Is it ethical? New undergrad class trains students to think critically about artificial intelligence

two sstudents in a Haas classroom listening intently
Berkeley Haas undergraduate students Hunter Esqueda (left) and Sohan Dhanesh (right) are enrolled in Genevieve Smith’s Responsible AI Innovation & Management class. Photo: Noah Berger


“Classified” is an occasional series spotlighting some of the more powerful lessons being taught in classrooms around Haas.

On a recent Monday afternoon, Sohan Dhanesh, BS 24, joined a team of students to consider whether startup Moneytree is using machine learning ethically to determine credit worthiness among its customers.

After reading the case, Dhanesh, one of 54 undergraduates enrolled in a new Berkeley Haas course called Responsible AI Innovation & Management, said he was concerned by Moneytree’s unlimited access to users’ phone data, and whether customers even know what data the company is tapping to inform its credit scoring algorithm. Accountability is also an issue, since Silicon Valley-based Moneytree’s customers live in India and Africa, he said. 

“Credit is a huge thing, and whether it’s given to a person or not has a huge impact on their life,” Dhanesh said. “If this credit card [algorithm] is biased against me, it will affect my quality of life.”

Dhanesh, who came into the class believing that he didn’t support guardrails for AI companies, says he’s surprised by how his opinions have changed about regulation. That he isn’t playing Devil’s advocate, he said, is due to the eye-opening data, cases, and readings provided by Lecturer Genevieve Smith.

A contentious debate

Smith, who is also the founding co-director of the Responsible & Equitable AI Initiative at the Berkeley AI Research Lab and former associate director of the Berkeley Haas Center for Equity, Gender, & Leadership, created the course with an aim to teach students both sides of the AI debate.

Woman in a purple jacket teaching
Lecturer Genevieve Smith says the goal of her class is to train aspiring leaders to understand, think critically about, and implement strategies for responsible AI innovation and management. Photo: Noah Berger

Her goal is to train aspiring leaders to think critically about artificial intelligence and implement strategies for responsible AI innovation and management. “While AI can carry immense opportunities, it also poses immense risks to both society and business linked to pervasive issues of bias and discrimination, data privacy violations, and more,” Smith said. “Given the current state of the AI landscape and its expected global growth, profit potential, and impact, it is imperative that aspiring business leaders understand responsible AI innovation and management.”

“While AI can carry immense opportunities, it also poses immense risks to both society and business linked to pervasive issues of bias and discrimination, data privacy violations, and more,” – Genevieve Smith.

During the semester, Smith covers the business and economic potential of AI to boost productivity and efficiency. But she also explores the immense potential for harm, such as the risk of embedding inequality or infringing on human rights; amplifying misinformation and a lack of transparency, and impacting the future of work and climate. 

Smith said she expects all of her students will interact with AI as they launch careers, particularly in entrepreneurship and tech. To that end, the class prepares them to articulate what “responsible AI” means and understand and define ethical AI principles, design, and management approaches. 

Learning through mini-cases

Today, Smith kicked off class with a review of the day’s AI headlines, showing an interview with OpenAI’s CTO Mira Murati, who was asked where the company gets its training data for Sora, OpenAI’s new generative AI model that creates realistic video using text. Murati contended that the company used publicly available data to train Sora but didn’t provide any details in the interview. Smith asks the students what they thought about her answer, noting the “huge issue” with a lack of transparency on training data, as well as copyright and consent implications.

Student in class wearing blue and yellow berkeley hoodie
Throughout the semester, students will develop a responsible AI strategy for a real or fictitious company. Photo: Noah Berger

After, Smith introduced the topic of “AI for good” before the students split into groups to act as responsible AI advisors to three startups, described in three mini cases for Moneytree, HealthNow, and MyWeather.  They worked to answer Smith’s questions: “What concerns do you have? What questions would you ask? And what recommendations might you provide?” The teams explored these questions across five core responsible AI principles, including privacy, fairness, and accountability. 

Julianna De Paula, BS 24, whose team was assigned to read about Moneytree, asked if the company had adequately addressed the potential for bias when approving customers for credit (about 60% of loans in East Africa go to men, and 70% of loans in India go to men, the case noted), and whether the app’s users are giving clear consent for their data when they download it. 

