Published on July 07, 2014

Corporate leaders of the future will need to provide a supportive environment for a workforce consisting of substantially more women, dean Sunil Kumar said at the White House Summit on Working Families.

The daylong summit, held June 23 in Washington, DC, focused on strengthening the nation’s workplaces to better support working families, and creating workplaces that are thriving and competitive in today’s global environment.  

Kumar, who also is George Pratt Shultz Professor of Operations Management, joined legislators, businesses, economists and CEOs, for a series of panel discussions on the issues facing all types of working families—from low-wage workers to corporate executives. Hosts for the event were the Center for American Progress, the Department of Labor, and the White House Council on Women and Girls.

Kumar’s panel discussion focused on how to prepare MBA graduates for the workplace of today, and the centerpiece of his presentation was leading-edge research by Marianne Bertrand, Chris P. Dialynas Distinguished Service Professor of Economics.

Her study, “Dynamics of the Gender Gap for Young Professionals in the Financial and Corporate Sectors,” published in the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics in 2010, examined the compensation trajectory of some 3,000 Chicago Booth alumni over the 16 years following graduation. Bertrand found near gender parity upon graduation but that after that, compensation trajectories for men and women diverged.

“The data suggests that this effect is explained by three factors,” Kumar said. “The first two are having breaks in one’s career and working fewer hours—both of which apply mainly to women with children. The third factor is training prior to MBA graduation.”

Kumar also pointed out that Bertrand’s study suggests that as more men decide to take time off for family reasons, they, too will be penalized nonlinearly.

“The key question Bertrand’s study engenders is, ‘How can companies benefit by redesigning career paths so that career breaks and reduced hours are not penalized as they are now,’” he said.

Emphasizing the growing diversity of the workforce, Kumar said executives have to have the self-awareness of knowing not everyone else is like them. “(Leaders) have to learn how to negotiate with people who are very different,” Kumar added.

Mitigating the effects of career breaks by helping people reenter the workforce more effectively has been the focus of several Booth programs, such as the annual Booth Women Connect Conference for alumni, current students, and prospective students.

“Booth Women Connect offers networking opportunities for new professionals and women seeking to reenter the workforce,” Kumar explained.

Other speakers at the conference included President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Goldman Sachs Chairman and CEO Lloyd Blankfein, Ernst & Young Global Chairman and CEO Mark Weinberger, PriceWaterhouseCoopers Chairman Bob Moritz, Labor Department Secretary Thomas Perez, International Union President Mary Kay Henry, and senior presidential advisor Valerie Jarrett, formerly University of Chicago Board of Trustees vice chair.

Ariel Kalil, director of the University of Chicago Center for Human Potential and Public Policy Director, also presented.