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Amplifying Women’s Voices at Darden

TFTL Allison Elias headshot



Assistant Professor of Business Administration Allison Elias teaches at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business. As a teacher, researcher, and author, Ms. Elias introduces a new elective available fall semester 2022. Her new class offering will examine the roles, challenges, voices, and futures of women in the workplace.





Historically, women have been underrepresented in business school education. While the Darden full-time MBA Class of 2023 is now 40% women, it has taken decades to advance women’s representation. And arguably, the historical exclusion of women from management degree programs remains imprinted in the business school in ways that continue to sustain gender inequity.

To push towards equity, we need to expand our views of leadership and career success, which commonly feature the male experience, and particularly the white male experience, as normative. I have designed a new MBA elective course, “Women, Gender, and Work: Leadership Stories and Career Narratives” that will launch in the fall of 2022. This course seeks to unpack the social construction of gender as it shapes work so that all students, regardless of gender identity, will be prepared to lead in a variety of organizational contexts.  While business school case studies remain dominated by male protagonists, this course centers the experiences of women across racial and class differences, and it addresses the unexpected moves and turns that define modern careers. Integrating women’s voices into business education challenges dominant narratives that conflate leadership and masculinity, and that define career success in narrow ways.

TFTL_women in line

Concerning objectives, the course operates on two levels: at the collective level, we seek a greater understanding of gender as embedded in narratives about leadership and careers. And we assess potential remedies to improve gender equity. At the individual level, students are encouraged to use case study discussions to approach their own careers with greater intent. The selected cases push beyond a single story of leadership and career success that allow students to imagine new possibilities of what is next after graduating.

The course content begins with reflection and invites criticism as we discuss why a course like this even exists, and whether having this course is “good” or “bad” for the state of gender and diversity at business schools.  Then we continue by moving across a variety of industries and occupations to explore the ways that women and men navigate a gendered workplace, particularly given the decline of long-term employment relationships. Individual case studies and caselets feature mostly women, and some men, in a variety of industries: finance, consumer goods, law, politics, professional sports, the military, and transportation services. All sessions take an approach to gender that is fluid, malleable, and historically and socially constructed. Students also have an opportunity to assess the alignment of personal values and career choices, and to analyze their professional networks.

TFTL-women in the office

The capstone project brings together Darden students and alumnae, giving each student an opportunity to interview an alumna about her life before, during, and after Darden. Suggested topics of conversation include not only the business school experience, but also the reasons she chose a certain college major or first job; the moments that were pivotal in shaping her professional path; the extent to which she considers identity to be part of her leadership story; and the strategies utilized to manage multiple priorities (i.e., career, family, and self). This project fosters student-alumna engagement and provides support for Darden students—former and current—to build relationships across generations.

Please contact me if you are interested in learning more about the course.