How is this for a jaw-dropping statistic? Of the 10,000 case studies that Harvard Business School has authored, just 100 feature an African American protagonist. This 1% marker takes on even great significance when you factor in that Harvard cases represent up to 80% of the cases studied in business schools worldwide.
Steven Rogers is on a mission to change all that.
A senior lecturer of business administration who joined HBS in 2012, Rogers has created a case-based course that features African American business protagonists. In the process, he has also developed new cases like Ebony magazine, which examines whether a new leader, Linda Johnson Rice, should sell, save, or shutter a mature product. In addition, he has been lobbying other HBS faculty to include or author cases that feature African Americans.
While Rogers sees a defining issue, he remains focused on a specific end. “The reality is, we don’t have an integrated curriculum that showcases and highlights African Americans in the same way it does others,” he tells P&Q. “My desire is that in the immediate future that will be a non-issue, and that all core courses will have cases that have African-American protagonists. And the real idea will be that the need for my course goes away.”
Most business schools perform well when it comes to breaking down financial models or developing soft skills. Too often, they gloss over worse case scenarios. What should students do when they find fraud in their company? Worse yet, what are their options when they take the whistleblower route – and watch their employer turn on them?
These are some themes explored in classes taught by David Weber, a former chief investigator for the Securities and Exchange Commission. Passionate about all things finance, Weber is known for questions and exercises that force students to confront some uncomfortable truths. He has been known, for example, to ask his student to close their eyes and pretend they are white collar criminals looking to circumvent their companies’ controls. Many times, students discover just how open their systems are to fraud – and how few easy answers there are for preventing it.
Unorthodox? Just wait! Weber also brings criminal minds into the classroom. Namely, he solicits the opinions of Bernie Madoff, who has evaluated Weber’s syllabi and even chosen a textbook for one of Weber’s classes. Students can even submit questions to Madoff, who isn’t shy about where companies and regulators are vulnerable to human frailty.
“For more than 75 % of my career I served on regulatory committees and as consultants to the regulators worldwide,” Madoff wrote to P&Q readers in April. “If I became aware of anything it is how LACKING the understanding of both the accounting and legal profession is regarding the very industry they are trying to monitor and regulate. Quite frankly they are ill equipped to perform their obligations.”
Teaching has become a tonic for Weber, who suffered retaliation himself at the SEC for exposing the misconduct of his superiors. In just his third year of teaching, he earned the second-highest teaching award given to professors at the University of Maryland based on evaluation metrics. It hasn’t come without some adjustment however. ““In enforcement and investigations, the only time I saw something was when a problem already existed,” he acknowledges. “Now, I’m having to see it from an enterprise risk perspective, where many of these organizations are trying to do everything that’s required but at the same time earn money.”
Even more, he is learning just how prevalent that chicanery is in business. “You can see the gears working and light bulbs going off above people’s heads in classes like this,” Weber notes. “Everyone has seen fraud.”
Despite the sometimes-dry content, Weber believes his courses offer something quite different than a traditional finance class.
“Most people don’t think ethics will be exciting. The point is, ethics is sexy. Fraud is sexy. Numbers are sexy. Until the minute they get into class, many are wondering, ‘Do I have to take this class?’ What they realize when they get here is that fraud and ethics are about life. It’s about everything in the world.”
Work brings out the worst in people – especially those who hold power. Some will bully, yell, insult, accuse, ignore, or undermine. Many times, this conduct takes a human toll. Just ask Christine Porath, a management professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. Her father suffered a near heart attack, which she attributes to years suffering in a “toxic environment.” This event also spurred her to research such workplaces, which ultimately produced Mastering Civility: A Manifesto for the Workplace.
How common are such environments? Porath’s research covering thousands of workers has shown that 98% had experienced some form of incivility – with two-thirds coming from management. Even more, it is becoming all too common, with the percentage of respondents experiencing uncivil behavior at least once a week doubling to 50% between 1998 and 2011.
For Porath, the biggest dangers involve more than just frayed relationships at work or bringing “that stress and mood home.” As her father’s example shows, it can also impair the quality and length of life too. ““Seeing or experiencing rude behavior impairs working (short-term) memory and thus cognitive ability,” Porath wrote in a Harvard Business Review article about a year ago. “It has been shown to damage the immune system, put a strain on families, and produce other deleterious effects.”
The root cause, says Porath, is a lack of self-awareness. She observed, for example, how many employees feel “disrespected” when their bosses are multitasking on their phones and laptops instead of focusing on their needs. This trend produced an unexpected epiphany.
“I started this in a place where I felt like, gosh, there are some real jerks in the workplace and I need to crack this,” Porath admits. “But where I’ve landed is much more of the idea that the vast majority of this stems from a lack of self-awareness. So, again, a big piece of this is getting feedback about what you could be doing differently to affect people in more positive ways where you are going to get their best contributions.”