Growing up as a shy introvert, Reddit COO Jen Wong said she never saw herself as a leader.
“I think I assumed a leader was a person who told other people what to do,” Wong said.
It was her fascination with companies and the people who lead them, as well as a drive to solve new problems, that led her to pursue a career that has included leadership positions at Time, Inc.; PopSugar; AOL, and now Reddit.
“I’m a puzzler at heart, and when my mind starts searching for a new problem to solve, and there’s something I can learn, that propels me forward,” Wong said. “I always want to move into something that has a clear lane for me to have an impact.”
Wong, who topped Reddit’s Queer 50 list this year, shared her leadership journey with MBA students and the Haas community at a Dean’s Speaker Series talk on Sept. 21. The talk was co-sponsored by Q@Haas as part of Coming Out Week, September 18-22.
As Reddit’s Chief Operation Officer, Wong oversees business strategy and related teams. Only four years into her tenure as COO, she has helped lead the growth of Reddit into a profitable business by scaling ad revenue to well over $100 million. Her leadership goes beyond growing the business; she is also passionate about Reddit’s company goal that’s just as important as revenue: diversity and inclusion. In addition, Jen is viewed as an expert in the digital landscape.
As globalization began to give American businesses a run for their money in the early 1970s, international business expert and then-Dean Richard Holden began working with faculty on ideas for how to train new leaders to compete.
“Strong competition from Japanese companies started to wake people up,” said Jay Stowsky, senior assistant dean of instruction at Haas from 2008 to 2021. “American business leaders and business school leaders understood the need to take a different approach to training people coming into American companies.”
That realization led to the creation of a new kind of MBA program that would provide the flexibility business leaders needed to earn the degree outside of their daily work schedules. In 1972, the business school launched its first part-time program called the San Francisco Evening Program (SFMBA) at the Wells Fargo Training Center in downtown San Francisco.
“We’re so proud of what we’ve accomplished over the decades,” said Jamie Breen, assistant dean of MBA programs at Berkeley Haas. “The part-time program has changed so many lives by opening doors for working professionals who couldn’t afford to take two years off to go back to school. It has truly fulfilled a mission to increase access to an MBA.”
A pioneering program
The part-time MBA program, one of the first of its kind in the country and the first within the University of California system, was aimed at students in their mid-20s to late 30s who had been in the workforce for an average of five years.
“The part-time program has changed so many lives by opening doors for working professionals,” Jamie Breen, assistant dean of MBA programs.
The first-ever cohort of 88 students hailed from local companies like Wells Fargo and Levi Strauss & Co, many of them commuting from Silicon Valley. By fall 1975, the program swelled to 229 students taking 17 courses. And by the early 1980s, the program’s success ensured that it would remain a core offering, with courses modernized and aligned tightly with the full-time MBA program to address corporate needs, Stowsky said.
“The MBA by then had shifted from a more academic degree to what was called management science, a kind of mathematical approach to decision making focused on finance and the bottom line, in addition to marketing and other key things students learn today in business school,” he said.
Boosting career success
The program, consistently ranked in the top two in the U.S. News ranking of part-time MBA programs, has trained business leaders worldwide. Among the more than 6,000 living graduates of the program are Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen, MBA 93; Apple’s Managing Director of Greater China, Isabel Mahe, MBA 08; Poshmark CEO Manish Chandra, MBA 95; Sega Sammy CEO Haruki Satomi, MBA 12; Meituan Dianping founder and CFO Shuhong Ye, MBA 05; and Dilbert creator Scott Adams, MBA 86.
Constance Moore, who graduated from the SF MBA evening program in 1980, recalled attending classes in downtown San Francisco, near her office at BRE Properties. “I wanted to go to the evening program because I had recently started at BRE as an asset manager and knew I would likely learn as much at work as I would in school,” she said. “I could apply what I learned at work to my school work, and what I learned at Haas I could apply to my work. It was perfect.”
Attending class on Monday and Thursday evenings allowed her to travel for work in between and then study all weekend, she said. “It didn’t leave much time for anything else but it was so worth it,” said Moore, who became CEO of BRE after getting an MBA. “Haas made me fearless.”
While relatively few women enrolled during the part-time MBA program’s earliest days, that changed over the years as women were recruited or encouraged by their employers and each other.
Lesley Keffer Russell enrolled in the program in 1999, at the encouragement of her boss at St. Supéry Winery, Michaela Rodeno, who graduated from the part-time program in 1980.
“She became a great mentor for me. She asked me one day during lunch, after I had done a three-month work stint in France for St. Supéry, ‘So, when are you going to go to biz school?'” she said. “I had mentioned that it was on my mind for a while and there was nobody else who was going to push me to apply, so she did. I got right on it.”
Russell said classes she took that help her today in her job as general manager of Saint Helena Winery include microeconomics, negotiations, and real estate development, for which she completed a final group project on assessing two Napa Valley vineyard purchases. “This led to understanding about aspects of the wine industry that have been critical to my career advancement,” she said.
A name change, and even more flexibility
While San Francisco served as the part-time program’s hub for years, student demand to be closer to UC Berkeley led the school to move the program to campus in 1995. In 2002, then-Dean Laura Tyson added a weekend option for students.
The expanded program, renamed the evening & weekend program, split students into evening or weekend cohorts, depending on their schedules. It now attracts a wide breadth of students from around the world— engineers, general managers, sales and marketing managers working in high tech, computer services, banking, fintech, and biotechnology, among other industries.
This year, about 64% of the entering class is from outside the Bay Area, and 59% of them were born outside of the U.S. Nearly 40% of the students are women.
“We’ve always had a fairly rich body of applicants to draw upon given our geography, Berkeley’s name, and the Haas reputation,” Breen said. “Those factors have served us well.”
The flexibility of the program has also increased. Spurred by the success of virtual learning, Haas developed the Flex option, a hybrid online/in-person MBA, which was in the works for three years. Flex is popular with working professionals who can take core courses online and opt to come to Haas for electives. The first cohort of 69 students began in August.
“With the launch of Flex, we’re looking forward to what the next 50 years will bring for the program and our students,” Breen said. “It’s an exciting time to be offering innovative business program options to working professionals.”