Other student teams considered HealthNow, a chatbot that provides health care guidance, but with better performance for men and English speakers; and MyWeather, an app developed for livestock herders by a telecommunications firm in Nairobi, Kenya, that uses weather data from a real-time weather information service provider.

The class found problems with both startups, pointing out the potential for a chatbot to misdiagnose conditions (“Can a doctor be called as a backup?” one student asked), and the possibility that MyWeather’s dependence on a partner vendor could lead to inaccurate climate data.

Preparing future leaders

Throughout the semester, students will go on to develop a responsible AI strategy for a real or fictitious company. They are also encouraged to work with ChatGPT and other generative AI language tools. (One assignment asked them to critique ChatGPT’s own response to a question of bias in generative AI.) Students also get a window into real-world AI use and experiences through guest speakers from Google, Mozilla, Partnership on AI, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and others. 

All of the students participate in at least one debate, taking sides on topics that include whether university students should be able to use ChatGPT or other generative AI language tools for school; if the OpenAI board of directors was right to fire Sam Altman; and if government regulation of AI technologies stifles innovation and should be limited.

Smith, who has done her share of research into gender and AI, also recommended many readings for the class, including “Data Feminism” by MIT Associate Professor Catherine D’Ignazio and Emory University Professor Lauren Klein; “Unmasking AI: My Mission to Protect What Is Human in a World of Machines” by AI researcher, artist, and advocate Joy Buolamwini; “Weapons of Math Destruction” by algorithmic auditor Cathy O’Neil; and “Your Face Belongs to Us” by New York Times reporter Kashmir Hill.

Smith said she hopes that her course will enable future business leaders to be more responsible stewards and managers of such technologies. “Many people think that making sure AI is ‘responsible’ is a technology task that should be left to data scientists and engineers,” she said. “The reality is, business managers and leaders have a critical role to play as they inform the priorities and values that are embedded into how AI technology is developed and used.”

Pitching with purpose: Students imagine future of mobility for automaker

nine people standing on stage holding a check
Pitch winners with judges (left-right) Nick Triantos; Tafflyn Toy; Henry Chung; Victoria Marcus, EWMBA 25; Srivatsa Chakravarthy, EWMBA 25; Oleksandr Krotenko, EMBA 23;  Simeon Ryan, EWMBA 25;  Ju yup Kang; and ChangWoo Kim. Photo: Jim. Block

A student team that imagined a plan for Hyundai Cradle to build an electric-powered mobile medical fleet and market it in North America won the 2023 Haas Purpose-Built Vehicles (PBV) Challenge.

Hyundai Cradle, Hyundai Motor Group’s Mountain View, Calif.-based open innovation and investment arm, sponsored the challenge, which was held April 23 at Berkeley Haas. 

Cradle challenged students to develop novel business models for the company’s future PBV market launch in North America. Hyundai Motor Group is in the final stages of building a flexible automobile base, called a skateboard, that can be used to produce many kinds of PVBs—vehicles ranging from ambulances to passenger shuttles to delivery fleets for small businesses.

The first-place team took home $15,000 for its pitch. Winning team members included Srivatsa Chakravarthy, EWMBA 25; Oleksandr Krotenko, EMBA 23; Victoria Marcus, EWMBA 25; and Simeon Ryan, EWMBA 25.  

The competing teams, composed of graduate students from across all three Haas MBA programs and the UC Berkeley School of Information, participated in a semester-long series of training sessions, focused on the Lean Startup method and customer discovery training. The top three finalist teams were then tasked with finding and validating novel business models for PBVs that they pitched to judges at the end of the program. 

“This was a fantastic way to showcase students from across all three of our MBA programs,” said Rhonda Shrader, executive director of the Berkeley Haas Entrepreneurship Program (BHEP). “The program also provided a perfect opportunity for our MBA students to work with top graduate students from across the campus.”

Solving real problems

The winning group pitched a fix for emergency medical services that they described as “antiquated, expensive, and ripe for technological disruption.” The team suggested that Cradle partner with industry leader AMR (American Medical Response) to capitalize on the company’s market share and need to contract with an outsourced fleet.

two men and one women pointing, wearing suits speaking at a conference
Victoria Marcus, EWMBA 25, pitches during the 2023 Haas Purpose-Built Vehicles (PBV) Challenge. Photo: Jim Block

Marcus, who works in corporate finance, said she was excited to work on solving a real problem experienced by a company outside of her industry.

