case, Bingo Bagel, is a positioning case in which the owner is trying to introduce two still-foreign foods, coffee and bagels, into the Chinese market.