Rachael Goodwin: Management Professor Focuses on Obstacles Facing Women on the Path to Leadership

While working in New York City 15 years ago, Rachael Goodwin fell in love with Central New York while on a weekend trip. When she heard about an opening at the Whitman School for an assistant professor of management earlier this year, she jumped at the chance to apply. 

“I love this area, and, of course, the Whitman School has an outstanding reputation for research and teaching,” she says, noting that she recently completed her Ph.D. in business management at the University of Utah’s David Eccles School of Business. “I’m also drawn by the opportunity for cross-disciplinary research and the chance to promote equity on campus.” 

Goodwin joined the Whitman School this fall and is currently concentrating on research investigating workplace issues related to expected power, managerial social cognition, gender and leadership. She is also exploring attitudes towards perpetrators and victims, whistleblowing and unethical behaviors, including sexual harassment, that create obstacles for women at work, particularly those interested in pursuing leadership roles.

In addition to being a faculty member at the Whitman School, Goodwin is also a research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Women and Public Policy Program, where she collaborates with other gender scholars around the world to bring different perspectives on women’s obstacles around the globe. It was, in fact, an experience doing nonprofit work in  Ethiopia that pulled her work in this direction. While at a government conference helping nonprofits learn to thrive there, Goodwin saw that she was one of only two women in a room of more than 200 men. “That’s when I realized that half of the population was not being represented. I wondered what I could do to promote change,” she explains. 

Her quantitative and qualitative projects have since focused on the obstacles women face on their path to leadership, including workplace discrimination, perfectionism and sexual harassment. “I let the data tell the story. After identifying real world problems and a solid theory, it’s really about what the data has to say. The data can show organizations how pervasive inequality is,” Goodwin says. 

She notes that progress toward gender equality in the workplace took a “huge backslide” during COVID-19, as many women felt pressed to prioritize caring for children or parents over their careers. 

“The pandemic definitely set our goals for gender equality back several years,” she says. “And when we look atsystemic inequalities through an intersectional lens – taking both race and gender into account – the damage done in the wake of the pandemic is even greater. The question is, ‘What are the most effective strategies for recouping what we have lost?’”

Goodwin hopes her research will help to empower women and the workplace at large. “By minimizing gender inequality, or any inequality for that matter, everyone wins,” she says. “Research promoting equality at work is not just about benefiting the underrepresented or repressed population. When we find ways to overcome discrimination or other obstacles tied to long-held negative stereotypes that often put undue pressure on individuals, then productivity can increase for all.”  

In an experiment Goodwin ran with her research team last year, she found that one way to increase women’s desires and intentions to apply for leadership positions is to increase women’s sense of power during the recruiting process, by signaling to them that their voices will be heard. 

“If, as a woman, I don’t think anyone is going to listen to me, why would I consider joining a board or a STEM team or take on any other similar kind of leadership role?” she says. ”We showed how important it is for women to sense that they will have a voice if they take the plunge to become a minority female board member.” 

Goodwin hopes this simple finding will also be used to help organizations recruit more diverse board members. 

Next semester, in the spring of 2022, Goodwin will have the opportunity to share more of her work with management students while teaching Organizational Behavior at the Whitman School.

“I love teaching,” she says, noting that she started her academic journey as an adjunct instructor at Brigham Young University. “It’s a great opportunity to bring the latest research into the classroom. By doing so, I hope to create value for students that will empower them with tools for navigating complex leadership challenges, while also helping them create a more equitable workplace for everyone.”