“Going through the pitching process with judges was the pinnacle business school experience I’ve always wanted to try since I started my EWMBA,” she said. During Lean Launch, she said her group conducted more than 30 interviews with potential clients. “We had to pivot a couple times from our original idea to make sure we were solving problems for them,” she said. “Ultimately this led us to think hard and adapt so we could develop a detailed business plan that would benefit potential clients.”

During the pitch day, Kia’s vice president of new business planning, Ju yup Kang, a judge for the competition, outlined how KIA is transforming from a car company to a “full mobility solution provider.” Henry Chung, senior vice president and head of Hyundai Cradle, said the students had clearly put in a lot of effort to develop creative solutions to difficult problems. 

Chung; Kang; Changwoo Kim, a chief coordinator at Cradle; Tafflyn Toy, an open innovation project manager at Hyundai Cradle; and Nick Triantos, chief architect, automotive system software at Nvidia, served as the final challenge judges.

Team Ingenium took second place ($10,000) with a pitch for all-in-one fleet management. Members included Reggie Draper, EMBA 23; Michael LaFramboise, MBA/MEng 24; Matthew McGoffin, MBA/MEng 23; and Michael Yang, MIMS (master of information management and systems) 23.

Team Mobility Moguls took third place ($5,000) for a strategy that addressed a mobile future for police & security. Team members included Anmol Aggarwal, EWMBA 24; Suveda Dhoot, MBA 24; Hrishikesh Nagaraju, MIMS 24; Nithin Ravindra, EWMBA 23, MIMS 24; and Lutong Yang.

a group of students holding three large checks
The three prizewinning teams in the Haas Purpose-Built Vehicles (PBV) pitch competition with checks. Photo: Jim Block


Three teams honored for innovation at Cleantech to Market Summit

students holding large checks on stage at Haas for winning at C2M summit.
Three teams were honored at the annual C2M Summit. Photo: Jim Block

Three teams that included Berkeley Haas MBA students won top awards at the annual Cleantech to Market (C2M) Climate Tech Summit last Friday.

C2M is a partnership between graduate students, startups, and industry professionals to help accelerate commercialization of cleantech solutions. Over 15 weeks, each C2M team spends nearly 1,000 hours assessing leading-edge technologies and investigating market opportunities.

Last week, teams presented their findings, followed by an audience Q&A. Dean Ann Harrison also took the stage, interviewed by Financial Times correspondent Dave Lee about the school’s work to put sustainability at the core of business education.

This year’s winners of the MetLife Climate Solutions Awards included:

Niron Magnetics: The team won $20,000 for working on powerful, low cost, and environmentally-sustainable permanent magnets to free electrification from dependence on rare earth elements. The team included Andrew Cahill, EWMBA 23, Ben Brokesh, JD 24, Campbell Scott, MBA 23, Yiannos Vakis, MBA 23, and Sepideh Karimiziarani, MS 22, Development Engineering.

Five students who won top honor at C2M summit
Team Niron Magnetics. Photo: Jim Block

GenH: The team won $10,000 for working on a rapidly deployable, fully modular hydropower system to electrify non-powered dams and canal heads to generate clean, stable, and cost-competitive renewable energy. Team members included Emily Robinson, EWMBA 23, Hon Leung “Curtis” Wong, MS 23, Development Engineering, Maelym Medina, MBA 23, and Santiago Recabarren, MBA 23.

four students standing in Chou Hall
Team GenH: Photo: Jim Block

Quino Energy: The team won $5,000 for working on scalable, non-flammable energy storage made possible by a proprietary zero-waste process that transforms coal and wood tar into designer flow-battery reactants. Team members included Dongwan Kim, MBA 23, Ingrid Xhafa, MS 23, Development Engineering, James Wang, MBA 23, Kennedy McCone, graduate student researcher, UC Berkeley College of Chemistry, and Noah Carson, EMBA 23.

four students standing in Spieker Forum
Team Quino Energy was the audience favorite. Photo: Jim Block

The Quino Energy team also won the Hasler Cleantech to Market Award as audience favorite based on online polling throughout the day. 

