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Dr. Greg Obi
July 25, 2017 : Faculty Expert Series: Uncovering biases in global leadership


Faculty Expert Series: Uncovering biases in global leadership


Dr. Greg Obi thinks from a “glocal” perspective, not only in his work as an educator but also in his life. Obi, an American of Igbo-Nigerian descent notes that his foreign upbringing gives him an “insider – outsider” perspective on issues in our country. Having studied and worked both here in the United States and aboard, Obi has channeled his experiences to help impact change for future generations of leaders. His recent work has focused on leadership issues, and in particular, gender biases involving women and minorities in corporate organizations.


America is a country that prides itself on its diverse culture and is referred to as a “melting pot,” but as Obi explains, organizations themselves have made an effort to become more diverse but are lacking in inclusion.


“I believe that organizations today, especially in the U.S., have gone beyond the need for diversification,” he explained. “Our need is about inclusion.”


Obi profiled that when looking inward at an organization, it may appear that there is broad diversity within the ranks, but when looking at organizational hierarchy, there seems to be a stop-gap for certain people at certain levels.  


To combat this, Obi emphasizes smaller steps that can be taken by an organization’s management, as well as his students in the Business Management Technology program at Ohio University Chillicothe, to analyze whether an organization is gender/minority sensitive and promoting equality.


These steps center around both an understanding and focus on remedying injustices or biases in the workforce. From exploring ideas of covering and stay-put career choices to diversity and inclusion, Obi seeks ways to expose these issues in order to create better organizations, managers and future leaders in the corporate world.


He takes unique approaches to showing his classes the importance of inclusion and understanding gender bias by separating them into different groups based on gender – one that is all male, all female, mixed gender with male majority and mixed gender with female majority – and has them develop solutions to problems. What he has concluded is that often times, the group with all males will tend to give responses that are directly opposite of the all-female groups. Whereas the more inclusive groups, the ones with mixed genders, develop a more holistic response.           


“I think that because groups are able to trade views with each other, they tend to be more realistic with their responses to the situations,” he noted.


For my students, a lot of times there are “ah ha” moments. I find that when I introduce the topics of gender equality and organizational challenges, it makes them a little more realistic for understanding the dynamics of leadership and management, he explained.


He also spends time unearthing concepts like covering and stay-put career choices, actions that are rooted in a system of inequality.


Covering, as described by Obi, is the act of a minority group member avoiding closely interacting with people of their own group in order to not show bias. He explained that this implicitly comes into play when women in senior management positions have to justify their promotion choices if the employee nominated for promotion is a female. 


What we tend to see, Obi said, is that as a form of covering, women tend to not recommend other women for promotion in order to avoid controversy, even when they know she is qualified for the job. Unfortunately, when the roles are reversed, that case is not always the same, he explained. Men are not questioned about their promotion choices when their recommended employee is male and sometimes are even asked to justify their selection if that person is a female.


“When it comes to women, organizations tend not to focus on their quality, or the skill set they have. The same thing applies to minority people. It’s almost as if they are being used to fill a quota and are not being recognized for their skill set or their job experience. It’s important that organizations and young students who are going to be tomorrow’s managers recognize these issues so as to avoid organizational structures, and mindset that create such things,” he said.


Obi also focuses on the concept of “staying-put,” where women are typically considered to want to stay in their same positions without upward mobility due to family and work-life balance. Often times and unjustly, he explained, the input of the employee isn’t considered when upper level management decisions about promotions are made.


“The decision to stay put should be the individual’s and not the organizations’,” argued Obi. “A lot of times organizations erroneously, though with good intentions, make these decisions. It is sad that these ‘good intentions’ are backed by a lack of knowledge or lack of engagement with the individual concerned.”  


Obi underscored the need for society and organizations to rethink many of these objectives which tend to unequally stall one gender or minority groups from progressing in the workforce.


“I think, when we bring men and women, boys and girls, onto the same platform and explore what they all have, we tend to benefit as a community, as a country and the world,” Obi said.


Through his classroom work and extensive research, Obi is working to make an impact in what he sees as a global culture, not just in Chillicothe, but effecting change throughout the world. He believes everything we do has ties to the global society and tailors his teaching and work to that goal. Obi offers that almost all organizational issues today are “glocal;” local events with global implications, or global events that impact one’s locality.


Obi will be presenting his findings from this work for a peer reviewed case study. While in the coming fall, he will be co-presenting with his brother, Dr. Pat Obi of Purdue University Northwest, and Ebenezer Bugri Anafro of the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration, at the 8th annual global business conference to be held in Dubrovnik, Croatia on the impacts of oil revenues in oil-dependent Sub-Saharan African economies.