WATCH: University of Toronto students are surprised at the allegedly sexist assignment from Rotman. Marianne Dimain reports.
TORONTO – The Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto has apologized and retracted an assignment after backlash from MBA students who called it sexist.
The assignment was handed out to the first-year class and reportedly depicted a fictional female business student as materialistic, ditzy and confused about a job offer and its perks. She then turns to her Yale educated boyfriend to help her crunch the numbers, all the while daydreaming about shoes and jewelry.
The school says the character named “Elle Forest” was based on a pop culture figure. In the movie “Legally Blonde” the main character’s name is “Elle Woods.” Her boyfriend is not in Yale law school but Harvard law.
The Women’s Executive Network says such a controversial assignment is a step back in the fight for equality in the corporate world.
“When women go to business school like I did they’re really wanting to go into business thinking that there aren’t these kinds of biases that exist,” said Pamela Jeffery. “This is a good example of the fact that biases do exist and that these biases are preventing women from moving up to leadership roles.”
Jeffery used to work at Rotman as a teaching assistant for nine years and says overall the school has a good reputation.
“I think like organizations they make mistakes but what really matters is that they showed that they were leaders by saying we’ve made a mistake,” said Jeffery.
Still, students were reportedly told not to comment on the incident to protect the school’s image and brand. Marketing and strategy expert Brynn Winegard of Winegard Company says it will take a lot more than one assignment to tarnish the reputation of a school like Rotman, but that doesn’t mean it will be forgotten.
“It’s unlikely that an isolated incident like this would affect the brand though absolutely with social media the way that it is today we’re likely to see some reverberation through the students,” said Winegard.
In a statement to Global News, a spokesperson for the Rotman School of Management said “we deeply regret issuing the assignment.”
“The assignment has been retracted and will not be used again,” said Ken McGuffin. “The professors have acknowledged that the case is inappropriate and apologized to each section of the class who received the assignment.”