MetLife is a corporate sponsor of the C2M Program; The Financial Times served as an event partner.

Q&A with Sheeraz Haji, new Cleantech to Market (C2M) co-director

Sheeraz Haji standing in front of digital screen in Cafe Think
Sheeraz Haji is the new co-director of the Cleantech to Market (C2M) program. Photo: Jim Block

A passion to protect the environment began as a child for Sheeraz Haji, the new co-director of the Cleantech to Market (C2M) Program at Berkeley Haas. 

“My dad was working in Africa for the World Bank, and we got to see how water pollution impacts peoples’ lives,” said Haji, who directs C2M with Brian Steel. “I ended up going back to Africa in college, and the environment just emerged as something that I became interested in.”

We talked to Haji, who began his career as an environmental engineer, about his varied career and his plans for C2M, a program that matches graduate student teams with entrepreneurs seeking to commercialize their climate tech solutions. 

Tell us a bit about yourself. Where did you grow up?

All over the world, actually. My dad worked for the World Bank, so we lived in Washington DC, then in Algeria and then Kenya when I was between eight and 12. Africa was amazing; Nairobi was a peaceful, amazing city surrounded by stunning parks. My dad was born and raised in East Africa so it felt like discovering our roots. One of my big memories was kicking and screaming when my parents told my brother and I we had to return to DC, where I went to high school. We didn’t want to go.

How did living in Africa as a kid impact your world view?

Africa played a big role in shaping my world view. My dad’s work gave me exposure to development and sustainability projects. It hit me as a young person. I was like, ‘Oh, this is something to hold onto.’ It was a pretty strong focus coming out of college. Later I got interested in a lot of other things, including business and software.

 You’ve had an interesting career. What are some of the highlights?

There are different parts of my background that fit so well with this job. I studied environmental engineering in college, and started my career as an environmental engineer, working on water and air pollution issues. I’ve had some twists and turns in my career, working at McKinsey in strategy and at startups, running software startup GetActive, which helped nonprofits raise money online. But certainly the environment and energy have been big themes. Recently, I ran a company called Cleantech Group which helps corporations and investors across the globe invest in sustainable innovation. I now focus on climate tech investing and corporate consulting through my own firm, zipdragon ventures.

There are different parts of my background that fit so well with this job. I studied environmental engineering in college, and started my career as an environmental engineer, working on water and air pollution issues.

What interested you in C2M and this role in particular?

First and foremost, I’ve known Brian (Steel) for a while. We met back in 2013 when I became involved in the program as a guest speaker, a coach, and then as a judge last year. What interested me was just observing and admiring what Brian and (former C2M co-director) Beverly Alexander had built and the impact it had on the students and the entrepreneurs. They put a lot of passion into this program. When I talked to students last year it was clear that C2M was a transformative experience for many of them. Brian, Beverly and co-faculty Bill (Shelander) have also done a really nice job of also keeping other folks from Haas, from the Berkeley ecosystem, and from the industry involved. Also, I have always dreamed of teaching at a world-class institution such as Haas, which happens to be very close to my home in Berkeley.

What are some of the trends that you’re seeing as an investor in clean tech markets?

Investors have poured more money into climate tech in recent years than at any other stage in my career. Global enterprises are driving sustainability goals, and governments are seeking to adopt policies to accelerate transitions to a low-carbon economy. We have observed some big financial outcomes for climate tech startups – something we had not seen for a long time. For example, quite a few EV charging companies have been able to access public markets and provide big returns for founders and investors. In the larger picture, I see sustainability serving as a huge driver across every industry and every company. There’s a massive amount of investment and adoption of climate technologies like the ones we work on at C2M. It feels like a unique time across the globe to focus on clean tech. 

 Can you share immediate/long-term plans for C2M?

I think job number one is for me to learn the program. Job number two is to try to not to mess up a good thing. We’ve got amazing students and a great cohort of startups. We must execute. We’re definitely looking at the curriculum, trying to figure out if and where to adjust. We’ve had some interesting conversations around, ‘Okay, where could we go? Is it another cohort, perhaps? Doing a class in the spring versus just in the fall?’ Also, we’re trying to be creative, as in, ‘Okay, there’s a great set of relationships, both within and outside the university community, creating a wonderful foundation. What else could we do?’ We are very open to ideas, and would love to hear from the Haas community.