A new academic fellowship program funded by UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and the Department of Economics will help Ukrainian scholars persevere with their work through the hardships of the war.
Scholars located in Ukraine and affiliated with a university, college, or research institute can apply for $5,000 grants to continue with their research and teaching. The $140,000 fund, granted equally by Berkeley Haas and Berkeley Economics, will help sustain up to 28 Ukrainian academics.
“This is going to be a tough year for many Ukrainian scholars in terms of security, housing, and budgets. Many have lost their homes, offices, labs, and classrooms,” said Yuriy Gorodnichenko, the Quantedge Presidential Professor of Economics and a member of the fellowship committee. “This fellowship not only gives people the means to survive and to have some time to do research, but also serves as an important sign of solidarity against Russian aggression.”
“The barbarism of Russia’s war aims to destroy Ukraine’s people, institutions, and civil society,” added Anastassia Fedyk, an assistant professor of finance at Berkeley Haas, who is also on the fund committee. “Bolstering Ukraine’s education system at this critical time will help increase Ukraine’s resilience.”
“The barbarism of Russia’s war aims to destroy Ukraine’s people, institutions, and civil society. Bolstering Ukraine’s education system at this critical time will help increase Ukraine’s resilience.” —Assistant Professor Anastassia Fedyk
Since Russia’s invasion of the country last February, Fedyk, Gorodnichenko, and other economists with close ties to the region have been using their expertise support Ukraine—giving media interviews, writing op-eds, raising funds, and joining with others in the U.S. and globally to form the group Economists for Ukraine. The group has now partnered with Universities for Ukraine, raising funds from several universities for fellowships and providing a central clearinghouse for nonresidential fellowship programs.
“We are very pleased to join with Berkeley Economics to support this effort to preserve academic scholarship in Ukraine during this extremely difficult period,” said Berkeley Haas Dean Ann Harrison.
Many Ukrainian academics are unable or unwilling to leave the country—including all men between 18 and 60, who are prohibited from leaving. Yet many find themselves displaced and underfunded, without the means to continue with their work. The fellowship program aims to bridge some of the gap to keep scholarship moving forward and to minimize brain drain, preserving some capacity to rebuild the country, Gorodnichenko said.
In addition to Gorodnichenko and Fedyk, the UC Berkeley Ukrainian fellowship committee includes Berkeley Haas Associate Professor Dmitry Livdan and Berkeley Economics Assistant Professor Vira Semenova.
Researchers from the Energy Institute at Haas analyzed 11 million Californians’ utility bills and concluded that one-half to two-thirds of the charges amount to a hidden electricity “tax.” The report was commissioned by nonprofit NEXT 10.
Every time a California resident switches on a light or toasts some bread, they’re helping to pay for the damage wrought by wildfires across the state.
In fact, one-half to two-thirds of the electricity bills paid by Californians subsidize costs beyond providing the electricity itself. Some of these costs are closely related to electricity, like the maintenance of infrastructure or investments in energy efficiency, while others are more tangential, like wildfire mitigation and victim compensation.
“The price that we pay for electricity doesn’t reflect the cost of supplying that electricity,” says Severin Borenstein, professor of the graduate school at the Haas School of Business and a co-faculty director of the Energy Institute at Haas. “And, importantly, all these programs that we finance through our electricity bills disproportionately burden low-income households. This amounts to a regressive tax.”
In a new report released today, Borenstein and Energy Institute colleagues Meredith Fowlie and James Sallee—both professors in UC Berkeley’s Department of Agriculture and Resource Economics—analyze the impact of this hidden “electricity tax” on Californians. They recommend two significant policy reforms to ease the burden on low-income households and spur consumer interest in the adoption of electric vehicles, heat pumps, and other electric technology.
The researchers suggest shifting some of the systemwide costs into the state budget, which is funded by less regressive forms of taxation: income and sales taxes. The remaining system costs could be paid using a monthly fixed charge on electricity bills that is tied to income, and therefore more progressive.
The report, “Paying for Electricity in California: How Residential Rate Design Impacts Equity and Electrification,” was commissioned by Next 10, a nonpartisan research nonprofit organization. It builds on the findings of a previous study released last year.
Tallying the invisible costs
The three largest investor-owned utilities (IOUs) in the state—Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric—combine to serve over 11 million people. The researchers matched electricity use from these customers with census data to paint a picture of how much households with different incomes were paying for charges beyond the cost of electricity. These costs include maintaining the grid as well as policy goals such as wildfire mitigation, compensation for past victims of wildfires, investments in renewable technologies, and subsidies for rooftop solar, energy efficiency programs, and low-income customers.
The report finds that in 2019, IOU residential customers were paying an effective electricity tax that averaged $678 per year. The effective electricity tax was $809 for typical PG&E customers, $512 for SCE customers, and $786 for SDG&E customers during the period covered by the study.
They found that the lowest-income households, earning $25,000 or less per year, spend on average more than three percent of their income on these additional electricity charges. Households earning more than $200,000 per year, by contrast, spend half-a-percent or less of their annual income.
“Proportional to their income, lower-income households are paying more than three times what wealthier households are paying,” says report co-author Fowlie, co-faculty director of the Energy Institute at Haas. She also explained that as California invests more money in climate change adaptation and mitigation measures, and as extreme heat becomes more common, “it’s a safe bet that those costs will increase, pushing prices even higher. We should be even more concerned going forward about this relative regressivity.”
On top of this inequitable distribution of costs, the current electricity rate structure discourages many of the actions that are necessary for California to achieve its goals for fighting climate change. The researchers estimate that these extra charges on utility bills reduce the adoption of electric heat pumps by about one-third, and of electric vehicles by between 13%” and 33%. “This is particularly noteworthy given California’s recently adopted rule requiring 100% of new vehicles sold in 2035 be zero-emission.
“When people go to buy an electric vehicle or a heat pump, if they think carefully about not just the upfront costs but also the operating costs, then the amount California is charging these consumers is simply putting up a barrier to adoption,” Borenstein says. He noted, in contrast, that natural gas is priced at roughly the true cost to society, and gasoline is priced below its true cost. “If we’re massively overpricing electricity while underpricing or correctly pricing these other, more carbon-intensive alternatives, then we’re undermining everybody’s incentives.”
