Academic journal article Journal of Behavioral and Applied Management

Gender Effects in the Business School Classroom: A Social Power Perspective

Academic journal article Journal of Behavioral and Applied Management

Gender Effects in the Business School Classroom: A Social Power Perspective

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

This study examines whether students at two universities perceive social power differences between male and female business faculty. Using gender schema and social power theories, we posit that female faculty members will be perceived by students as having greater referent power and that male faculty members will be perceived by students as having greater expert, legitimate, reward and coercive power. Results of a survey involving 892 students at two universities indicate that male faculty members are perceived as having greater expert power, while no gender differences exist on referent, reward and coercive power. Contrary to our hypotheses, female faculty members are perceived as having greater legitimate power.

Introduction

The issue of social power and influence has received considerable attention from organizational researchers since French and Raven (1959) introduced their typology of social power nearly 50 years ago (Kipnis, 1984; Rahim, 1988; Raven, Schwarzwald & Koslowsky, 1998). However, very little of this research has focused on whether people perceive differences between men and women as influence agents (Carli 1999, 2001; Elias & Loomis, 2004; Johnson, 1976).

There are potentially significant consequences for gender differences in power. For instance, past studies suggest that women's career advancement, networking opportunities and access to benefits may be linked to power (Carli, 1999). In addition, research has shown that women may be penalized more than men for exercising certain types of social power (Elias & Loomis, 2004).

An interesting forum to explore gender and social power is inside collegiate schools of business. The number of female faculty in business schools has risen significantly during the past decade (AACSB, 2001). Despite these increasing numbers of new hires, research suggests that women faculty in business schools still face gender biases (AACSB, 2001), including biases from students (Centra & Gaubatz, 2000; Whitworth, Price & Randall, 2002). Such biases in student evaluations may in turn have significant effects on promotion and tenure decisions to the extent such decisions are influenced by student evaluations of teaching.

A number of different theoretical frameworks have been used to explore gender biases of students, including fairness (Basow, 1995), empathy (Tatro, 1995), and expressiveness (Arbuckle & Williams, 2003). However, as in other organizational settings, the role that social power plays in contributing to gender bias in the classroom has received very little attention (for exception, see Elias & Loomis, 2004).

The present study examines whether students perceive differences between male and female business faculty in the bases of social power. It also investigates whether student gender influences perceptions of faculty social power.

Theoretical Overview

In their seminal work, French and Raven (1959) described five types of social power: referent, expert, legitimate, reward and coercive. Referent power exists when a subject likes a person and wants to associate with or be like that person. Expert power is based on a subject's perception that a person possesses superior knowledge or expertise in a specific area. Legitimate power results from a subject's belief that a person has the right to exert influence and demand certain behaviors from the subject and that the subject has the obligation to comply. Legitimate power is typically derived from a person's external status or position. Reward power results from a subject's perception that a person has the ability to reward the subject for desirable behavior, while coercive power is based on a subject's perception that a person can punish the subject for undesirable behavior.

Researchers have suggested that individual instructors rely extensively on referent, expert and legitimate power to facilitate learning as well as manage their classrooms (Roach, 1991). …

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