Buzz Solutions nabs top honor at Cleantech to Market Symposium

Seven graduate students smiling
From L-R, top to bottom: Luis Felipe Gonzalez, Federico Cueva Salas, Sean Mandell, Chelsea Boyle, Preston Suan, Dinara Ermakova, and Han Le. Photo: Jim Block.

An AI-powered software that automates visual inspections and provides data analytics for utility lines and energy grids earned the top prize at the 12th annual Cleantech to Market Symposium. The event was held in Chou Hall’s Spieker Forum last Friday.

Cleantech to Market (C2M) is a 15-week accelerator course that brings together graduate students, industry leaders, and researchers to pitch cleantech innovations from existing startups, government-sponsored programs, and incubators. 

Five student teams–including 31 MBA and UC Berkeley graduate students from law, policy, and science–pitched emerging technologies aimed at addressing everything from fossil-fuel reduction to carbon dioxide capture to non-flammable batteries.

Buzz Solutions, the AI-powered company that provides power line and energy grid inspections, earned the Hasler Cleantech to Market Award, named after former Berkeley Haas dean William Hasler. 

Team members included Chelsea Boyle, EWMBA 21, Dinara Ermakova, PhD 22 (nuclear engineering), Federico Cueva Salas, MBA 22, Han Le, PhD 24 (chemistry), Luis Felipe Gonzalez, MBA/MEng 22, Preston Suan, MBA 22, and Sean Mandell, MBA 22. 

Dean Harrison kicked off the symposium with a keynote, emphasizing the need for more cleantech solutions to address climate change.

“This is no longer a problem that our grandchildren will face. This is a crisis that we’re dealing with now,” said Harrison, pointing to recent catastrophic events, including California’s wildfires and extreme heat waves worldwide. “Our planet is out of its comfort zone, which is why this symposium and the development of cleantech solutions is so crucial.”

Other notable guest speakers included James Zahler, associate director for technology-to-market at Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E); Liam Berryman, CEO of Nelumbo; Miguel Sierra Aznar, CEO of Noble Thermodynamics; and Kristin Taylor, CEO of Radical Plastics. All three CEOs participated in previous C2M symposiums.

“I’m so proud of our students and what they have accomplished in the last 15 weeks,” said Brian Steel, director of C2M. “They’ve spent nearly 1,000 hours speaking to experts and investigating a wide range of market opportunities for cleantech startups that are tackling the most pressing issues of our time.”

Haas to host first John E. Martin Mental Healthcare Tech Challenge

Michael Martin
Michael Martin

For Michael Martin, MBA 09, teaming up with Berkeley Haas to launch the 2020 John E. Martin Mental Healthcare Tech Challenge was deeply personal. The challenge is named for his father, a Vietnam veteran who in his later years counseled veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

It was Martin’s father’s commitment to improving the quality of and access to mental healthcare that drove the theme of this year’s inaugural competition, which invites 12 teams from top MBA programs to find ways to use data to better support construction workers facing anxiety, addiction, depression, and suicide. The challenge kicks off on Nov. 11, Veterans Day.

“It’s an auspicious date considering that my dad was a veteran,” said Martin, a portfolio manager in Google’s Energy & Infrastructure division. In 2014, Martin established the John E. Martin Memorial Fellowship to honor the memory of his father who succumbed to injuries resulting from a car accident in 2013.

Earlier this year, Martin decided to further his commitment to the cause his father was most passionate about.

Corinne Marquardt
Corinne Marquardt

Martin connected with the Haas Healthcare Association, whose members then reached out to the Tech Club. “Michael wanted to set up a case competition linked to mental health and the Tech Club has experience with running cross-MBA competitions through our annual Tech Challenge,” said Corrine Marquardt, MBA/MPH 21. “A team effort between the two clubs seemed like an ideal way to blend healthcare industry knowledge with the operational know-how of running a competition like this.”

