Spotlight On: New Center for Gender, Equity & Leadership at Berkeley Haas

gender quality at Haas

Business schools play a critical role in helping workers, companies, and leaders adapt to meet the needs of the 21st-century workforce.  Earlier this month, the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business launched its new Center for Gender, Equity & Leadership (CGEL), which will address numerous issues related to diversity in business.

“The economic case for supporting workplace diversity and women in business has never been stronger,” says Kellie McElhaney (pictured), an associate adjunct professor at Haas, who will serve as founding director of the new center.

For years, McElhaney has argued that businesses risk their bottom line when they fail to diversify their leadership, or don’t treat men and women equally. “Women, underrepresented minorities, and the LGBTQ community face systemic structural, cultural, and individual barriers to opportunities and advancement. We will work to identify and tackle these problems and develop an evidence-based playbook.”

The CGEL’s stated goals include:

  • bringing leaders from diverse political and corporate backgrounds together to discuss advancing gender and diversity in policy and business;
  • engaging male and female allies and uniting people at the intersection of all ethnicities, races, and classes around a shared goal of gender and diversity equity;
  • and developing leaders who understand that gender is a spectrum, not a binary construct.

McElhaney notes that she came up with the idea for the center four years ago, and raised $1.6 million in donations, including a founding corporate gift from the Gap Foundation, with the encouragement of Dean Rich Lyons. “I started doing research on what other schools were doing, and what we could do to truly move the needle and be disruptive,” she said. “While other schools are focusing more on diversity or counting the heads, we are focused comprehensively on inclusion in our classrooms—through our cases, our choice of course speakers, our faculty teaching methodology, and our student culture.”

Jamie Breen, assistant dean of the MBA program for working professionals at Haas and a CGEL founding advisory council member, says she’d like to know why the drop-off rate for women on the path to upper leadership tracks increases significantly at the VP to SVP level.

“We used to think that getting women into very senior leadership positions was a pipeline issue—if we got women into the pipeline, it would take care of itself,” she says. “We now know that is not the case. We have systemic issues, and we need to understand the unwritten rules and practices that drive these outcomes and, more importantly, how to make them explicit and change them.”

To learn more about the key initiatives and faculty research at this new Center, please visit the Berkeley Haas newsroom.

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