A better way to pay
Two proposals emerged from analysis. The researchers advocate moving some of the system costs for the grid and policy goals out from under the purview of electric utilities and into the state budget. To cover remaining costs, they propose a fixed monthly charge based on income.
In the example the authors present for PG&E, e. Households in the middle of the income distribution would pay $70-80 per month in additional fees. Those at the top of the income distribution would pay roughly $150 in fees. Borenstein recognizes that this sum is not negligible, but points out that the accompanying decline in the price consumers pay for electricity would mean that even customers in the highest income bracket would see their overall bills go up by less than $40 per month.
“Though economists play the role of the wet blanket, bearing bad news, I actually think this is a good news story,” Fowlie says. “Policymakers have at-the-ready the levers and instruments needed to respond to this issue.”
The strongest opposition to this work, interestingly, comes from the solar industry, as high electricity prices make solar installations more attractive. But, as the report makes clear, residential solar adoption occurs among predominantly higher-income customers. As these customers install panels and consume less from the grid, the current rate structure becomes even more inequitable, further shifting costs to low-income consumers.
The researchers are optimistic. Just this year, California Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins put forward legislation to move some of these costs to the state budget; and California’s newest budget (AB205) requires the California Public Utilities Commission to implement an income-based fixed charge. It remains to be seen how large, and how progressive, this charge will be.
Borenstein sees this as significant progress. “Even two years ago, a lot of people were saying high electricity prices are a good thing as they force people to conserve,” he said. “Far fewer advocates and politicians are now talking this way, so the work we’ve done has moved the ball. They know the current system simply doesn’t work.”
The Energy Institute at Haas helps create a more economically and environmentally sustainable energy future through research, teaching and policy engagement. The Energy Institute produces research and analysis backed by rigorous empirical evidence and the frontiers of economic research so that energy and environmental policy and business decisions are based on sound economic and business principles.
Next 10 is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that educates, engages and empowers Californians to improve the state’s future. With a focus on the intersection of the economy, the environment, and quality of life, Next 10 employs research from leading experts on complex state issues and creates a portfolio of nonpartisan educational materials to foster a deeper understanding of the critical issues affecting our state.
After Berkeley Haas professional faculty member Alex Budak created and launched his course “Becoming a Changemaker” in 2019, it quickly grew to be one of the most popular electives for both undergraduate and MBA students.
Erika Walker, senior assistant dean of instruction, introduced Budak and described the book as “very Haas.” It also connects closely with the school’s Defining Leadership Principles: Question the Status Quo, Confidence Without Attitude, Students Always and Beyond Yourself.
“Students will share that the Becoming a Changemaker class was life-changing, even transformational, and that they were surprised that such a course as this was offered in business education,” she said. “It ultimately reframed the way students approached their own leadership journeys.”
Before Budak began teaching the class, he had to undergo his own changemaker journey. He recounted a “single, serendipitous” meeting with Jay Stowsky, then the senior assistant dean of instruction, about career advice.
“He said, ‘Alex what do you really want to do?'” Budak recalled. “I said, ‘Well, what I really want to do is teach,’ and then made some excuses for why I couldn’t possibly teach. But to my shock and delight he said, ‘All right, what do you want to teach?’ And in that moment, it became crystal clear. I said, ‘I want to teach ‘Becoming a Changemaker.'”
Stowsky told Budak to put together a syllabus. “I remember literally leaping out of my seat, so elated that someone else saw this potential in this class and this vision,” he said.
Budak then welcomed alumni Shannon Eliot, MBA 20, Angelica Song, BS 20, and Alicia Wilson, BS 23, (Ibrahim Baldé, BS 20, participated via video), for a panel discussion on their journeys to becoming changemakers.
“We believe that developing a sustainable, climate-resilient economy goes into every aspect of business—whether it’s agriculture, real estate, energy, finance, anything and everything will need to be reimagined and redesigned to address the current environmental, social, and economic crises,” said Harrison. “We really believe here at Haas that addressing our climate crisis and transitioning to a carbon free energy source is an integral component of the world’s sustainable future.”
Breber, a “double Bear” who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UC Berkeley in 1986 and 1987 along with an MBA from Cornell in 1989, discussed the changes he’s seen over more than 30 years in the energy industry. He talked about Chevron’s ESG strategy, its goal of lowering carbon emissions in its traditional oil and gas business, as well as its investments in renewable fuels, hydrogen, and carbon capture and storage.
“Our primary objective is to safely deliver higher returns and lower carbon,” he said. “It’s clear and simple, and it’s something that our employees have rallied around.”
Breber faced pointed questions from Harrison and students on how an oil and gas company can be part of a sustainable future. He said the company plans to continue its traditional oil and gas business—which holds 2% of the market—with a lower carbon output, while also building its faster-growing new energy business.
“Right now, demand for our products is growing, not shrinking,” Breber said, pointing out that if supplies are cut while demand is still there, heating homes and driving to work will be unaffordable. “It’s an energy transition, it’s not a light switch… We’re going to be a really strong, responsible traditional energy provider, and we intend to be a leading a new energy provider.”
Harrison thanked Breber for volunteering his time to speak at an especially dynamic Dean’s Speaker Series.
“Students, we look forward to a sustainable future. We need to think big,” she told the audience. “Working on the biggest challenges, with the biggest companies, creating the biggest transformations. We need your courage to engage in this kind of transformational change that will save our planet.”
Three new books written by Haas professional faculty members share one thing in common: deep learning from the successes of people making innovative change in business today. Here’s more on each new book:
By Jerome Engel, founding executive director emeritus of the Lester Center for Entrepreneurship (now the Berkeley Haas Entrepreneurship Program)
Much has changed since Engel’s 2014 publication of Global Clusters of Innovation: Entrepreneurial Engines of Economic Growth around the World, a book that explored the explosion of entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystems globally, a movement that spread Silicon Valley business practices around the world. By 2022, economic disruption from the COVID-19 pandemic, global warming, and environmental degradation led Engel to ask how innovation ecosystems can support the evolution of more robust, agile, and sustainable societies. Those questions led to this book about innovation ecosystems, clusters of innovation, and the global networks of clusters of innovation that naturally form. He argues that entrepreneurs, collaborating with venture investors and major corporations, can create clusters of innovation that help build the resiliency required to quickly adapt and rebound from economic shocks. The process is helped along by supportive government, universities, and other elements of the ecosystem.
