By Lacie Blankenship
Gabrielle (Gabby) Lopiano, an Assistant Professor in Organization Studies and one of 6 new additions to the Vanderbilt Business faculty in this academic year, recognizes the importance of diversity and inclusion by applying a strengths-based approach to the experience of stigma.
Lopiano studies the distinctive skills people from marginalized groups acquire through their social experiences and how those skills relate to outcomes at work.
She notes that the majority of research on stigma and discrimination focuses on the negative and pervasive consequences faced by disadvantaged groups; Lopiano argues that there is a missing piece to the story.
“The negative consequences suffered by marginalized groups are very real and pervasive, and as a society, we should make every effort to eradicate them,” she says. “But people aren’t just passive recipients of disadvantage and discriminatory treatment; they’re trying to achieve their personal and professional goals, even though they’re aware that the world might treat them differently.”
Lopiano recognizes people with stigmatized social identities can end up embedded with unique assets, such as social awareness and resilience, as a result of the way they have been interpreted and treated by society.
Through her research, Lopiano has found support for the idea that employees from marginalized backgrounds bring resources and skills to work. To fully recognize and embrace those strengths, Lopiano suggests that employers create and maintain an inclusive environment that allows their employees to contribute to and thrive in the organization.
“I’m suggesting that we can fully realize the value of diversity by considering the resilience involved in persisting through undue disadvantage,” she says. “I’ve noticed there’s far less work actually looking into the experience of marginalized people from their perspective, and that most research takes the disadvantaged lens.”
Lopiano is intentional in the way that she wants workplaces to embrace diversity for more than just closing gaps or reducing biased practices. She wants “to hear directly from the people in stigmatized groups themselves, to shed a broader light on their experiences and unique strengths.”
With a background in civil engineering, Lopiano’s interest in workplace and social dynamics was sparked by an awareness of the interpersonal aspects of a merger – namely who left, who stayed, and who moved up – as well as how people socialized. She was particularly intrigued by the notable gender differences in a male-dominated industry.
Lopiano pursued her MBA at the University of Tampa, where she was encouraged by a mentor to pursue academia.
She went on to earn her doctorate in Organization & Management at Emory’s Goizueta Business School in 2021. In June, Lopiano defended her dissertation, exploring how coping with a lifetime of stigmatizing treatment might foster invaluable emotional intelligence skills.
Lopiano was attracted to Vanderbilt because of the collaborative attitudes of the Organization Studies department and its renowned research. She was looking to find a group of colleagues that resonated with her passion for social issues in management.
She says that the Organization Studies faculty have already “inspired her to think more deeply about her work.”
Lopiano is “looking forward to engaging with students and creating an inclusive learning environment where everyone can succeed.” She will teach Negotiation in the full-time MBA program and Organizational Behavior in the Vanderbilt undergraduate business minor.