In planning the event, which is sponsored by Google, Marquardt worked with fellow Tech Club leaders Brad Deal, Mary Yao, and Dunja Panic, all MBA 21, as well as Haas Healthcare Association leaders Elena Gambon, MBA/MPH 21 and Will Herling, MBA/MPH 21.

The idea for a mental health case competition focusing on the construction industry sprang from Martin’s many job-related visits to data center construction sites. “I was going to more rural locations in middle America and I had the opportunity to establish a rapport with a lot of these folks,” he said.

He noted that the construction industry, one of the largest sectors in the U.S., suffers disproportionately high rates of depression and suicide. He further noted that many mental disorders are going untreated, which can have serious consequences. “When people bring these problems to work and they’re handling heavy machinery on a job site there’s a greater chance of injury and death.”

In addition to the challenge, a speaker series consisting of three sessions will be held on Mental Health in the Construction Industry, YouTube in Mental Health, and Google in Healthcare. Google’s leadership team earmarked $30,000 for the competition, and Martin contributed an additional $20,000.

The case competition field includes teams from Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, MIT’s Sloan School of Management, The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, Harvard Business School, Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, Columbia Business School, Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business, and Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business.

Final awards will be presented on November 20th.

Full-time MBA team wins 2020 Tech Challenge

An MBA student team’s roadmap for how a tech CEO should best lead employees during the challenges of the next year won first prize at the Berkeley Haas Spring 2020 Tech Challenge.

Members of the winning team included Maryam Rezapoor, MBA 20, and Asif Mohammad, Cynthia Sobral, and Vera Xiao, all MBA 21. The Haas team, one of 25 teams representing 10 universities, won $5,000.

Photos of the winning Haas team in 2020 tech challenge
Clockwise from top left: Maryam Rezapoor, Vera Xiao, Cynthia Sobral, and Asif Mohammad.

The Technology Club at Haas has held the tech-focused MBA case competition at the school since 2011. The challenge, which moved online between March 30-April 3, brings together MBA students from top programs around the country, providing an opportunity to solve real-world business challenges.

Teams this year were asked to write a three-page response to the question, “How should businesses or organizations think about resiliency, recovery, and hope in the face of unforeseen global crisis?” Teams could choose to write from the point of view of a CEO sharing thoughts with employees on how to brace for the next 12 months, or as a reporter working for a major news publisher “who will write an article read by millions.”

The Haas team opted to write from the perspective of a CEO, who emphasized the value of individual vulnerability and created a corporate culture of shared empathy to reassure employees during a major crisis.

We took the perspective of a CEO sharing his or her own story and brought that experience to a very personal level.

“We took the perspective of a CEO sharing his or her own story and brought that experience to a very personal level,” Mohammad said.

The team wanted to stress the notion of “experiencing grief both individually and collectively,” Sobral said. “We need to be honest about that. We need to consider how we find meaning in this crisis.”

The pitch also suggested encouraging employees to volunteer time to help a struggling small business and that the firm establish an impact investment fund and an accelerator to support startups. “We need to be preparing for the next crisis, so we sought to empower new companies for the future,” Rezapoor said.

Ultimately, the pitch encouraged employees to consider the bigger picture of helping a tech firm facilitate “more collaboration and innovation and to be able to think beyond themselves,” Xiao said.

After submitting their entries, teams participated in an April 3 round-table discussion with the judges—executives from cloud software company Nutanix, the competition sponsor, as well as Haas Lecturer Gregory La Blanc and Gauthier Vasseur, executive director of the Fisher Center for Business Analytics.

Even in the midst of a global crisis, participating in the Tech Challenge “gave me a sense of optimism,” Sobral said. “I shifted from thinking about the here and now to thinking about the future path for business and society.”

The eight teams in the event’s final round represented Haas, UC Berkeley’s School of Engineering, Carnegie Mellon, Columbia, Dartmouth, Northwestern, University of Chicago, University of Michigan, and University of Washington. Mary Yao, Corrine Marquardt, Dunja Panic and Brad Deal, all MBA 21, organized this year’s competition.

New Berkeley Haas artificial intelligence initiative to focus on inclusivity

Well into Beena Ammanath’s career as a leader for data science teams in artificial intelligence, she often found herself the only woman at the table.