By Aaron McDaniel, BS 04, lecturer with the Berkeley Haas professional faculty, and Klaus Wehage
Aaron McDaniel, who teaches entrepreneurship to undergraduates at Berkeley Haas, and Klaus Wehage are co-founders of 10X Innovation Lab, which helps build innovation ecosystems worldwide. During the pandemic, the authors said they realized there was no book published on innovation in international business expansion that matched the success of Eric Ries’ The Lean Startup. So over 1 1/2 years, they interviewed more than 300 executives from the world’s fastest-growing companies across 50 countries to understand what made them successful in reaching global scale. The list included CEOs and founders of Apple, Zoom, Slack, and Airbnb. The authors suggest that applying agile principles will enables global-class companies to more easily pivot their business and successfully localize in overseas markets with different cultural contexts. McDaniel said he hopes that Global Class will provide a tool kit and framework for companies of all sizes and stages to help build global, distributed teams; manage a diverse footprint; and balance cultural differences.
Balance (Grand Central Publishing), published September 2022
By Alex Budak, Haas lecturer and creator of the Changemaker course
Stepping into a leadership role doesn’t require people to be at the top of a group or organization. Anyone—regardless of title, personality, race, gender, age, or class—can be a changemaker and effect powerful, positive change from where they sit in a workplace or community, Haas Lecturer Alex Budak argues in his new book. Based on Budak’s popular Berkeley Haas course of the same name, the book is anchored by the Berkeley Haas Defining Leadership Principles Question the Status Quo, Confidence Without Attitude, Students Always, and Beyond Yourself. Budak introduces concepts and tools aimed at helping readers develop the confidence, courage, and commitment to lead change from wherever they are—and includes examples across industries, age levels, and abilities. The book includes a longitudinal study of how people develop key changemaker skills over time and provides access to some of the same exercises he uses in his class.
Startup Spotlight profiles startups founded by current Berkeley Haas students or recent alumni.
Joe Obeto, MBA 21, co-founded startup Bird to help solve a vexing roadblock he and other African immigrants face when they arrive in the U.S.: trying to open a bank account. We recently interviewed Obeto about what led him to become an entrepreneur and his big plans for Bird.
Describe your startup in 30 words or less.
We’re building a platform to enable non-US residents to open a bank account, a checking account, and do easy and frictionless cross-border transfers.
What was your background before coming to Haas?
My undergrad degree was in computer information science. When I graduated, I had several options: to pursue the traditional technology route as a software developer or maybe go into finance. What really shifted for me was during a summer that I went to Wall Street to intern for Credit Suisse. My experience that year was very incredible, and that really pushed me toward finance. I came to realize that not only do I like finance, I really wanted to become an entrepreneur.
What was the problem that you are solving with Bird?
When I first came to the U.S., I learned that I had to be a resident of the country for about six months minimum before I could open a bank account. With most major banks, this is the policy. In addition, sending money back to Nigeria is very expensive or it takes several days for the money to get to the final destination because there are so many intermediaries. It also costs 10 times more to send $100 to Nigeria than what it would cost you to send to a place like the U.K. or Poland because they have stable currencies.
So you decided to address these challenges as an entrepreneur?
I thought we could build a solution to solve this. So we decided to build a platform to do two things: enable non-U.S. residents to open a checking account and also enable a frictionless, low-cost way for you to be able to transfer money cross-border. There are some regulatory processes that we need to complete before we can actually go live with the banking solution, but the cross-border solution is going to be ready soon.
How does a Bird service work?
We don’t have a banking charter, so we cannot actually hold your funds. What we’ll do is partner with a local bank so when you open an account on the Bird platform and deposit money, it will be held at the bank, so it’s FDIC insured, meaning your money is going to be safe. You can do a wire transfer and have a debit card from the Visa network or the Mastercard network. You can use the card globally, anywhere that Visa or Mastercard is accepted. In addition to that, you can also transfer money.
How will transferring money work?
Right now, we’re establishing a payment corridor between Nigeria and the U.S. We want to test this corridor out. Eventually, we’re going to expand to other corridors in Africa. We’re looking into Ghana, South Africa, and Kenya, as well as Rwanda.
Right now, we’re establishing a payment corridor between Nigeria and the U.S. We want to test this corridor out.
Will transferring money using Bird be cheaper than other methods?
Yes, it is cheaper because rather than having multiple intermediaries moving money from one end to the other, we will use a stablecoin on the blockchain to move money cross-border. Essentially, we convert dollars to USDC stablecoins (a cryptocurrency). When it gets to Nigeria, that USDC stablecoin is on-ramped to Nigerian currency. The same thing will happen when somebody’s trying to send money to the US. We’re able to cut out a lot of middlemen and drastically reduce the cost of sending money internationally, especially to Africa.
Have any Haas courses helped you build the company?
New Venture Finance with Professor Maura O’Neill. She’s incredible. I learned a lot from that course, and even today when I’m talking to investors or negotiating a term sheet, the learnings from that course have been helpful; the entrepreneurship course taught by Kurt Beyer was helpful as well, and an operations course taught by Professor Terry Taylor showed me how to run operations of any firm. We went through lots of cases, analyzing different companies and what led to their successes, what led to their failures. As somebody building a company, you need to be able to learn from failures so you don’t repeat the same mistakes.
You also placed second last spring at UC Berkeley LAUNCH after going through the accelerator program. How did that help?
LAUNCH gives you a framework for you to validate your idea. It uses the lean startup methodology to develop a very strong value proposition. You go out to talk to customers to challenge your initial hypothesis, test it, validate it. Ultimately, when you come out of LAUNCH, you realize that you have a stronger position for your customers and that you are building something that people actually want and need.
Did you always plan to get an MBA?
That has always been part of my strategy. An MBA is not going to necessarily make you a successful person or a successful entrepreneur. But it does reduce your chance of failure and increases the odds of your success. Building on that knowledge of having a structured approach to entrepreneurship, to starting a business, is what the MBA equips you with. Besides that, I think the network that I’ve been able to build here in the Bay Area has afforded me the opportunity to build something that I think will be a success.
