2015 Best 40 Under 40 Professors: Lauren Rivera, Kellogg School


Associate Professor of Management & Organizations

Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University


Lauren Rivera_Kellogg-2

Is a lacrosse player at Harvard more likely to land a job at a top financial firm than a basketball player from a lesser known state school? If so, what’s the advantage? Social judgment, according to Lauren Rivera at the Kellogg School of Management. Rivera–who happens to be a trained sommelier and classically trained jazz dancer–is a leading expert on how people evaluate social status and how these perceptions unfold inside the workplace – particularly during hiring and handing out promotions.

Rivera’s look into elitist hiring is explored in her forthcoming book, Pedigree: How Elite Students Get Elite Jobs, scheduled for release next month. It is bound to make waves. Pedigree takes readers behind the closed doors of top-tier investment banks, consulting firms, and law firms to reveal the truth about who really gets hired for the nation’s highest-paying entry-level jobs, who doesn’t, and why. Rivera shows that at every step of the hiring process employers define and evaluate merit in a way that is strongly skewed to favor job applicants from economically privileged backgrounds.

How she went about researching this topic is illustrative of her hands-on approach as a teacher. For nine months, she embedded herself in the recruitment arm of an elite professional services firm and helped to plan, attend, and execute recruitment events, interacted with job candidates, debriefed evaluators about candidates after interviews, and sat in on group deliberations of candidates.

As a teacher, this professor is frequently commended by students for her hands-on learning exercises in interpersonal communication. She’s also the 2014 recipient of the school’s Chair’s Core Course Teaching Award. When she’s not teaching the Leadership in Organizations course, Professor Rivera can be found mentoring diverse students or involved with Kellogg’s Gay & Lesbian Management Association.

Age: 36

At current institution since: 2009

Education: PhD, Sociology, Harvard University, 2009; MA Sociology, Harvard University, 2006; BA Psychology and Sociology, Yale University 2000

Courses currently teaching: Leadership and Organizations

Professor you most admire: There are so many, but the late J. Richard Hackman of Harvard University (a mentor of mine) stands out, as does my graduate school advisor at Harvard, Michèle Lamont. They both exhibit a rare combination of brilliance, generosity, and humor.

“I knew I wanted to be a b-school professor when” I sat in J. Richard Hackman’s Social Psychology of Organizations class as a first-year graduate student.

“If I weren’t a b-school professor” I would be a travel writer. One of the best parts of being a qualitative researcher is that you’re essentially a professional people watcher. So, if I weren’t a professor, I’d also probably be that person creepily eavesdropping on your conversation while you sip your latte at a coffee bar.

Most memorable moment in the classroom or as a professor: Training our MBA admissions committee in how to counteract the unintentional biases that are pervasive across business schools in application review and in-person interviews. It was so rewarding because it brought together my research passion with actionable steps to create a more level playing field in higher education.

What professional achievement are you most proud of? My recent book, Pedigree: How Elite Students Get Elite Jobs, which is the culmination of many years spent researching the hiring practices of top-tier investment banks, management consulting firms, and law firms.

What do you enjoy most about teaching? The instant gratification I get from seeing students’ faces light up as they begin to look at the social world in new ways.

What do you enjoy least? Grade disputes

Fun fact about yourself: I’m a trained sommelier

Favorite book: The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Favorite movie: Before Sunrise

Favorite type of music: 80s power ballads

Favorite television show: How to Get Away with Murder or The Mindy Project

Favorite vacation spot: Anywhere with sunshine

What are your hobbies? Dancing (jazz and contemporary), traveling, wine, trying new restaurants, researching hotels, and guzzling espresso

“If I had my way, the business school of the future would have” High levels of diversity among students, faculty, and administrators

Students say…

Professor Rivera’s Leadership in Organizations class was the first class I took at Kellogg, and I remember walking out on the first day thinking, “This is why I came to business school.” Professor Rivera is engaging, approachable and warm, and her teaching style makes all of the students feel extraordinarily comfortable participating in candid discussions. She’s also incredibly relatable, bringing real-world consulting experience and an interesting research background in how social groups impact workplace biases. Lauren’s door is always open and she’s very easy to talk to – I saw this firsthand when I sought to discuss an issue about gender roles that I encountered as an entrepreneur. Lauren and I had a two-hour discussion about which of her class teachings would help me in that particular scenario. In all, Lauren gained my trust as a student and really pushed me to think for myself. I can’t overstate the importance of that dynamic, particularly for a first course in business school.

–Jonathan Feldman, Kellogg Class of 2016

Professor Rivera taught my Leadership in Organization’s course as part of Kellogg’s MBA core program, and I quickly understood why it was a required course for all entering students. Professor Rivera made the subject matter come alive by throwing us into hands-on activities where we experienced important leadership principles before even realizing we would be covering the topic. From mock negotiations to team-based Lego building competitions, she would provide indelible situations that would sear lessons into our minds. She also had a talent for facilitating enthralling discussions, encouraging everyone to offer their different opinions and immediately piping in to supplement various comments with references to related studies or social experiments. You know you are being taught by someone with a passion for the social sciences when she has posed as a high school student navigating the jungles of cafeteria cliques for the sake of research. Not only did we walk away with fascinating insights on leadership, but also with practical ideas on how to apply these lessons to our lives. I felt like I had taken the best “lifehack” course ever offered.

–Nancy Choi, Kellogg Class of 2014

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