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Bentley Professor at the Forefront of UN Mission to Change Business Education

Academics

Bentley Professor at the Forefront of UN Mission to Change Business Education

Pat Flynn has a big sheet of paper with “NO” written on it in capital letters taped to a filing cabinet that’s right in her line of sight as she sits at her desk.

It’s a reminder to her to maybe, just once in a while, take a pass on a new opportunity she’s been offered, to learn to say “No” more often.

It hasn’t been working lately.

In the last few years she’s agreed to be a lead editor in the United Nations’ Global Compact Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) book series.  These books (published by Greenleaf, now an imprint of Routledge) are resources for more than 650 business school signatories to the U.N.’s Global Compact in more than 80 countries.

The mission of the series, explains Flynn, is ambitious: to change the way business schools teach about sustainability, gender equity, corporate social responsibility, and a host of other issues.

Gender Equity and Sustainability Series

Flynn, Trustee Professor of Economics and Management and former dean of Bentley’s McCallum Graduate School of Business, serves as co-chair of the Principles for Responsible Management Education’s Working Group on Gender Equality. In this role she has to date been co-editor of two books on gender equality and two on sustainability issues in business and in management education.

The first two volumes focus on gender equality and Pat is co-editor with Kathryn Haynes (UK) and Maureen Kilgour (Canada), who also co-chair the Working Group on Gender Equality.  Integrating Gender Equality into Business and Management Education: Lessons Learned and Challenges Remaining was published in 2015, while Overcoming Challenges to Gender Equality in the Workplace: Leadership and Innovation came out in 2016.

Pat co-edited the two most recent Principles for Responsible Management Education books with Milenko Gudić (Serbia) and Tay Keong Tan (Singapore and the U.S.).  Milenko is co-chair of the Working Group on Anti-Poverty, while Tay Keong co-chairs the Anti-Corruption Working Group.   Beyond the Bottom Line: Integrating Sustainability into Business and Management Practice was published in March 2017.  Redefining Success: Integrating Sustainability into Management Education is scheduled for publication in September 2017.

Using an interdisciplinary approach

Flynn explains that the approach to all the books in the series, and especially to the most recent volumes, is interdisciplinary. “To look at sustainability in business and management education more generally,” says Flynn, “you should consider topics such as poverty and corruption alongside those involving the environment, gender and social responsibility. There are often interconnections and a narrow approach or definition wouldn’t do justice to the issues at hand.”

Meeting the U.N.’s ambitious goals with an international approach

If the scope and aims of these books are broad and ambitious, Flynn says that’s fitting given the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals, which she still marvels at. “It amazes me that there are 17 and each of them is so far-reaching. Right from the start, Goal Number 1 doesn’t say, ‘Reduce poverty,’ it says, ‘Eliminate poverty.’ So there’s a real attitude of thinking big.”

All four of the books have been international efforts, each containing chapters from more than 30 faculty representing more than 15 countries. “It certainly makes editing a challenge!” notes Flynn.

Looking for champions as well as case studies

With four edited books (including some which also have chapters co-authored by her) having come out in three years’ time, Flynn could be expected to pay attention to that “No” sign a little bit more. But it doesn’t appear that she has, as she has just agreed to co-edit two more books in the series.

“One’s going to be on ‘global champions’ of sustainable development focusing on all kinds of individuals, be they students, CEOs or social activists, who’ve made significant progress on one of the Sustainable Development Goals. We want to tell the stories of these often unsung heroes actually doing this work well.” That volume is due out in the spring of 2019.

The second volume in this new series, due out at the end of 2019, will include case studies of struggles and successes in pursuit of sustainable development, “analyses of what worked and what didn’t—because often,” says Flynn, “we learn a lot from what went wrong.”

Making connections between issues

Flynn’s work is a lot to keep track of, and she understands that not all the connections—between environmental sustainability, gender equality, corporate social responsibility and other issues—may be immediately clear. That’s part of the purpose of her work: to help people make the connections. For example, “women, especially in some developing countries, are disproportionately poor, and suffer the effects of environmental harm more greatly,“ Flynn notes.

Who are the female role models in business and business education?

Flynn has written and spoken across the globe on issues of gender and business schools. There are still relatively few women faculty in business schools, especially in fields such as finance, economics and computer information systems.  More generally, there are far fewer women who are tenured faculty, department chairs, associate deans and deans, than people expect, or were forecast years ago.  “Where are the female role models for our female and male students?” Flynn asks.

Having seen recent data, she is very concerned about the decline in women pursuing MBAs in the United States, in contrast to elsewhere in the world.   “The number of women earning MBAs in this country has fallen 25 percent over the last five years—and nobody’s talking about it,” she says. “Women are still going to college, but they are increasingly choosing to go into fields such as STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and health. The MBA is the most common graduate degree of CEOs – and it’s time for more women leaders.  In 2016 women accounted for just 4 percent of the CEOs in the Fortune 500 companies.  We ought to be talking more about these issues.”

These are the types of questions that drive Flynn’s teaching, research, writing, and presentations, and she’s going to keep pushing these conversations, even if it means saying “No” less than she should.  In fact, she said “Yes” to participating in the presentations and celebrations around the Principles for Responsible Management Education’s 10th Anniversary and Global Forum this summer in New York City, where all the recently published books in the series will be highlighted.

But as for editing more books in the series? “I don’t think so.  Six is enough,” she laughs. “I’ll just get a bigger ‘NO’ sign.”

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