Breakthrough Center for Gender, Equity & Leadership launches at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business

Kellie McElhaneyUNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, BERKELEY’S HAAS SCHOOL OF BUSINESS—UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business today announced the opening of the Center for Gender, Equity & Leadership (CGEL) to foster leadership, support deep faculty research, and advance meaningful corporate change.

The Center has raised more than $1.6M in gifts from Haas alumni and friends, as well as from its first corporate foundation donor, Gap Foundation.

“The economic case for supporting workplace diversity and women in business has never been stronger,” said Assoc. Adj. Prof. Kellie McElhaney, the Center’s founding director. “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 Center will partner with companies and organizations to host leadership symposia and action labs on change strategies; conduct and disseminate cutting-edge research; teach courses on gender leadership; integrate modules on equity into existing courses in all Haas degree programs, including executive education; and produce multimedia content and case studies of companies that are leaders in gender equity.

“We’re incredibly proud of Gap Foundation’s achievements over the past 40 years, and we’re honored to continue to champion the values instilled by Gap Inc. founders and equal partners, Don and Doris Fisher. Discrimination and disparity hampers us all–not only in the business community, but society as a whole–and these obstacles require diverse perspectives and voices in decision making,” said Art Peck, chairman of Gap Foundation and president and CEO of Gap Inc.

The CGEL leadership team also includes Prof. Laura Kray, who studies gender stereotyping and negotiations, and Prof. Laura Tyson, who served in the Clinton administration as chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers and has written extensively about gender equity and the need to address the worldwide economic disparity between men and women.

CGEL will have no shortage of timely issues to focus on, from pay equity to maternity leave to the continued low representation of women in leadership roles. Women hold only 20 percent of board seats in Fortune 500 companies.

“The majority of CEOs include gender equity among their Top 10 priorities, yet boardrooms and C-suites are not changing quickly enough,” said Haas Dean Rich Lyons. “While they have a commitment to diversity and inclusive work environments, too few have a handle on solutions. Our new Center will work toward immediate change in these areas and pave the way for future generations.”

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

The Center will also support and serve as a hub for deep research into these subjects from leading Haas faculty members.

McElhaney, who teaches a course called “The Business Case for Investing in Women,” conducted 2016 research with Genevieve Smith on the zero-percent pay gap between men and women at Gap Inc. Research by Prof. Clayton Critcher detailed the multiple negative consequences of concealing one’s sexual orientation at work; Kray’s recent work outlined how fixed beliefs about gender roles preserve the status quo; and research by Prof. Jennifer Chatman found that political correctness in the workplace encourages men and women to be more creative by reducing uncertainty in relationships.

Jamie Breen, assistant dean of the MBA program for working professionals at Haas and a CGEL founding advisory council member, said she is looking forward to gaining new insights from the Center’s work—such as a better understanding 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 said. “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.”