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Five minutes with Genevieve Macfarlane

Genevieve Macfarlane Smith is Associate Director at the Center for Equity, Gender & Leadership (EGAL), UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business.

Why do you think diversity in cases is currently such a hot topic?

Hot Topic

Increasing diversity is an increasingly important goal and focus for business schools. But increasing diversity is not sufficient – curriculum and education must evolve as well to create environments and campuses that are inclusive for students of different identities. This requires looking at business school case studies, a primary pedagogical tool in business schools.

Currently, case studies do not have protagonists who are representative of business school students (or current business leaders, for that matter). Published case studies used in business school classes primarily showcase white, male protagonists. This reinforces a status quo in which traditional business leaders are both male and white. Even when cases have protagonists that are not white men, case studies often perpetuate harmful stereotypes and gender norms – such as women being depicted as more emotional, less visionary and less agentic than men.

Students benefit by having case study protagonists with diverse identities. Research shows that students who can relate to diverse leaders have better self-perceptions, feel more confident and perform better. However, we also must ensure that cases with diverse protagonists aren’t represented in stereotypical ways that can be limiting or harmful.

What tips can you give to help faculty increase the diversity represented in cases used throughout a programme?

  1. Use cases with diverse protagonists. You can use EGAL’s Case Compendium to identify cases. We have created a survey tool for any faculty member to request a case that may be appropriate for their particular context and we will help them find it. Our Case Compendium also includes cases on topics relating to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). DEI considerations are increasingly important not just for HR, but for leadership through product development, marketing and distribution. 
  2. Consider writing and publishing more case studies with diverse protagonists to fill gaps in the case study space. We suggest particularly incorporating intersectional identities and developing cases for use in courses in the core curriculum. Consider writing and publishing on topics of DEI outside of Human Resource Management/Organisational Behavior – and particularly across core curriculum courses.
  3. Ensure case study language used in the case and in the class discussion does not commodify/discriminate against certain identities, and/or perpetuate stereotypes and harmful norms.

If you want suggestions, resources or support on any of this – please reach out to us at EGAL!

me too What’s your favourite case, and why?

I am a bit biased, but my favourite case is Promoting a Culture of Equity in the #MeToo Era: Moving Beyond Responding to Gender-Related Workplace Issues to Tackling Root Causes. I authored this case along with EGAL’s Executive and Founding Director, Professor Kellie McElhaney, and another colleague, Margi Goelz.

We wrote this case in the midst of #MeToo as global awareness of the magnitude of gender-related inequalities and sexual harassment was growing. The case explores what is needed to prevent sexual harassment from occurring in the first place (not just responding to incidents). The case goes beyond a focus on white women to address people of colour writ large. We explore how Boston Consulting Group has implemented progressive gender equitable policies and procedures, and built a company culture that supports gender equity.

If you could be transported into another profession for one week, which would you choose, and why?

I would be an astronaut. I’ve had a fascination with black holes and space since I was little, and sometimes day dream about where a career path in astrophysics would have taken me (literally and figuratively)!

kiteboardingHow do you relax?

I love getting outside and being active. My favourite hobbies are skiing and kiteboarding (pictured). Both of these don’t sound very relaxing, but actually I’m most grounded and calm when I’m in the groove on the mountains or the water.

Do you have a favourite quote or guiding principle?

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” – Maya Angelou.

About Genevieve

Genevieve Macfarlane Smith is Associate Director at the Center for Equity, Gender & Leadership (EGAL), UC Berkeley Haas School of Business.

Genevieve was instrumental in the creation of EGAL’s Case Compendium. The compendium includes cases with diverse protagonists, and cases that build ‘equity fluency’ by focusing on DEI-related issues and opportunities. It was developed to support professors at Haas, and business schools globally, to identify cases they can use in their own classrooms, and ultimately contribute to advancing DEI in education and business.

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