Joyce E.A. Russell, who became dean of Villanova University's School of Business this past summer, says the Roman Catholic institution's emphasis on Augustinian values is part of its appeal. Ethics training helps make graduates attractive to businesses, she says. Ms. Russell describes what it's like to be a new business dean and the steps she is taking to improve female representation among students and on the faculty, and to pave the way for women to rise to positions in senior administration.
RUTH HAMMOND: Hello. I'm Ruth Hammond. Our guest here today is Joyce Russell, who's the business dean at Villanova University, a Roman Catholic institution in suburban Philadelphia. Welcome.
JOYCE RUSSELL: Thank you.
RUTH HAMMOND: So business is the most popular major among undergraduates, with more than 350,000 students graduating with business majors. And I wondered, why is it so popular? What does a business major bring to the work force that say, a liberal-arts major doesn't?
JOYCE RUSSELL: Well, it is a great time to be in a business school, and to be leading a business school, because it is a really popular major. We have an enormous number of applications for business students.
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And I think it's really popular because employers are really looking for people with strong technical analytical skills, as well as interpersonal skills. And they can get that with students with a business degree.
RUTH HAMMOND: You're pushing to have more women in the major. Now nationally, we're getting pretty close with almost 50 percent women. But you have a little farther to go at Villanova. So tell me about that effort and what you plan to do to bring more women into the major.
JOYCE RUSSELL: Sure. I think that in business schools generally it's about 40 percent of your undergraduate population, and often about 35 percent of your graduate population are women. We do have a concerted effort now to try to bring in more women, more students of color, into our business school, because employers also really want those students.
And so we're really trying to partner with some of the high schools to get women more excited about business, just to understand what business is all about and what the possible careers are. We'll be partnering with Girl Scouts. We'll be partnering with a number of different entrepreneurial types of firms. Just to help them understand the variety of options of careers that are out there that can benefit them.
RUTH HAMMOND: And at Villanova, what do you see your graduates doing in terms of the feedback you get when you follow alumni?
JOYCE RUSSELL: Are you talking about any of the graduate students?
RUTH HAMMOND: Right. Both those who just are undergraduate majors, and then the ones who got their M.B.A.s.
JOYCE RUSSELL: Well, I feel really fortunate because I inherited a place where we have incredible employer relationships. I mean, we have over like about 99 percent placement of our undergrads, which is fantastic. And so we have a large number of students who get jobs in the finance sector, but also the accounting sector. Those are probably two of our largest. But we have a lot of students that are getting jobs in marketing.
We have a really strong analytics program as well. And that's a real new trend that employers really want students with strong quantitative skills and skills to be able to understand big data and to be able to interpret that. So that's a strong major in our management field as well.
RUTH HAMMOND: When you say major, what do you mean? Like a concentration? Or an actual major?
JOYCE RUSSELL: Well, they can actually co-major in analytics. We also have specialized master's degrees. And one of those is an analytics as well, as well as in finance and accounting.
RUTH HAMMOND: So how are you going to increase the female representation on the faculty? I think you're pushing to try to get it to what? Forty percent?
JOYCE RUSSELL: Yeah. We have about 34 percent right now. A lot of our recent hires have been women. And they've been extremely strong candidates.
And so we are going to try to push to try to bring in more women in our faculty. And then of course, the women we have terms of promotion, because that's one of the challenges for business schools is that while you might bring in women, you don't necessarily have a lot of women that rise up in the ranks to become full professors or to go into senior administration.
So our goal is as we're looking at applicants to certainly diversify the pool of people that are coming in so that we can bring in more women. I mean, we think we have a good advantage at Villanova because it's a very mission-driven school. And that appeals a lot to women. They know that they can work there. They can really balance both teaching, research, and service. And that's important to a lot of women.
RUTH HAMMOND: Higher education has the same issue that you have in business, which is that although women are very well represented, they don't rise to the top as often as men do. And I wonder how in your curriculum you're trying to deal with that issue and preparing the young women who are studying with you, and also the men, for the rise of women in business.
JOYCE RUSSELL: So if you're thinking about the faculty and the staff, I think one of the things that we're looking at is what kinds of developmental opportunities do we provide? How much mentoring do we provide our new women faculty, as well as our men so that can help them in the research end, as well as on the teaching end.
