Bringing Gender from the Dark Side to the Light in International Development and Management

By Keshav Krishnamurty. 

A panel on Gender, International Development and Management was hosted on October 23 at UMass Boston as part of the Academy of International Business US-Northeast conference, including panelists Banu Ozkazanc-Pan (UMass Boston College of Management), Kade Finoff (UMass Boston College of Liberal Arts, Economics Department), Cynthia Enloe (Clark University, Worcester) and Deborah Jones (Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand) with Alessia Contu (UMass Boston College of Management) as the moderator.

The discussion began with Alessia Contu noting that any conversation about gender lands up with an all-female panel, and stating that it is important how scholars teach gender to their students. Some excerpts follow:

(Question) Alessia Contu: What does it mean to think about gender seriously in political economy?

Banu Ozkazanc-Pan : Gender is the complex interaction between biological sex, identity and perception of gender role/gender expression. It’s not just about women! “Genderblind” does not relate to gender-neutral outcomes. It’s like when students conduct a SWOT analysis of a company, there are assumptions being made about gender in business all the time. Who’s going to benefit from a cost-effective workforce? What are the real gender consequences of those decisions? What we research, practice and teach about international management needs to include all those.

Kade Finoff: It is for a reason that I describe myself as a feminist heterodox economist. There are four components to this (in political economy) – we need to take history seriously and not assume that business is ahistorical. There is power, which does not figure into most studies. There is social stratification, the way societies stratify between groups, affecting opportunities and outcomes. There are the outcomes of established institutions, and this is where gender plays such a large role.

Cynthia Enloe: You are my field site this morning! I worked chiefly on ethnic politics, and I found I had to take masculinity seriously. It’s crucial how to watch the working of masculinities as they shape institutions and which behaviors within them are rewarded and which ones are demoted and dismissed. For instance, how did Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s performance of masculinity (i.e. coercing women to sleep with him) become so normalized at the IMF until a housekeeper called him out on it?

Deborah Jones: My work is in the field of Organizational Behavior. Gender regimes will always be around. How is gender around and being produced? Whatever gender means, visible or not, it is in flux. Within a gender regime, how visible is the issue of gender inequality? Gender processes do disadvantage women. Gender is something that can be done, however it can also be undone. It’s not just what we study out there, there are disciplines such as economics where women are a minority.

Q: John Cantwell: Would the same idea of humans having masculine/feminine sides be true of business and organizations?

Cynthia Enloe: Gender analytical work uses the plural – masculinities, femininities – the latter are actually played between men, men try to feminize other men to take them less seriously. For example, between the United States Marine Corps and International Monetary Fund – what performance is validated in one organization versus the other?

(Comment) David Levy: There is a question of masculinities, areas where masculinity, culture and the economy all come together. For instance, we see the cases of Hilary Clinton and Margaret Thatcher, powerful female leaders, who have been described as the “only man in a room of boys” – it’s an accolade towards masculinity that is given towards them, they have to take on a masculine role as leaders.

Kade Finoff: Countries that have been ripped apart by large-scale violent conflict tend to have highly gendered regimes in which women suffer the most and are forced to bear a great deal more economic burden, the outcomes here are determined by gender and the gendered division of labor.

Banu Ozkazanc-Pan: Cross-cultural training fails to take note of gender. This is tough to sell to students when I’m teaching MBAs. Gender is merely men and women, we are fixated on avoiding offense and struggle to teach the full dimensions of it.

Kade Finoff: Right now I’m joining those questioning the methodological foundations of my discipline. We are fundamentally changing our definition of economics. The neoclassical definition of economics – “the study of choice under conditions of scarcity” – is entirely unrelated to social reality. Economics at present fails to account for all forms of labor, paid and unpaid. Economics is not ideology-free in this regard and mathematical modeling has devalued other methodologies that account for social reality.

Cynthia Enloe: I underestimated power. The policing of and wielding of masculinities and femininities has to do with power. Sexual harassment also functions as a process of power- who has been marginalized in this process? You can’t talk about business in the head office, you have to take seriously the workings of labor. For instance, Nike executives in Oregon think about femininity constantly because it is how they can make a profit. Boardrooms, labor, et cetera are all thoroughly masculinized. Gender analysis gives a better way of understanding the workings of power for the naïve.

Deborah Jones: We need to be looking at all the women in the MNCs that are doing outsourced work in other countries, not just in a diversity statement. Expatriates are elites in MNCs. There is a tendency in IB to focus on elites, who are not the most people in an MNC. You are cutting out this huge feminized and racialized group in the process.

(Question) Janice Goldman: There are some areas like microfinance, where women are the primary borrowers, and how do we see their marginalization? There appears to be a lot of intersectionality between gender and economics.

Cynthia Enloe: Tying into what Deborah said earlier, I would like to observe that mission statement advisors have done no gender analysis of their own company.

Deborah Jones: Too many “CSR” statements stay on paper including those promising “gender equality” and they are not at all a priority and are never implemented. Elites in corporations do know about the problems women face, they just don’t care.

Kade Finoff: Microlending is extremely popular because it ties into neoliberal ideology. What we now have is a situation where directing subsidized finance into the rural sector is replaced with private financial services, and this system is incredibly gendered. Smiti Rao in Andhra Pradesh talks at length about the gendered impact of microcredit. It’s all successful because it acts through highly gendered networks that force repayment.

Banu Ozkazanc-Pan: And then there are instances like the Rana Plaza disaster where mostly women were killed, showing just how pervasive the gendering of low-income jobs really is. We need to be redeploying the skills of students by asking very different questions, such as –“who can speak for whom?”

Kade Finoff: That’s what we’re trying to bring about in an interactive teaching environment.

Cynthia Enloe: However, there is so much of the performance, the operations and the acting out of gender that goes on. For an everyday example, we had a study that found that in supermarkets men don’t push carts, but will carry things in their hands or maybe pick up a basket because it’s not “manly” to push a cart.

Deborah Jones: It does not help that we also hear about ideas like “lean in”, which excludes almost all women except those among the elite.

Overall, the panel was a unique and rare attempt to engage researchers in the field of international business with issues of gender. It served as a crucial example of issues related to political economy that need more attention in international business studies.

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