Deborah John

When she first came to the Carlson School there were more female professors than she had ever seen in a business school—six or seven.

The Carlson School can boast that 31 percent of its faculty are female—a number high enough to get a notice in an article on gender diversity at business schools published last year in The Wall Street Journal. By discipline, the statistics are even more striking. In fields such as accounting or marketing, the Carlson School easily tops institutions such as MIT, Northwestern, or Booth in terms of women professors.

In the Carlson School’s Marketing Department, the gender balance is roughly equal—eight of 17 tenure-track faculty members are female. One faculty member is Deborah John, who is celebrating her 28th year at the Carlson School.

The Carlson School’s First Female Endowed Chair

Thinking back, the first time Deborah John considered being a professor was during her undergraduate days at St. Louis University. “I got an opportunity to act as a sort of teaching assistant for one of my professors, doing some grading and filing,” she says. “My professor’s office was large, so I was given a nice desk area and keys to get into the office. Playing the role of a professor made me think about it as a career.”

After getting her undergraduate degree in marketing in 1974, she went on to earn an MBA in 1975 and her PhD in 1980. She came to the Carlson School in 1987 after being on the faculty at the University of Wisconsin, Madison for five years. Now, she is the Curtis L. Carlson Chair in Marketing at the Carlson School, the first woman to receive an endowed chair at the school.

“When I began my career, there were very few female professors in top research universities,” she says. “At Northwestern where I received my PhD, there were three female professors at the time. My first job was at UCLA, where there were only three female professors in the school. I moved to the University of Wisconsin and became the only full-time female professor in the entire school—and this was 1982!”

Besides being the first chaired female professor at the Carlson School, John also was the first woman to be appointed to an editorial position at a top marketing journal—the Journal of Consumer Research. She also became one of only three women to be elected as president of the Association for Consumer Research—the main academic organization for consumer researchers—in the first 30 years of the organization.

It is no wonder that she landed top spots at these organizations, as consumer research drives her work. “My current focus is on consumer branding,” she says. “I look at two different areas. First, I research branding strategies that firms can use to grow and manage their businesses. Second, from more of a consumer perspective, I look at how brands influence consumers’ psychological states and behaviors. Across both areas, what I find interesting is how consumers relate to brands in ways that are not expected, or sometimes, even commonsense. Consumers have really interesting ways of thinking that firms need to understand much better.”

When John first came to the Carlson School she found more female professors than she had ever seen in a top business school—six or seven. “However, at this time, it was very rare to see a female who was tenured or was a full professor,” she says. “There was a surge of women coming into business school as professors in the 1980s and 1990s, and now you don’t have to look far to find women professors who are in senior leadership positions in their schools and in their disciplines.”

Newly minted professor

One discipline at the Carlson School in which female representation is lacking is in finance, but this is standard across business schools. Most have just a handful. At the Carlson School, three of the 21 finance faculty members are female. One, Assistant Professor Juliana Salomao, is a newly minted graduate, having earned her PhD in economics in August 2014 from Stanford. 

“Coming from Brazil and spending the last few years in sunny California, the great Minnesota weather was very attractive,” she jokes about her choosing the Carlson School. “But on a serious note, Carlson is an amazing place for me. Since I cannot buy a country and experiment, I think about the world in models, building my own world where I can test theories. Carlson is a reference in this type of work, where my colleagues understand and value what I do. Additionally, the Carlson School is a very collaborative place—the faculty is incredibly supportive and I truly feel like I am part of a team.”

Her main areas of research are sovereign and corporate credit markets. “I am default and bond obsessed,” she says. “I think this interest comes from my background. I was born and raised in Brazil where macroeconomic instability was always a problem. I have lived through four different currencies and 200 percent inflation per year. Imagine how I felt as a 10-year-old kid doing the math to convert prices during a currency change in order to buy candy without being ripped off.”

Salomao says a desire for challenge and a passion for learning brought her to academia. “Academia is about answering important questions that don’t have answers,” she says. “It is a very stimulating environment, full of extremely smart people. I am always learning and constantly challenged.”

