Scholar suggests Arvind Gupta lost masculinity contest at UBC

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      Sauder School of Business scholar Jennifer Berdahl has presented a provocative hypothesis to explain why Arvind Gupta is no longer president of UBC.

      "I believe that part of this outcome is that Arvind Gupta lost the masculinity contest among the leadership at UBC, as most women and minorities do at institutions dominated by white men," Berdahl wrote on her blog.

      Berhdal is UBC's Montalbano professor of leadership studies: gender and diversity.

      She pointed out that Gupta, a computer scientist, was "the first brown man" to become president of UBC.

      Based on her conversations with him, she's concluded that Gupta is "convinced of the need to bring and keep all forms of talent into the Canadian workplace, no matter its size, style, or packaging".

      "He isn't tall or physically imposing," she noted. "He advocates for women and visible minorities in leadership—a stance that has been empirically demonstrated to hurt men at work."

      She recalled that when she was on an executive search committee with Gupta, he "expressed uncertainty when he was uncertain and he sought expertise from experts".

      "He encouraged the less powerful to speak first and the more powerful to speak last," Berdahl added. "He did not share his own leanings and thoughts until it was time to make a decision, so as not to encourage others to 'fall in line'."

      She pointed out that when work is a "masculinity contest", the leadership "does not earnestly seek expert input, self-doubt, or empower low-status voices".

      "Instead, those who rise to positions of leadership have won the contest of who can seem most certain and overrule or ignore divergent opinions," Berdahl wrote. "Risk-taking, harassment, and bullying are common."

      It can lead those who govern in a less hierarchical manner to be derided as wimps or "not man enough".

      On her blog, she stated that "UBC either failed in selecting, or in supporting, him as president".

      "President Arvind Gupta was about excellence," Berdahl concluded. "I wish him the best in finding it in his next endeavours."



      out at night

      Aug 9, 2015 at 12:11pm

      As Ms. Berdahl actually knows the outgoing UBC President and served with him on committee, I would give her thoughts on the subject of his departure a lot of weight.

      Really good leaders like asking others to give their input, often defer to those they 'outrank', seek expert advice when unsure about a given topic, and don't practice or abide bullying or harassment. People can view someone as a strong leader precisely because they are not afraid to expose their own ignorance and uncertainties, but only if that leader can also project the inner confidence that says, "I trust this process, I value everyone equally and I have a gift for marshaling various and often divergent opinions and attitudes."

      It's not just about giving ground to diverse and "less powerful" voices. Great leaders are able to lead with all the certainty required in critical situations and those under their guidance have a reassuring faith that when push comes to shove the head cheese can be sufficiently resolute. That faith is earned, and staff need to witness several instances of the boss being scrupulously and genuinely inclusive, but also of taking the reins firmly when it comes time to cut the Gordian knot and move on. A great leader has great instincts, charm, wit, humour, empathy, timing and grit, probably in equal measure. It's both a morass of ineffable, nuanced attributes and a fairly specific recipe.

      I don't know Mr. Gupta, but maybe he isn't as dashing, warm or dynamic as he needed to be? Or maybe he is the consummate leader, possessed of every quality I see as essential, and his premature departure is all about about race, stature and style. It seems to me that on one hand one must never underestimate peoples' ability to be racist, lookist and shallow; but on the latter hand it also seems unlikely that someone possessed of true charisma and inspirational spark can be so easily defeated by the former.

      I dunno...

      Aug 9, 2015 at 12:14pm

      "He advocates for women and visible minorities in leadership—a stance that has been empirically demonstrated to hurt men at work."

      As it should. People who have a political agenda that trumps competence don't belong in high-level positions. Employing women and visible minorities for their own sake is as ridiculous as employing white men for their own sake. The solution to irrational selection procedure A is not irrational selection procedure B.

      And UBC is not "dominated by white men," arguably the most powerful man on campus, the University Counsel, Hubert Lai, is certainly not a white man. It's high time that we stopped accepting this 20th century race-baiting rhetoric because it is nonsense. It's not "white people" who dominate anything; it's rich jackasses who happen, completely irrelevantly, to be white. In North Korea, I am sure their Universities are full of similar jackasses, and I can guarantee you that they're not white.

