Kathleen L. McGinn

Cahners-Rabb Professor of Business Administration

Kathleen L. McGinn is the Cahners-Rabb Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, having previously served as the Chair of Harvard Business School's Doctoral Programs and as Director of Research and Senior Associate Dean for Faculty Development. Professor McGinn studies the role of gender at work and in negotiations. Her current field research investigates these issues in North & Central American professional service firms, among self-employed women in India, and in relation to health and welfare outcomes for young women in Zambia.

With Myra Ruiz Castro and Martha Rivera, Professor McGinn is studying how gender attitudes, household dynamics and organizational practices affect women’s careers and the allocation of responsibilities within households across 34 countries.  Deborah Kolb, Lakshmi Ramarajan and Professor McGinn are investigating the process through which an organization incorporates changes in workforce composition and changing understandings of gender into its own evolving mission, structure, and practices over a twenty-year period. With Beth Humberd, Rachel Arnett, and Judy Clair, she is investigating professional and personal transitions in the careers of women leaders. Professor McGinn, Mukti Khaire and Alexandra Feldberg are investigating how women's work in India in the last three decades has affected and been affected by gender, community, and family. With Nava Ashraf and Corinne Low, Professor McGinn is carrying out a field experiment testing the efficacy of negotiation skills in affecting health and welfare outcomes among teenage girls in Zambia.  She is also engaged in laboratory experiments exploring gender and negotiations with Pinar Fletcher and Elizabeth Wolf.  Professor McGinn's research is published in academic journals, book chapters and practitioner outlets.

Professor McGinn advises not-for-profit organizations in the areas of negotiation, gender and employment relations. Before coming to Harvard, Professor McGinn taught at Cornell University's Johnson School and Northwestern University's Kellogg Graduate School of Management. She received her Ph.D. from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University. Prior to her academic career, Professor McGinn was a director of labor relations in the public sector.  When her daughter left for college, Professor McGinn and her husband moved to a long-abandoned farm and are (forever) in the process of bringing it back to some semblance of its prior self.  


  1. An outside-inside evolution in gender and work in a professional services firm

    by Kathleen L. McGinn

    With Deborah Kolb & Lakshmi Ramajaran

    We study the processes by which a professional services firm reshaped its activities and beliefs over nearly two decades as it adapted to changes in the gender composition of its workforce and shifts in the social narrative regarding gender. Internal archival data and external representations of gender from the business press over two decades reveal that the firm internalized the broader social narrative through alternating phases of analysis and action punctuated by evolving beliefs about gender and work. We offer an internalization model of organizational adaptation to shifting social narratives.

  2. Information and relationships: Measuring the impact of information and relational skills on girls' health and social outcomes in Zambia

    by Kathleen L. McGinn

    With Nava Ashraf & Corinne Low

    Accurate information is necessary for making good decisions, but information held by one party may not be sufficient when decisions are made interdependently with other parties.  In Zambia, girls' decisions around school attendance are made interdependently with family members and other parties potentially more powerful than the girls themselves, and girls' decisions around sexual behavior are made interdependently with intimate partners and peers.  These decisions have serious, measurable impact on the girls' health and welfare.  We are carrying out a randomized controlled experiment among 8th grade girls in Lusaka, Zambia, testing the efficacy of information alone relative to information with relational skills training (and control treatment) in affecting girls' school attendance and health outcomes.

  3. The construction of self, profession & gender through transitions

    by Kathleen L. McGinn

    With Beth Humberd, Rachel Arnett & Judy Clair

    We study the developmental transitions experienced by women leaders in the private and public sectors, exploring the role that gender, family & profession play in identity construction over a career. Our findings are based on the women's career histories as conveyed through extensive interviews. Women vary in the degre to which they understand transitions as a seiries of "struggles to overcome" vs. "triumphs along the way." Women leaders' definitions of successful transitions also vary. Some women define transition success solely by the impact on their career - all transitions are viewed as stepping stones to professional success. For others, personal and professional transitions and successes are interwoven, sometimes sequentially and sometimes simultaneously. Across examples, relationships are pivotal in successful transitions.