Tackling misconceptions of working business women


Photo: Emily Harmon/Iowa State Daily

Anna Kurns, junior in management, talks with Amy Neal of Buckle about the potential career opportunities at the Business, Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Human Sciences Career Fair on Wednesday, Sept. 28, at Hilton Coliseum. Buckle is a clothing store offering multiple options for students regarding jobs. 

Lauren Vigar

The number of women in the College of Business at Iowa State is significantly smaller than of the men in the college. Faculty said that misconceptions and gender barriers are the biggest contributing factors.

“There is a lot of research that says women don’t display confidence,” said Kayla Sander, senior lecturer in accounting and committee chair of the Young Women in Business Conference.

She said that whether it is from the perspective of women thinking they cannot balance a career in business and raise a family or the way that men view the confidence that women display, these are simply misconceptions and gender barriers that need to be overcome.

It is not that women do not have confidence — they just do not display it the same way as men do.

When women give ideas in the workplace, sometimes their assertiveness comes across to men as bossy. That is why some women decide to keep quiet and keep ideas to themselves, Sander said.

“Even vocal tones and how women are perceived when we speak is different than how men are perceived,” said Emily Kohnke, assistant professor in supply chain and information systems.

According to an NPR article by Laura Starecheski, there is a gender bias in how Americans perceive feminine voices as insecure, less competent and less trustworthy.

Annette Masson, a voice coach at the University of Michigan, said in the article that the upward inflection women often incorporate into their speech can make them sound less assertive than men.

“Women tend to use a lot more words to express a point than a man would typically use,” Kohnke said.

Kohnke said that women should not need to change these things, but it is important to realize the way they are perceived.

“There is a lot of research out there that says companies that have a large amount of women are more profitable than those who don’t,” Sander said.

This year the College of Business’ enrollment includes only 36.1 percent of women. Part of the low percentage of women pursuing business degrees is due to the misconception of women in business, as well as a misconception of what opportunities exist, Sander said.

Kohnke said that many high school students can list a few basic business majors, but they do not know about supply chain management or management information systems. Kohnke said that while some students know about management information system, they simply have the wrong idea of what the the major actually entails.

“We’re overcoming a barrier that people just don’t know these majors exist,” Kohnke said.

Kohnke said that some students who are in the College of Business do not realize what supply chain management really is until they take a class that is required for their major.

Supply chain management is the study of the material, information and services needed to produce goods or services and deliver them to consumers, a job that is in high demand at businesses across the globe. 

“We have a lot of students that take that and suddenly go, ‘Wow, this is really interesting,’” Kohnke said.

Some students realize that they want to switch into the major after it is already too late for them, so the department is thinking of different ways to introduce students to it. 

Kohnke and Sander said that some students are looking to study for careers that are meaningful, and business is not what initially comes to their mind.

Behind every good cause is a business, and Kohnke and Sander want students to know that a career in business can be just as meaningful as a career trying to find the cure for cancer.

“We are letting women know that they have a role in business,” Sander said.