The stereotype of the female secretary who hikes up her skirt to get a promotion is as pervasive as the powerful male boss who makes passes at his underlings. But a new study upends both tropes with evidence that it’s actually men in subordinate positions who are most likely to flirt, use sexual innuendo, and even harass female bosses as a way to demonstrate their masculinity and power for personal gain at work.
The new paper, co-authored by Haas School of Business professor Laura Kray and published in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, challenges the perception that men in powerful positions are the most prone to “social sexual behavior” that can cross into outright harassment. Co-authored by Jessica A. Kennedy of Vanderbilt University and Michael Rosenblum of New York University, the study offers a new perspective on workplace power dynamics.
“Most of the literature in this field focuses on men in power. But through a number of studies, we’ve debunked the myth that social sexual behavior is something that only high-power men do—that somehow power is this aphrodisiac that makes people take advantage of others sexually,” said Kray, a psychologist who studies gender roles. “In fact, we found that it’s more often men who are insecure about their role at work who use unwanted social sexual behavior to look more masculine and powerful, even when they know it’s offensive to women.”
In a series of online and laboratory experiments, the researchers examined the relationship between social sexual identity—or how people define their own sex appeal—and how it can drive an increase in workplace social sexual behavior that includes flirting, sexual innuendo, and harassment. Not only are men more likely than women to engage in such behavior for personal gain, the researchers concluded, but it’s most often men in lower-power positions who describe themselves as “charming flirts” with “sex appeal” who initiate social sexual behavior to appear more powerful.
Stereotypes about flirting
Prior research on social power has speculated that women are especially likely to engage in social sexual behavior when they are in subordinate positions. Kray said this idea dates back to old stereotypes about women, “for example, the secretary in the office who is low-power might hike up her skirt and flirt with her boss so that she gets better treatment,” said Kray. One research paper even argued that it’s low-power women who flirt strategically at work, because they stand the most to gain. That previous research spurred Kray and her team, both former Berkeley Haas PhD students, “to put this to an empirical test” in a series of six studies.
Their experiments, conducted with overwhelmingly heterosexual participants, showed that when people are asked to define themselves, a strong social sexual identity can serve as a predictor of how they behave at work. That self-perception as a flirt is “important for understanding what potential harassers think they are doing and how they come across to themselves, which sheds light on how they justify their problematic behavior to themselves,” the researchers wrote.
The researchers also examined how men and women differ in their use of strategic flirtation. They found that men—but not women—turn up the harassment with coworkers, including bosses, when they perceive that they have little power and want to portray a more powerful image. “In other words, it’s a desire for more power—not holding power—that corrupts,” said Kennedy, PhD 12, an associate professor of management at Vanderbilt. They then rationalize the behavior, saying it’s a result of their being “big flirts.”
Rates of social sexual behavior might vary by sexual orientation, an issue that was not explored within the researchers’ overwhelmingly heterosexual sample, they noted.
In one of the experiments, participants had the chance to ask a task partner of the opposite gender sexually inappropriate questions during an online get-acquainted meeting. One example was a choice between asking whether their partner had ever had a workplace conflict (a control question) versus whether they ever had a workplace relationship (a social sexual question). The researchers measured how many times participants selected social sexual questions, and found that the men initiated more social sexual behavior than women—but only when they sought to self-enhance (e.g., appear dominant, powerful, in control). This gender difference was connected to how strongly these men had self-identified as flirts.
The researchers also recruited more than 200 undergraduate students for a study about how social sexual identity impacts teamwork. Participants were told their partner was in an adjacent study room and that, before meeting in person to work on tasks, they would exchange personal information (gender, life goals, personality traits, attractiveness), through handwritten profiles. They also completed bogus leadership assessments and wrote an open-ended essay describing past leadership experiences before receiving their partner’s profile.
The students were told that based on their responses, they would be assigned to the role of boss or subordinate, and that they would work with their partner on a series of tasks “determined by the boss.”
In reality, the participants were assigned randomly, and were matched with a partner of the opposite sex (who they would never meet in person, so as not to give anyone the opportunity to harass). Participants were then asked to choose from the group of social sexual questions—used in the previous study—that they wanted to ask when they met their partner. The researchers found that male students who were told they would be subordinate to a female boss on the team chose social sexual questions more often than the male bosses, the female bosses, and the female subordinates.
These results were quite surprising, Kray said, as they puncture the stereotype that low-power women are most prone to use strategic flirting as a way to compensate for their low-power position.
In another lab experiment, again conducted with undergraduate students, the researchers explored power dynamics. Participants read a hypothetical scenario between 26-year-old David and his new boss, Vanessa, 27. When they first met for coffee, David asked Vanessa to describe a great team. Vanessa said “great teammates are those who are passionate, cooperative, and willing to work hard. Passion is really important.”
David responded in two ways: “Passion? I can definitely offer you passion…Have you ever worked with someone you wanted to date? I am curious who you find attractive.” and “Hard work? I can definitely offer you a strong work ethic…Have you ever worked with someone you thought was a star? I am curious who you find it easy to work with.”
Questioned on both interactions, the students found David’s first answer “flirtatious, masculine, and powerful,” when compared to the second. “We found support for the idea that low-power men’s initiation of (social sexual behavior) towards high-power women may function to influence social perceptions of power,” the researchers wrote, also noting that David’s social sexual behavior worked in the moment to shrink the power gap between himself and Vanessa.
Implications for workplace training
This new research isn’t about whether it’s good or bad to flirt, notes Kray, who is faculty director of the Center for Equity, Gender and Leadership and has previously studied the effects of women’s use of flirtation as a way to show power during negotiations. The study also does not imply that people in powerful positions are unlikely to be sexual harassers, she cautioned. In fact, harassment by a superior is particularly pernicious because it can involve a quid pro quo (e.g., telling someone that if they agree to a date they’ll get a promotion or other perk). And past research has shown that the most common type of workplace harassment happens between colleagues of relatively equal power, Kray said. “Harassment can come from all angles of the corporate hierarchy; however, our research finds that the only direction that exhibits a gender difference is among subordinates directing social sexual behavior towards bosses, where we see men engaging in this behavior more than women.”