So I'm trying to, as I've been there, look at how to build the infrastructure to provide more developmental opportunities, more support, more feedback, so that they actually have the assistance they need to be able to rise.
We also have at Villanova a women's professional network that's based on our business school, as well as a lot of our other schools. And that's a great networking opportunity. And then just a great mentoring opportunity as well. And I think that will be beneficial too.
RUTH HAMMOND: And are you doing anything to prepare the men to be accepting of having more women in leadership?
JOYCE RUSSELL: That's a great question. And I just started a diversity and inclusion task force. We're partnering with our students because they are very interested in this.
But also, I think the idea is I'm working with faculty and staff. And part of that is implicit-bias training. I think education really needs to do more in this space because people aren't really aware of some of the biases they have.
So if we can educate people when they're hiring, or when they're looking at candidates, I think that will go a long way to helping them understand we all have these biases. How do we manage those? And how do we make sure those don't influence the decisions that we're making? So we will be doing some training development in those areas.
RUTH HAMMOND: You have a strong emphasis on ethics. Can you tell me what makes that attractive to businesses? We hear so much about businesses that seem to have a corporate culture that emphasizes profits over ethics.
And so I wonder, is there a great demand for students who have greater training in ethics than maybe from some other business schools?
JOYCE RUSSELL: I think that's a great point. I mean, in fact, that's one of things that really excited me about joining the Villanova School of Business is the fact that it is based on Augustinian Catholic values. And our idea is not only to train students in terms of those strong technical skills and interpersonal skills, but to help them see that it's not just about them. They can be very successful. But they do care a lot also about the organization, about integrity is a really key component.
So we do try to weave in business ethics throughout everything that we teach. All of our students take a course in ethics. They have a liberal-arts background in addition to their business background. And that's unique. So.
RUTH HAMMOND: The feedback you get from businesses about that, can you comment to that?
JOYCE RUSSELL: Well, I think it's fantastic because our employers are always asking us for more of our students. In fact, I absolutely love that, because they're competing amongst each other for our students.
And I think they understand that our students are not just equipped with these strong technical skills. But they're the whole package. They have really good personalities and skills where they want to give back to the company.
It's not just about them. And that they understand that character and integrity are at the forefront. I mean, that's sort of the foundation of anything that they do. And their reputation is really important.
And I think employers really appreciate that. And they're coming back for as many students as they can get.
RUTH HAMMOND: You had mentioned that Villanova has a program that's pretty singular. And that trains people to run parishes. Right? Could you just tell us a little bit about that?
JOYCE RUSSELL: Yeah. It's really exciting. It's a unique program in the country where we have a master's degree in church management. And we actually have a center in church management where we focus either through the master's degree or certificate programs training either laypeople or ministers and priests about business skills that they would need to be effective in running parishes around the country. And we've gotten great feedback on that.
And that's just really important because right now they really don't get those business skills. And yet they're in charge of a lot of financial — they have a lot of financial responsibility and organizational responsibility. So getting the financial skills, the leadership skills, the organizing skills, has been really beneficial for them.
RUTH HAMMOND: And do you draw nationally?
JOYCE RUSSELL: Oh, yes. Actually internationally. We've drawn a lot of people from all around the world into this, because it's an online program. So it enables them to meet their own needs, at the same time, get the important skills they need.
RUTH HAMMOND: And one last question. You write the Career Coach column for The Washington Post. And I wonder now that you have been a business dean for a few months, what advice would you give to a new business dean?
JOYCE RUSSELL: That's a great question. I think I've been spending my entire fall semester on a listen-and-learn tour. And I think that's really important. So I think that's always a good first step is to especially if you come in as an outsider is to understand the culture and dynamics before you try to make any kind of changes yourself. And to really be able to identify who are the informal leaders in the organization, what's the reward structure like, and the underlying incentives before you start making those kinds of changes.
So really take the time to understand before you implement any kind of changes that will really upset things that actually work well for you.
RUTH HAMMOND: OK. Well, thank you very much for being here today.
JOYCE RUSSELL: Thank you. I appreciate it.