As a professor and female, she also is finding more personal-level challenges. “A challenge that has been on my mind recently is maternity. Women have an expiration time on their ability to have children,” she says. “This is also the time when we need to start making our most important contributions to the profession. Even if we have very supportive husbands—fortunately my case—there are certain tasks that only women can perform. The Carlson School does extend our tenure clock when we have children, but even with that I still think it is challenging to balance a career and start a family.”

Gender research

When conducting business research, sometimes differences in the results appear due to the gender of the subjects under study. These gender differences can offer an intriguing new avenue of further study.Theresa Glomb

Work-family conflict

Much of the workplace research done on work and family examines time allocation between the two—more time spent on one means less on the other, so the two conflict. In “Work-Family Conflict and Self-Discrepant Time Allocation at Work” (Journal of Applied Psychology, 2015) McFarland Professor of Organizational Behavior Theresa Glomb, Assistant Professor Colleen Manchester, PhD student Patricia Dahm, and Sophie Leroy of the University of Washington looked at intra-role time allocation (i.e. how people spend their time at work) and how work-family conflict (WFC) influences these choices.

“We found that when people are feeling more WFC, they report greater self-discrepancy in time allocation at work. Basically—how they preferred to spend their time allocated to tasks was less aligned with how they actually allocated their time to tasks,” Glomb says.

Importantly, this effect was most pronounced for women, so as they experienced greater WFC, they were more likely to be inconsistent in their time allocations. “This is important because discrepancies in time allocations influence work outcomes, including work satisfaction, well-being, and even pay.”

Colleen ManchesterFlexible work practices

Assistant Professor of Work and Organizations Colleen Manchester further examines negative consequences of work-family policies in “Flexible Work Practices: A Source of Career Premiums or Penalties?” (Academy of Management Journal, 2012). In this paper, written with Lisa Leslie, now at the Stern School of Business, and PhD students Tae-Youn Park and Si Ahn Mehng, she proposed that managers will judge employees’ commitment to the organization by how they use a flexible work schedule—if they use it to increase work productivity versus for personal-life accommodation. She finds positive effects on career outcomes if use is attributed to productivity reasons and negative effects if attributed to personal-life reasons. In follow-up research that is in preparation, she finds an important finding for parents:

“We find that parental status is more important than gender for understanding the negative effect of using flexible work practices on career outcomes: non-parents do not experience negative effects from use, but parents do because their use is more likely to be attributed to personal-life reasons,” she says.

Watch Manchester discuss flexible work practices

Gender differences in information processing

Joan Meyers-Levy, the Holden-Werlich Professor of Marketing, started her academic career by studying gender differences. In “Gender Differences in the Use of Message Cues and Judgments” (Journal of Marketing Research, 1991), she showed how men and women differ in their information-processing strategies. Women picked up on somewhat subtle message cues that men did not and then used them in their judgments of products.

“The theory that I and my coauthor developed, which we termed the selectivity hypothesis, posits that when processing and responding to information they receive, males more so than females are inclined to simplify the data presented and process it less comprehensively,” she says.

Earlier this year, Meyers-Levy reviewed the most recent literature on gender differences that relate to consumer behavior. In “Revisiting Gender Differences: What We Know and What Lies Ahead” (Journal of Consumer Psychology, 2015), she and her co-author, Professor Barbara Loken, examined relevant research in marketing, psychology, and biomedicine from 2000 to 2013.

From the study, five conclusions emerge. First, males focus more on enhancing their own outcomes, while females are concerned with obtaining outcomes that benefit both oneself and others. Second, females are more guarded or cautious than males, tempering their responses over the possibility of concerns such as risk, fraud, or loss of privacy. Third, presumably due to their greater concern over such negative consequences, females display a greater ability to resist temptation, delay gratification, and control their anger. Fourth, males tend to be more selective in processing data and thus are apt to take shortcuts, whereas females endeavor to process and use data more comprehensively. Finally, females display more sensitivity than males in response to differentiating conditions or factors.

For more stories about students, faculty, and alumni, check out the Carlson School magazine