Rather, the new paper concludes that being a flirt—or seeing oneself as a flirt—is predictive of a whole class of behaviors. “Some of the behaviors fall on the relatively benign end of the scale, and some are really quite offensive and most people would recognize as harassment.”
Interestingly, the researchers also uncovered a condition that eliminates these damaging gender differences: A desire to connect with others—known as “self-transcendence motives”—leads men and women to act identically.
To that end, Kray suggests that corporate sexual harassment training might include asking people to reflect on social sexual behavior that they identify as just teasing or joking—as it might instead be an early warning system about future behavior.
“People generally have positive associations with being a flirt or being charming or having sex appeal,” Kray said. “But when we take on that identity, it leads to certain behavioral patterns that reinforce the identity. And then, people use that identity as an excuse.”
By Laura Kray (University of California, Berkeley – Haas School of Business), Jessica Kennedy (Vanderbilt University – Owen Graduate School of Management), and Michael Rosenblum (New York University – Stern School of Business)
Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, September 2022
The Berkeley Haas courtyard has sprung back to life. Over the past week, new undergraduate, full-time MBA, and PhD students arrived for orientations, getting a first glimpse of life in the classroom. Students in the Berkeley Haas Executive MBA and the evening & weekend MBA program, including the first Flex MBA class, came to campus for orientation last month.
Full-time MBA Program
(Photos by Jim Block)
Spirits were high among the entering full-time MBA students who gathered for the traditional Week Zero orientation Aug. 15-17. School and student leaders (including Week Zero Co-Chair Dingmi Gong, MBA 23) and Jamie Breen, assistant dean of MBA Programs, welcomed the group, who throughout the two days participated in sessions on diversity, equity and inclusion at Haas, productivity and time management, and an introduction to the case study method. They also met their study groups for Teams@Haas, a program that’s celebrating its 10th year in the MBA curriculum with lessons on collaborative leadership.
MBA Association (MBAA) President Jude Watson, a former chef and community organizer from Seattle, introduced Dean Ann Harrison, who emphasized how important it is for students to lead on critical issues such as diversity, equity, and inclusion, as well as climate change. She noted that both innovation and collaboration that will be required to solve the world’s toughest problems.
“The issue of climate change has become visibly real, and despite the important climate bill that Joe Biden has put in place, we have a very long way to go. It’s just a down payment on the change we need,” she said. “I believe that you, as business leaders, will lead the change.”
“I believe that you, as business leaders, will lead the change.” Dean Ann Harrison.
Orientation speaker Lo Toney, MBA 97, urged students to explore, celebrate, and focus during their journeys. Toney, founding managing partner of Plexo Capital, told students that they will learn the most from their peers–not just about the diversity of where people are from, but what they have done. “Look around you,” he said. “These are people who are going to be in extremely senior positions,” who will help you along your journey.
In welcoming the new class, Dean Ann Harrison noted the sweeping changes coming for the undergraduate program, anchored by the recent $30 million gift from alumnus Warren “Ned” Spieker, BS 66, and his wife, Carol, BA 66, (political science), that will be used to create the new four-year Spieker Undergraduate Program.
In her welcome message, Emma Hayes Daftary, the new assistant dean of undergraduate admissions, expanded on the changes and the importance of enhancing collaboration among the students in the competitive program. “This program and our Defining Leadership Principles will challenge you to shift from what you, as an individual, can achieve, to what we, as a community, can accomplish,’ she said. “It’s for this reason that we’re focusing on culture this year, and we’re working to create a more collaborative, inclusive, and equitable culture in the undergraduate program.”
Hayes Daftary said the first order of business is to eliminate the “Haas Curve” grading policy—which drew cheers from the students.
She said the policy of grading on a curve was adopted in 2011 across the MBA and undergraduate programs for ease and consistency. But in May 2021, the Undergraduate Program Committee voted to recommend that the policy be eliminated. Policies such as grade caps and grading on a curve are often criticized because they lead students to compete against each other, but in this case it was also deemed to be ineffective, she said.
“I’m not a competitive person, so I think it’s good…It will definitely help.” said Gloria Gonzalez-Serrano, a continuing undergraduate student who plans to pursue a career in digital marketing.
Other program changes include the hiring of more staff to focus on the academic and student experience, funding the Haas Business Student Association (HBSA) at historic levels, renovating the undergraduate program lounge, and upgrading the Cheit Hall classrooms.
Browse more highlights (photos by Noah Berger):
Evening & Weekend MBA
The new class of evening & weekend MBA students arrived on campus in July for a jam-packed “WE Launch” orientation weekend of work sessions, team-building exercises, and an introduction to the Haas Defining Leadership Principles.
A few details about the Class of 2025: More than 40% of the new students have at least one advanced degree, including 21 PhDs. More than 40% of the class was born outside of the U.S. Nearly half—47%— are married or partnered, with 22% raising kids (altogether they have 80 children.)
Browse highlights from EWMBA orientation here. (Photos by Jim Block)
Also, some fun facts:
The class includes a violinist who performed at Carnegie Hall, a former professional ballet dancer, and three published authors, including the author of the “Silicon Valley Dictionary.”
The class boasts the youngest elected city council member of a Bay Area City, the lead singer in a band that raises money for domestic violence victims, and a volunteer for the Yellowstone Wolf Project who helps with tracking wolves. There’s also a flight controller for NASA Mission Control, a pilot instructor for the Air Force, and a paratrooper for the 82nd Airborne Division of the U.S. Army.
A total of 14 students joined the PhD program this fall, with an equal split between men and women. The group hails from around the world, including the U.S., Brazil, China, Colombia, Finland, Germany, India, Italy, and Singapore.
The students’ area of study is equally diverse, including accounting, business and public policy, finance, marketing science, management of organizations, and real estate.
Fede Pacheco, MBA 21, woke up one day with an idea for a fun way to connect his classmates for a lifetime. He decided to design a non-fungible token (NFT), which would be as unique as the class’ pandemic experience—and the first of its kind to be given as an MBA class graduation gift.
The Haas 2021 NFT, a short GIF featuring a young and older bear reflecting at sunset, is a nod to the students’ journey, which Pacheco said was full of MBA traditions that went virtual during the pandemic. (An NFT is a digital asset connected to unique physical or digital items, such as art, video, or music.)
