New faculty introduction: Elizabeth McClean

McClean is an associate professor of management and organizations at Johnson

By: Stephen D'Angelo
professional portrait of elizabeth mcclean

Meet the newest faculty from across the SC Johnson College of Business and learn about their academic focus, teaching, and interests.

Elizabeth McClean | Associate Professor | Johnson

What is your research/teaching focus?

My primary areas of research include leadership, gender, and voice. I’m particularly interested in how the consequences of speaking up with ideas for change (e.g., whether the idea is endorsed, whether the speaker is perceived as a leader) differ depending on the speaker’s gender.

I teach on the topics of leadership, diversity, and strategic human resource management. Here at Johnson, I’ll be teaching Leading Teams in the Core and Women in the Workplace in the spring.

What attracted you to the SC Johnson College of Business, or Johnson specifically?

I went to Cornell for my undergraduate and PhD degrees, but over in ILR, so I was familiar with the Johnson community. I was attracted by the world-class research and the community of scholars within Johnson and Cornell more broadly. Plus, I’m from upstate NY, so Ithaca is home for me.

What are you most looking forward to during your first year at Johnson?

Getting to know the other faculty members and interacting with the MBA students. I sat in on a Zoom class recently and found the students to be very engaged, so looking forward to getting that experience in the classroom.

What first sparked your interest in your area of study? When did you know you wanted to be a professor?

I knew I wanted to be a professor in 2004 when I was an undergraduate in ILR. I took a statistics class and fell in love with it. Then, I had the chance to be part of a research project where I collected data from employees within a company and I found out that I could use my love of stats to answer interesting and practical management-related questions. I love collecting data to answer interesting theoretical questions that also help managers in their daily lives.

Specifically, I became interested in the topic of speaking up at work with ideas for change when I was helping on a research project in hospitals down in New York City. I was conducting interviews with nurses and learned how critical it was for them to feel safe speaking up with ideas for change and how oftentimes they didn’t feel comfortable doing so. It sparked my interest in understanding more about the dynamics related to speaking up. As time has progressed, I have focused on the consequences of speaking up, which is how I started to integrate leadership and gender into the equation.

What do you like best about teaching?

I love the opportunity to learn from my students. Oftentimes, I’m not the most experienced person in the room, so what I tell people is: I know the theory, I know the research, but bring me your experiences and let’s compare notes. I like when together we build new models of understanding organizational phenomena that oftentimes serve as future research projects for me. For example, one of my recent papers, which shows that women can be successful speaking up assertively, came out of a conversation I had teaching a class to executive women. Several of the participants shared their experiences (that they were successful speaking up assertively) that were different from what the existing research suggested (that women should not speak up assertively). That conversation inspired me to study when women can be successful speaking up.

What do you see as some of the biggest challenges or areas of change in your research field moving into the future?

In the short-term, the biggest challenge is related to entry back into the office post-COVID-19. Traditional status and power structures were shaken up while working from home, both within the home (e.g., among men and women’s roles) and in the workplace (e.g., who is perceived as an emerging leader). There are a lot of interesting challenges resulting from this shakeup, which I like to think of as research questions, to come out of this moment in our collective history. For example, the consequences of the pandemic on people’s careers have been uneven with more women than men dropping out of the workforce, which raises questions about talent pipelines and gender equality in the workplace. There has also been an increased appreciation for relational leadership behaviors (i.e., consideration of people’s challenges/situations working from home), which are more often associated to women than men. It will be interesting to see if this appreciation continues as we transition back into the office when it is not so obvious what is going on in people’s personal lives.

More broadly, I think there are challenges related to how firms define diversity, talk about it, and approach managing it. Although not a new challenge, firms are facing increased pressure from a variety of stakeholders to do better. From the Black Lives Matter movement to #MeToo, leaders are on the spot to act in a more meaningful manner than simply making performative statements in support of racial and gender equality. From a research perspective, I’m curious how firms respond to various stakeholder groups related to diversity efforts and what the consequences of their actions are for both the firm and employees.