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C. Ken Weidner

“We Are Seahorses”: An Exploration of Gender and Gender Inequality

Gender inequality is rooted in the social construction of gender at every level of society, and predates both COVID-19 and the publication of An Inspiration Paradigm for Jesuit Business Education. Business faculty in Jesuit universities have a responsibility to our students and society to address gender inequality in thoughtful, constructive ways; we also possess the pedagogical frameworks, opportunity, and skills to bring these issues to life in our classroom. This proposal describes a 20 to 25-minute briefing on "why, when, and how" faculty can use and adapt the in-class exercise "We Are Seahorses." I developed and have facilitated "Seahorses" for over a dozen years both online and in person with my students from first-year seminars through executive graduate business programs, and with faculty at professional conferences and intramural seminars before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. Session participants would receive a briefing on the exercise, how it has benefitted students, and lessons learned, enabling them to return to their campus equipped to facilitate a similar experience in their own institutions, either in or outside of the classroom. Invoking the imagery of and a general knowledge about seahorses, We Are Seahorses is introduced to students as a thought experiment, in which the reproductive capabilities we know as humans has been reversed so that “men have babies and women do not” – and students are told that “it has always been this way.” Students are asked to consider what their life to date, near future, and long-term future would be like in such circumstances. The conversations and debriefings that ensue facilitate students engaging in sensemaking about themselves and in taking the perspective of others. We Are Seahorses is a moving and thought-provoking experience. Recent research suggests that for undergraduate students, discussions of self-awareness and sociocultural issues were among the strongest on understanding the perspective of others. Through a number of measures, participants reported greater empathy for people of a different gender, and an increased capacity to take the perspective of others, and a greater appreciation of the cumulative impact of the social construction of gender in society. This pedagogy fits well with my institution’s curricular emphases on diversity in all its forms, the development and care for the whole person, and an affirmation of the dignity of each individual. Given the subject matter and the prominent role that gender plays in our society and everyday life, discussions during We Are Seahorses typically include moments of nervous laughter, intent listening, recognition, and awakening to the perspectives of other gender while talking about what can sometimes be unfamiliar or even difficult conversations. Thus, both the skills and the content involved in the exercise are essential for future managers and leaders; the exercise is intentional in teaching agents for positive change. In short, "Seahorses" is an experience that students view favorably, and do not forget. We will discuss We Are Seahorses and its intended outcomes, levels of instruction, course and subject variations. allowing time for participants questions and suggestions.