So far, 102 alumni have signed up to claim the NFT, which Pacheco worked on with another 2021 classmate, who did the coding.
Pacheco, who is now living in Seattle and working for Microsoft, was chosen as student speaker at 2021 commencement. He urged students, virtually, to savor the good times and reflect on the moments when they found creative ways to lean on each other, in spite of the unprecedented year they all endured.
He said the Haas 2021 NFT, a short GIF that runs on a Gameboy-style screen, is available to everyone in the class and will last forever. “You will have ownership of it and it’s something we will all share through the community it creates. I want the Berkeley and Haas community to see that we’re doing this, that we’re celebrating the digital experience.”
The Class of 2021 NFT opens with two bears watching the sunset.
“The bigger bear is the graduating you,” Pacheco said, narrating the YouTube video that introduces the NFT collection. “You are hugging your younger self before you started that journey. There are so many things that you wish that you could tell yourself but there’s nothing like actually living it.”
Together, the bears let go of a celebratory balloon.
As the balloon approaches the horizon, one of four Berkeley Haas Defining Leadership Principles, Question the Status Quo, Confidence without Attitude, Students Always, or Beyond Yourself, (a different one for each NFT) slowly appears. Then a “press start” button appears, representing the beginning of the next chapter of your life.
Caitrin Hall, MBA 21, said the NFT represents the innovation, creativity and generosity of their class: “Innovation, since we’re likely the only MBA class to own an NFT from our school; creativity, as it is a cutting edge art form; and the generosity of Fede Pacheco to gift it to us all.”
“I’d learned about blockchain in school, but this brings it alive—and into my wallet—in a whole new way,” she said.
This year’s efforts bring the total raised for the past two fiscal years to a record $116 million, the most ever raised in two consecutive years.
“So many alumni, faculty, staff, students, parents, and friends went beyond themselves this year, providing unbelievable support for Haas,” Dean Ann Harrison said. “Their generous gifts will be used to do important work within our community, work that will help Haas build the next generation of Berkeley leaders, stay connected to and support our alumni community, and remain a top business school. We are truly grateful.”
Fundraising highlights from the past year:
$69 million raised from donations by 4,339 alumni, faculty, staff, students, parents, and friends.
A $30 million gift, the largest single donation in the school’s history, from Ned Spieker, BS 66, and his wife, Carol, BS 66 (political science). Their gift will be used to launch the four-year Spieker Undergraduate Program in Fall of 2024.
The addition of seven new Builders of Berkeley—donors who given at least $1 million to Berkeley—including Haruki, MBA 12, and Mikiko Satomi, Kevin, BS 82 JD/MBA 85 and Eileen Shields, John Hokom, BS 59, MBA 60, Steve Etter, BS 83, MBA 89, Roshni and Jagdeep Singh, MBA 90, Joanne and Jon Goldstein, BS 82; and the Liang-Kuo Family.
The 2022 one-day Big Give campaign, which raised $2.475 million from a record 911 gifts.
A record number of gifts of $2,500, the new gift level for the Haas Leadership Society.
A record $4.86 million raised for the Haas Fund, the most raised in one year. Gifts to the Haas Fund are used for scholarships and program enhancements, as well as our Alumni Network podcasts, lifelong learning, and alumni programming.
Alumni engagement highlights from the past year:
Alumni engagement also thrived in 2022, with a record-breaking group of nearly 1,700 alumni returning to campus for their makeup and in-person MBA reunion weekend celebrations. Together, the MBA reunion classes of 2020 and 2021 donated $2.2 million and gave 11 lead gifts. At the annual Alumni Conference, the combined virtual and in-person events allowed alumni from all over the world to tap into Haas thought leadership. In-person events fostered community-building and connections.
More alumni engagement highlights:
Alumni affinity groups increased programming for women graduates as well as programming in real estate and growth industries like cryptocurrency and blockchain.
Alumni sourced and shared 474 jobs with the school as part of the Hire Haas campaign.
More than 3,700 alumni accepted a call to action, volunteering for Haas by assisting with admissions, meeting with students for career conversations, serving as guest speakers or panelists, or leading and arranging events and programs for fellow alumni.
The OneHaas Alumni Podcast produced 42 podcasts featuring alumni in conversation about their Haas experience and career trajectories.
Three new mentoring programs were launched to support student career planning and help build greater alumni connections.
Berkeley Haas thought leader Henry Chesbrough, whose paradigm of open innovation has influenced corporations throughout the world, has received the 2022 Distinguished Scholar-Practitioner Award from the Academy of Management (AMA).
The AMA Career Achievement Awards were presented during the Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management in Seattle on August 7.
The Distinguished Scholar-Practitioner Award is presented annually to a scholar who has demonstrated long-term, significant contributions in one or more of the following areas: successful application of theory or research in practice and/or contribution to knowledge through extraction of learning from practice; authorship of scholarly works which have substantively affected the practice of management; and integration of research and practice that is respected by peers (both practitioner and academic).
Chesbrough, who retired in July from his role as adjunct professor and faculty director of the Garwood Center for Corporate Innovation and continues to lead courses through Berkeley Executive Education, published his first book on open innovation in 2003. Since then his work has since been cited more than 100,000 times. The central idea of open innovation is that companies thrive through the use of both external and internal ideas and paths to market. According to Chesbrough, companies cannot afford to rely entirely on their own research but should instead buy or license processes and inventions from other companies. In addition, business ideas that are not used internally should be taken outside the company through joint ventures or spin-offs.
Separately, Chesbrough was also named as a fellow by PICMET (Portland International Center for Management of Engineering and Technology). The fellowship was awarded to recognize Chesbrough’s outstanding contributions to the development and growth of the engineering and technology management discipline.
When the Equal Pay Act passed into law almost 60 years ago, women working full time made 59 cents for every dollar earned by men. Since then, the gender earnings gap has narrowed but remains stubborn: A Pew Research Center analysis found that women earned 84 cents for every dollar that a male worker took home in 2020.
Common explanations offered for this disparity—which is present across most industries and professions, and is larger for minority women—include the perception that women are less likely than men to “lean in” and negotiate raises and promotions; women’s disproportionate childcare responsibilities; and stereotypes about women’s and men’s respective strengths and talents, which influence the industries they’re steered toward or from.
