Global Spotlight: SHRM Executive Director Dr. Wanda Costen

Posted: Saturday, February 28th 2015 at 8:41 AM

The daughter of a military service member, Executive Director of the School of Hotel and Restaurant Management, Dr. Wanda Costen, was raised around the globe. She attributes her upbringing to the worldview she has today. It is also why she believes it is important for every SHRM student to have international experiences, knowing it will change the way they navigate and view the world.

As part of this goal, Costen is hoping to build a partnership with UWI-Mona School of Business in Kingston, Jamaica where she was a Fulbright Scholar during the 2013–2014 academic year. Her research explored the question, Why aren’t more women in positions of power within the tourism industry? From her perspective as an African-American woman, Costen chose Jamaica in order to isolate race as a variable and focus solely on the issue of gender. Additionally, tourism represents a large portion of Jamaica’s GDP. Broadly stated, she found that Jamaica faces some of the same gender issues concerning career mobility as women face in the United States.

While living with her son in Jamaica, Costen found its citizens to be extremely warm people who were connected, regardless of their socioeconomic status, which she enjoyed. She recalls, “I met heads of the Jamaican government, and I also knew the street vendors, but I treated them all with the same kindness and respect.”

She was given the opportunity to meet a few of the women in places of power in the tourism industry, helping to further her research. She explored how they attained success, what barriers they faced, which experiences were instrumental to their growth, and what advice they would give to young women moving into the industry. She also explored country statistics, such as the graduation rates of the Mona School of Business and Management, where an overwhelming majority of students in tertiary education (college and university) are women.

While there, one parliamentary senator was actually advocating for a quota in the Jamaican Ministry, which is, as Costen put it, “The equivalent of saying that we need X percent of women in Congress.” As this was a matter being voted on at the time of Costen’s scholarship, her work gained greater coverage, and she participated in outreach opportunities such as public lectures about gender issues and gender dynamics in Jamaica (Public Lecture coverage HERE).

The Fulbright scholarship allowed Costen to participate in many other endeavors while in Jamaica as well. She gave guest lectures on various topics beyond her research, including diversity within the field of tourism, teamwork, leadership, organizational behavior, and communication. She co-taught a Masters human resource course. She participated in an event to promote social entrepreneurship, tied to tourism, that connected the person who made the goods directly with the tourist or purchaser, with no middle person earning more of the sales than the person who actually made the goods. The event sought to connect Jamaicans, many of whom are illiterate, with tourists from Canada, Europe, and the U.S., focusing on teaching them the customer service behaviors and techniques that these tourists expect. It was also necessary to allow the Jamaican citizens to be who they are so that tourists would get a taste of “real Jamaica.”

Costen sat on two committees while she was in Jamaica working to create international tourism industry conferences. She helped review their processes, reviewed academic papers, and bridged the gap with hospitality faculty in the U.S., asking them to share their research and scholarship by participating in the conferences. One conference was slated for early November 2014, the other for January 2015.

Moving into 2015, Costen continues to collaborate with two colleagues at UWI-Mona School of Business on research involving gender issues in business. She is helping another colleague with her research on women netball players. Netball is a team sport similar to handball and basketball. They are looking at the transferability of the skills these women gain on the netball court. The sport provides these athletes with the opportunity to develop critical skills that are invaluable in the business/corporate world. While they could develop these skills elsewhere, many of these players would not get this type of exposure otherwise. Having this skill set as they walk away from netball into the business world makes them much more marketable.

Here at home, Costen would like to create not only a student exchange program, but a faculty exchange program as well with the UWI-Mona School of Business. While bringing the expertise of SHRM faculty to Jamaica is important, it would also give SHRM faculty the opportunity to learn more about what the international hospitality industry looks like, especially in a developing nation.

Costen hopes her research will help women move more easily up the career ladder in business. “In Jamaica, the people with the best knowledge, abilities, and skill set to help move the country forward economically, specifically in the area of tourism, are the women,” she concluded.

Learn more about SHRM Executive Director Wanda Costen HERE

This article is part of a series on FCB Business Division and SHRM faculty to highlight the international experience within the college and to promote our globalization initiatives, including the launch of the Global Business Program (GBP). Information on this program can be found HERE.

Categories: global spotlight faculty spring 2015 2015 dr. wanda costen jamaica uwi-mona school of business