      I find it amazing how this jackass behavior can be identified so easily with "white" people, as though nobody of any other "race" (and it's sick to talk this way in 2015, race is a fictitious entity with no scientific basis) behaved in this way. And it has nothing to do with "masculinity"---plenty of men don't behave like jackasses either. So it's not "white males" who are ruining anything, it's jackasses. And over the last few decades of "inclusivity" it doesn't seem that the jackassery has diminished, if anything it's amped up to a ridiculous level. Can anyone with a straight face tell me that institutions do _less_ domination today than in the 1980s? In the 1980s you could hit on a girl without being accused of harassment! In the 1980s you could tell jokes without being suspended! So we have more domination today---at "best" it is the "right sort of domination," and that to me says domination is a systemic problem---certain people seem to think domination is how you solve problems, is all, and this isn't a trait specific to any gender, race, creed, etc. etc.

      Oh Really

      Aug 9, 2015 at 1:20pm

      @I dunno... You obviously do not know the culture at UBC. Anyone who has worked there will tell you it is an Old Boy's Club. Look at all the tenured positions that have been held by the same Boomer males for decades. As for your ignorant comment, "Employing women and visible minorities for their own sake is as ridiculous as employing white men for their own sake," What makes you think the women and minorities who apply for jobs at UBC are less qualified and only hired to meet a quota? It is the quintessential fallacy that that argument makes. Nobody hires unqualified people. If a workplace has a majority of white males isn't it incumbent upon that workplace to add diversity?

      By the way no one is blaming white people. Berdahl is suggesting that the corporate mentality which we see in politics, on the playing field, and in business (i.e., macho mentality) is what caused Gupta to step down. She suggests his vision of improving things clashed with the old guard's way of doing things. It just happens that the old guard are a majority of boomer white males. As is usually the case in any institution in the West and that is why things need to change.


      Aug 9, 2015 at 3:26pm

      Yep - he is a nice guy who makes sensible caring decisions, and looks like he has been screwed by the oligarchy of UBC Deans, who wield uncaring power while making loony and uncaring decisions.

      UBC Student

      Aug 9, 2015 at 5:47pm

      Tuition increase, housing price increase, and expensive renovations were all controversies that happened during his short time in office. All three prompted a strong negative reaction from the student population. While it's possible that he "lost a masculinity contest", there's already plenty of reason for him to leave regardless. And had he handled the controversies effectively, I'm sure he could have found a reason to stay.

      Minghui Yu

      Aug 9, 2015 at 6:15pm

      A black can be US President for 8 years, but a brown can only be UBC President for one year. That's really gap between Canada and US.

      Barry William Teske

      Aug 9, 2015 at 6:52pm

      The power player club.
      One of the last vestiges of a systemic and stealth applied form of HATE.
      The self attained rite of passage pops up every now and again, but of course is gone before a light can be focused on the behaviour.
      Somehow ruling is more appealing than leading in of all places, the 21st century democratic nation.
      Not for the usual reasons and neither is the practice confined to being employed against women, minorities or diversity.
      Men are suddenly subject to the 'rules' as well if shown to be aware of another.
      Compassion is frowned upon because it is enlightening.
      Power and control depends on the confrontation of ignorance.
      This story brilliantly points out how that want for power is just as it ever was.
      Not a need.
      A popularity contest rigged to keep control in the 'family'.
      Not the wholesome nurturing kind of family we all know and cherish.
      Change threatens people who feel a want to dictate authority in democratic society.
      In this case, a highly respected institution, education is the lair of the beast.
      No surprise to me that that ground would be a strategic hiding place.

      Antiracist Andre

      Aug 9, 2015 at 7:45pm

      "Arvind Gupta lost the masculinity contest among the leadership at UBC, as most women and minorities do at institutions dominated by white men"

      I knew it, those damn sneaky white men strike again! When will the tyranny end?


      Aug 9, 2015 at 10:08pm

      Does he advocate for Caucasian women or just minority women? Far too many employers think they're smart in 'killing two birds with one stone' by hiring minority women so they have 'got a chick and a non-white person' and all by hiring just one employee (thus saving more male jobs). This practice, happening everywhere, effectively prevents or kills the careers of white women.

      John-Albert Eadie

      Aug 9, 2015 at 10:58pm

      Good guys don't normally do well as leaders when there is a lot of pressure. Thats why we end up with a lot of -if I may say so- assholes, both male and female in these leadership roles. We lose more thoughtul leadership such as Gupta's and 'fem' Women often because of the "assholes" already in place.