A new paper by Haas professors Mathijs de Vaan and Toby Stuart, published in American Sociological Review, highlights an underexplored way in which stereotyping can impact the livelihoods of women—particularly those working in high-skilled, client-based professions—long after they’ve committed to their industry of choice. The researchers reveal that gender stereotyping can weaken clients’ perceived trust in female professionals’ core offering: their expertise.
“All high-skill, client-based markets depend on trust, because the consumer is a non-expert relative to the provider,” says Stuart. “If you hire a banker, a mechanic, a management consultant, a financial advisor, or a physician and you don’t trust them, what do you do with the advice they give you? Do you follow it?” Most likely, he notes, you won’t follow the solution they’re recommending. Instead, you’ll seek a second opinion.
Gender and second opinions
Drawing from a rich dataset of medical claims information, Stuart and de Vaan examined whether physicians’ gender determined the perceived value of their expertise—as measured by how often patients sought second opinions.
They found that both men and women were more likely to opt for second opinions if the purveyor of the first opinion was a female specialist. However, male patients were much more likely than women to seek a second expert opinion.
The researchers also quantified the cost of this greater doubt in female physicians’ expertise, and discovered that on a per-patient basis, female specialists generated 10.7% lower billings than their male colleagues in the year following the average patient’s first visit.
“We think the results would be similar in professional settings with the same characteristics: where the client is uninformed relative to the service provider, and where there are gender stereotypes about professional competence, which definitely exist in finance, banking, management consulting, the legal profession, and many others,” Stuart says.
Patterns in placing trust
Stuart and de Vaan drew from an uncommonly comprehensive dataset: the Massachusetts All Payers Claims Database, which contains information about the medical claims of nearly every Massachusetts resident. The researchers zeroed in on data about first-time visits to medical specialists for new-to-the-patient health conditions between 2010 and 2015.
Digging into the data, the researchers unearthed several gender-related patterns in the relationships between specialists and their patients. First of all, the majority of patients preferred seeing specialists who shared their gender, including for first-opinion visits; across the board, patients were 22% more likely to see specialists of the same gender than those of the opposite gender.
The researchers also noted that after an appointment with a female specialist, both men and women were more inclined to obtain a second opinion from another specialist than they were if the first appointment was with a male physician. This likelihood was much stronger among male patients—perhaps because some women’s preference for the expertise of a male physician was partially offset by the desire to see a doctor of their own gender.
Male patients in particular tended to switch to male specialists for their second opinions—and since patients seeking second opinions most often stuck with the second specialists for any recommended medical services, what naturally followed were significant disparities in billings.
Male patients contributed disproportionately to the 10.7% shortfall in female physicians’ patient billings. The researchers observed that when a female specialist saw a male patient, her average one-year billing amount for him was 18% less than the average billing amount for a male colleague seeing a male specialist. This difference was only 7% for female patients.
Shifting perceptions, then reality
Stuart says he hopes awareness about these stereotypes might start to lead to shifts in both perceptions and reality. For his part, Stuart found the patterns revealed by his research striking enough that he’s shifted his own behavior.
“I categorically refuse a male specialist now that I’m aware of this,” he says, explaining that it’s one way to provide his own counterweight, however miniscule, to the pervasive perceptions that over time create very real outcomes.
“We hold all of these gendered beliefs about work even if we are not aware of them, and they have a way of becoming reality.”
Malmendier, the Edward J. and Mollie Arnold Professor of Finance at the Haas School and a professor in U.C. Berkeley’s Department of Economics, is a pioneer in the field of behavioral economics and finance and among the most-cited economists in the world.
Malmendier said she is excited to contribute to economic policy-making in Germany. “I hope my expertise and international perspective will be helpful,” she wrote in a tweet of the appointment, which runs through 2026.
In an interview with the German business publication Handelsblatt, Malmendier also said she aims to bring an international perspective and also to speed up the work of the five-member council, which issues a lengthy annual report. She said the council should weigh in more frequently on current events, such as discussions on whether to impose a gas embargo on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine.
Malmendier will also bring a behavioral economics perspective to the council. Her research focuses on the intersection of economics and finance, and how psychology and experience influence how people make economic decisions. She had researched the impact of economic shocks, such as high inflation or unemployment, on later economic behavior—for example, the long-term frugality of “Depression babies.”
A Berkeley Haas MBA student team took first place at the 2022 Net Impact Case Competition for crafting innovative ways that a leading outdoor retail company could invest $50 million to make a sustainable impact.
The March 5 competition, hosted by University of Colorado Leeds School of Business, virtually brought together 50 MBA teams from U.S. business schools, including Daniels College of Business (University of Denver), Robert H. Smith School of Business (University of Maryland), and Darden School of Business (University of Virginia).
The winning team, Too Haas to Handle, won $10,000 in prize money. Team members included Tomoe Wang, Adriana Rueda, Liz Kanovsky, and Tomas Stegmann, all MBA 23.
This year, teams were asked to consult a leading outdoor retail company on how to allocate $50 million to address three priorities for the company: narrowing the racial wealth gap, reducing climate emissions, and strengthening democratic institutions.
The Haas team proposed creating a sustainable impact fund that would support initiatives including offering down payment loans to 7,000 employees to narrow the existing racial wealth gap; distributing grants to nonprofits focused on redistributing political and economic power; and providing loans to all stakeholders–from employees to suppliers–who initiated projects that raised sustainability standards and reduced climate emissions. Those projects included installing solar panels at the company’s warehouses.
“What set us apart from other teams was the diversity of our team,” Stegmann said. “Each of us came from different backgrounds, grew up in different countries, and experienced different cultures. However, despite being so different, we complemented each other very well and we were able to leverage each other’s strengths to get the most out of the team.”
The paper questioned several common research practices that the authors dubbed “P-hacking”—a reference to P-value, a calculation which researchers use to determine the statistical significance of a study’s findings. These practices were leading researchers to selective reporting of the results, in the pressure to publish, the authors contended.
The paper led researchers to revisit the findings of many prior studies, many of which could not be replicated.
The award from SAGE Publishing recognizes authors of the most cited papers in Sage Journals from 2011. “False Positive Psychology” has been cited more than 7,500 times by other academic researchers. Read more on the award.