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Leadership in the Inclusion Age

03.02.17
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Haas professor Kellie McElhaney spearheads a new gender equality center that will facilitate research and idea sharing with the Silicon Valley business community to accelerate the pace of closing the gender gap.

The case for increasing the amount of women in leadership roles has been made time and time again. Not only do women make up half the world’s population, their strength as leaders has the potential to unleash staggering improvements across the financial, political and social spectrums. The World Economic Forum reports that gender parity in the workforce could add over $200 Billion to the US GDP. Other studies show that higher proportions of women in top leadership and board roles not only translate into greater company shareholder value, they perform better on social metrics ranging from employee retention to environmental stewardship. 
 
But despite the data, and despite 75 percent of CEOs acknowledging that gender equality ranks in their top 10 leadership priorities, there remains a vast discrepancy between a company's stated goals and their performance. Kellie McElhaney, Haas adjunct faculty, statistician and faculty director of the Institute for Business and Social Impact, has been studying this discrepancy for years. 
 
“The numbers have been flat for decades,” she says. “Why is it that, in spite of overwhelming evidence for the positive effects of female leadership, there are only four female CEOs in Fortune 500 companies -- and no women of color?”
 
To illustrate these stagnant trends, McElhaney cites a recent study showing that a woman born in the US today would need to live to be 171 years old to achieve equality in the areas of policy, economics, health, and education. “If the data showing the positive benefits of inclusion are there, why are we not making any progress and what can we do to move the needle? It’s imperative that we change this snail's pace toward equality. ” 
 
In response to this imperative, McElhaney is spearheading the Haas Center for Gender Leadership, which will focus on three strategic areas:
  1. Research: McElhaney will prioritize research and case study development showcasing diverse female CEOs, board members, and other top female managers. Historically, the majority of case studies taught in MBA classrooms overwhelmingly depicts males as the protagonist and leader. Shifting this representation in the classroom toward more diverse leaders and leadership styles is an important step. Furthermore, the Center’s close integration with the Silicon Valley and San Francisco business community will cross-pollinate ideas for new research as well as insight into its real-world implications and applications.
  2. Curriculum: While Haas offers several courses focused on gender equality, McElhaney says her ultimate goal is for the Center to influence the Haas curriculum to the extent that eventually several Haas courses engage a framework and ethos of gender equality and intersectionality. McElhaney observes that her MBA and undergrad students are extremely savvy when it comes to issues of race, gender and social politics. “It’s imperative for a curriculum to reflect this heightened social awareness in order to continually attract diverse, high-potential students,” says Kellie, “and in turn, it demands that companies fast-track their gender and diversity programs in order to compete for top talent.” She notes that some companies are already getting it -- Facebook for instance allows users to choose from 71 non-binary gender affiliations.  
  3. Thought Leadership: The Center will leverage and support some of the most compelling thinkers and practitioners in the field of gender equality. “The great thing is that Haas already has exceptional leaders in this space,” says Kellie. From the work of Laura Tyson, former Haas Dean and global economist, who co-authored the recent World Economic Forum study; to professor Laura Kray who is leading research on women and negotiations; to McElhaney herself, leading in the area of equal pay and unconscious bias. Furthermore, “Haas already has invested in these types of issues for a long time -- its unique culture and Haas Defining Principles make it a great foundation from which the Center will have an even louder platform.”
Kellie McElhaney teaches in the Berkeley Women’s Executive Leadership program. Learn more about the work Kellie is doing in the classroom at Berkeley Executive Education, and in the Center for Gender Leadership, here

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