How are men and women in leadership roles perceived differently? This was the subject of Amanda Cowen’s COMMTalk in April 2017. At its annual Spring Symposium, the McIntire School of Commerce presented “COMMTalks: Ideas. Inspiration. Impact,” featuring 10-minute TED Talk-style presentations by McIntire research faculty.
Cowen, the William Stamps Farish Professor of Free Enterprise, shared her research about challenges facing women in leadership roles. Her presentation, “The ‘Glass Cliff’ and Consumer Perceptions of Corporate Crises,” began in front of an image of “Fearless Girl” facing off the “Charging Bull” statue on Wall Street. Cowen, along with Nicole Montgomery, the C. Coleman McGehee Professor of Commerce Marketing, is studying how perceptions related to gender are shaping organizational performance, particularly in times of crisis.
Does gender influence consumer responses to product failure news? Cowen’s research reveals that female-led organizations are sanctioned more severely if the failure is the result of an ethical lapse, such as a cover up. The opposite is true if the failure is deemed unintentional—as in the case of a product failure—and male-led organizations suffer a stronger backlash.
Gender is also a factor in perceptions of post-failure communications. An apology from a female CEO is effective and can mitigate the crisis, while male leaders are better off denying failure, receiving less consumer backlash than if they apologize.
“Our hope is to identify recommendations that can benefit organizations and that can benefit their leaders,” Cowen said. “As with everything we do at McIntire, we think [the benefit is] going to come from working across disciplines, combining insights from governance and organizational behavior with the latest thinking from marketing and corporate communications.”
Endowed professorships support outstanding faculty like Cowen and Montgomery who generate inspirational ideas and demonstrate a deep commitment to teaching. Cowen was also one of nine professors across Grounds to receive a 2017 All-University Teaching Award.