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And Equality for All

MOR professor Leigh Tost sees diversity as part of a cultural phenomenon that deals with how people allocate power and how rewards are distributed

February 13, 2019
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Assistant Professor of Management and Organization Leigh Tost received her B.A. in anthropology from Harvard, her M.A. in political science from the University of North Carolina, and her Ph.D. in business administration from Duke University. Her prolific research in just over 10 years speaks to her research prowess. She served as a research associate at the Foster School of Business at the University of Washington from 2010-2012, then went to the University of Michigan Ross School of Business from 2012 to 2016 first as an assistant professor and then as the NBD Bancorp Assistant Professor of Business Administration. She joined USC Marshall in the summer of 2016.

Tost believes she can further enhance understandings of how inequalities of power and status can be most effectively addressed to enhance equal and fair treatment for all.

She grew up in a small rural town in Arkansas, and the level of wealth and privilege she was exposed to at Harvard led to considerable culture shock. She developed some chameleon-like tendencies that allowed her to fit in as much with her friends from home who had punk and anarchist leanings as she did with her new and extended group of friends at Harvard. This exposure to such divergent perspectives on social organization led her to spend the first decade of her academic life examining the social psychology of power structures. She also began to look at issues of legitimacy and at what is considered appropriate and desirable behavior. In sum, she came of age suspended between two worlds and has spent much of her time since then researching issues of power and social decision making in an effort to reconcile the divergent perspectives of these two worlds.

Tost has published in a variety of top journals including Academy of Management Review, Academy of Management Journal, and Journal of Applied Psychology. Her research has also been mentioned in several non-academic outlets from Scientific American to New York Times to CNN Money to Financial Times to Forbes.

She has received the Best Reviewer Award for the Academy of Management Review not once, not twice, but three times in 2014, 2016, and 2017. At the Ross School of Business, she received the NPD Bancorp Chaired Assistant Professorship Research Award in 2015. At USC Marshall, she teaches a well-rated organizational behavior and leadership undergraduate course.

Her research focus is currently shifting to diversity in organizations and how organizations manage diversity. Tost sees diversity as part of a cultural phenomenon that deals with how people allocate power and how rewards are distributed. She considers each individual organization its own microcosm where she can study social and psychological issues and  power structure in the organization. Organizations are unique, and because of their uniqueness, they can help point out new ways that the development of power and power structures can work. Tost is interested in all kinds of companies and organizations because she can learn from all of them.

According to Tost, power and inequality are two sides of the same coin. In the age of diversity initiatives and the #MeToo movement, there is a systemic push to change how power is distributed.  By examining how diversity initiatives are designed, implemented, and received, Tost believes she can further enhance understandings of how inequalities of power and status can be most effectively addressed to enhance equal and fair treatment for all.