• By The UCI Paul Merage School of BusinessIrvine, CA - (March 16, 2023) -
Growing up in Berkeley, Sharon Koppman has had an interest in the topics of fairness and equity since she was young. But she didn’t start analyzing those issues specifically within the modern workplace until a few years ago while working on her PhD at the University of Arizona.
While researching an advertising agency for her dissertation, Koppman noticed that most of the creatives at the company were men and the managers were primarily women.
Koppman, currently an Associate Professor of Organization and Management at the Merage School, was intrigued because the common stereotype was that men were traditionally better managers and women were more artistic. Koppman decided to further analyze the issue and she’s continued to publish papers on workplace gender disparities ever since.
One of these studies that was featured in a Rolling Stone article in 2020 found that women musicians tend to have more unique songs because there’s a higher bar for them to break into the field. Koppman said it was one of the “coolest moments of [her] life” to be published by the magazine.
“We also found that when men collaborate with more women their songs are more novel than men who collaborate with more men,” she said of the research done by her and her co-authors Michael Mauskapf, Noah Askin, and Brian Uzzi.
Koppman brings a unique perspective to the Merage School, where she teaches and studies the sociological factors behind hiring practices, careers, and collaborative efforts in creative industries like music, advertising, and technology.
Koppman specifically focuses on workplaces, where inequality and discrimination can cause a great deal of harm. In her view, inequality hurts organizations because they are not hiring the best people for their jobs and they are not able to retain talented employees. It hurts individuals because they are not able to fulfill their potential due to discriminatory obstacles.
“People spend much of their lives at work,” she said. “People often define themselves through their work. The creative sector has been lauded as a force for expanding opportunity and progress. But the actual experience of people in these industries are different. There is a lot of subtle inequality going on behind the scenes that people even in the field are not aware of. This is bad for everyone.”
There aren’t generally a lot of sociologists in business school but Koppman believes it’s the perfect environment for her because she’s able to apply her sociological knowledge to improve her students’ work lives.
“Being in a business school, you're able to see the things that you study happening in your students’ workplaces, and you give them guidance and they try them and you get this great feedback where you're able to see changes in a way that doesn't really happen with research,” Koppman said. “So that's part of why I love to be in a business school.”
Koppman was attracted to UC Irvine because of the interesting work her colleagues were accomplishing at the Merage School. In addition to their vital research, faculty were also very supportive of Koppman and her unique perspective on business. She’s also partnered with her colleagues on various studies.
Another notable paper that Koppman is working on with fellow Merage School professors Ming Leung and Tingting Nian analyzes how women and other underrepresented minorities benefit from atypical careers, where individuals move between a variety of other jobs.
This is particularly interesting because prior research showed that these atypical job moves were detrimental to peoples’ careers.
“What happens is they tend to be hired into these jobs that have shorter job ladders, where they tend to have fewer career and networking opportunities,” Koppman said. “So by moving out of these initial jobs, they're able to advance higher in the organization.”
Koppman is hoping that her research eventually provides business leaders with the knowledge to make important changes to make their institutions more equitable.
“Managers want to hire good people,” she said. “They want to create a healthy work environment for everyone. But they don’t know everything that is going on. Or all the implications of what they are doing. So I want to help them create fair hiring processes and a healthy work environment for everyone.”
About The Paul Merage School of Business
The UCI Paul Merage School of Business offers three dynamic MBA programs – plus PhD, specialty masters and undergraduate business degrees – that prepare business leaders for our digitally driven world. Through our programs, students acquire the exceptional ability to grow their organizations through strategic innovation, analytical decision-making, digital information technology and collaborative execution. While the Merage School is relatively young, it has quickly grown to rank consistently among the top five percent of all business programs worldwide through exceptional student recruitment, world-class faculty, a strong alumni network and close relationships with both individual business executives and global corporations. Additional information is available at merage.uci.edu.