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Harvard Business School Moves To Study More Diverse Cases

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Business schools take pride in studying real life. The heart of a business education is a case study asking how a business decision worked or failed. Case studies written up at Harvard Business School are used all over the world, but here's a catch - most Harvard case studies track white business executives. From WBUR, Zeninjor Enwemeka reports on an effort to feature people of color.

ZENINJOR ENWEMEKA, BYLINE: Harvard Business School Professor Steven Rogers runs a tight ship in his class.

STEVEN ROGERS: OK. Let's do it. Let's get it. Let's move with alacrity. Let's go. Let's go.

ENWEMEKA: Rogers wants his students to succeed just like the businessmen and women they learn about in class through case studies. The thing is those case studies feature very few black professionals.

ROGERS: That absence of people who have helped make America great, there's a huge, huge discrepancy in the content and the quality, in my opinion, of the material that's being taught to our students.

ENWEMEKA: So Rogers wrote 14 new case studies. And he teaches them in this new class called black business leaders and entrepreneurship.

ROGERS: Today's case is one that focuses on social entrepreneurship.

ENWEMEKA: It's the story of a black woman in Wisconsin who created an investment fund for African-Americans.

ROGERS: Why is such a fund needed? Why, LaToya?

LATOYA MARC: Because African-American loans are not as approved at the same rates as others.

ROGERS: So this whole thing around access to capital, OK?

ENWEMEKA: Student LaToya Marc is in her last year at Harvard Business School and is co-president of the student body. She says it's really important to see business leaders who look like her.

MARC: It's hard to be what you can't see. And so I think that having representation of someone who shares a background as you, who is focused on solving a problem in an underserved market can be really inspiring.

ENWEMEKA: Marc is from a lower-income family and says examples of successful black business leaders will help her when she enters the workforce.

MARC: No one in my family has attended an Ivy League college. No one in my family has an MBA. This is like a unique experience where I don't have really any of my family I can look to, so I'm relying on mentors. I'm relying on professors like professor Rogers to help to propel my career.

ENWEMEKA: This is exactly the connection professor Rogers wants at all business schools. And he says it's just as important for non-black students.

ROGERS: When they are the leaders of their companies, when it's the time to make a decision about making an investment in a black entrepreneur, they can say, I've seen people who were black who made a lot of money, who were successful. And therefore, I don't have some personal hang-ups on that. I've seen black brilliance in action.

PAUL GOMPERS: It's a frat boy culture, in some sense.

ENWEMEKA: Paul Gompers is also a Harvard Business School professor. He studies hiring practices.

GOMPERS: Subtle exposures matter. And there's research on this that if you both associate with, if you see a diverse set of case protagonists, that it can go and start the process of debiasing people of these subtle biases.

ENWEMEKA: And Gompers says Rogers' class is a step in the right direction to have a more inclusive workforce. But right now, the class is an elective filled entirely with black students. Professor Rogers' hope is to see more black business case studies integrated into required classes and at other business schools.

ROGERS: You know, there may become a time when, quite frankly, you know, we get to the time where they say you don't need to have this class because our overall curriculum is well integrated.

ENWEMEKA: Harvard says it's committed to increasing its number of black business cases. That means students across the country will learn more about diverse business leaders. For NPR News, I'm Zeninjor Enwemeka in Boston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.