“As I set up AI teams, there were never enough women,” said Ammanath, who is co-president of the new Alliance for Inclusive Artificial Intelligence (AIAI), launched this month by the Fisher Center for Business Analytics at Haas. “I couldn’t hire them and I couldn’t find them, and it became really obvious that we did not have enough women or underrepresented minorities. I knew that AI wouldn’t be as robust or safe if you didn’t have them involved in this process, where we’re encoding human intelligence and human bias.”

Gauthier Vasseur and Beena Ammanath, founders of the AIAI initiative with Haas
Beena Ammanath, who was honored as Businesswoman of the Year at last year’s Fisher Center for Business Analytics summit, and Gauthier Vasseur, the executive director of the Fisher Center for Business Analytics, are leading the new AIAI initiative at Berkeley Haas. Photo: Jim Block

To help solve the problem, Ammanath, a managing director at Deloitte and founder of the nonprofit Humans for AI, joined Gauthier Vasseur, the executive director of the Fisher Center for Business Analytics, to launch  the new AIAI initiative at Berkeley Haas.

The alliance is focused on building a more inclusive future for women and underrepresented minorities in AI.

Plans include fundraising for scholarships and educational activities around AI and analytics; new programs that promote awareness of AI and inclusion; plans to host conferences on AI and analytics; new courses and access to learning within AI research projects; professional training and coaching and career support; and support for internships, job placement, and ongoing mentoring from AI experts.

“AI is the future and it has the potential to profoundly transform the work that people will do,” said Assoc. Prof. Zsolt Katona, faculty director for the Fisher Center for Business Analytics, which is part of the Institute for Business Innovation (IBI). “Haas plays a unique role within the Berkeley artificial intelligence ecosystem, with its focus on educating the next generation of business managers and leaders. With the sweeping changes that AI will bring, it’s critical that everybody has the opportunity to weigh in on how AI is used and who uses it, not just one group.”

“AI…has the potential to profoundly transform the work that people will do.” – Assoc. Prof. Zsolt Katona.

Associate Adjunct Prof. Thomas Y. Lee, the Fisher Center’s director of data science, notes that Haas’ comparative advantage is not in building better algorithms. By training leaders, Haas will influence how AIs are trained and how they are applied to benefit society. “This is about how you encourage people to get involved, how you think about collecting the data, how you train systems, and how you evaluate impact,” he said. “As this world evolves and matures, there are a lot more ways to be inclusive and build a better society and the idea is that the technology can be used in positive and negative ways. Haas is in the business of preparing leaders to take on the bias.”

The new AIAI initiative was founded last spring after Ammanath and Vasseur met and realized that they both shared similar views about AI— computer systems that interpret and learn from data to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence.

Vasseur, who is co-president of the alliance, said people on teams aren’t often asking the right questions, and are susceptible to groupthink.

photo of Thomas Lee
“Haas is in the business of preparing leaders to take on the bias,” Assoc. Adjunct Prof. Thomas Y. Lee.

“This is counterproductive for many companies and closes so many doors—when they are not being diverse in their analytics process, their data collection, and their analysis,” said Vasseur, a data analytics industry veteran and teacher who previously worked at Google and Oracle. “They need to see the big picture and pay attention to details. You won’t get that with a team of only white males.”

While a lack of diversity is a well-documented problem at tech companies, a recent study by WIRED magazine and Montreal startup Element AI estimated that only about 12% of leading machine learning researchers are women. That estimate came from tallying the numbers of men and women who had contributed work at three top machine learning conferences in 2017.

Hoping for better representation for both women and underrepresented minorities in AI, Celeste Fa’ai’uaso, MBA 20, a mechanical engineer who is co-president of the Haas Data Science Club, said she’s planning to meet with AIAI organizers.

The potential problem with AI, she says, is that people are using data to train these algorithms without considering how the data could be biased or how systemic issues can cause the patterns we see today, and whether the data is accurate or representative of many groups. “There’s been a lot of hype and excitement around AI and the thing I worry about is garbage in, garbage out,” she said. “We live in a world today where there are inequities and biases. If you take the data from that world to train machine learning and AI algorithms, we risk reinforcing these inequities even more.”

Ammanath, who was honored as Businesswoman of the Year at last year’s Fisher Center for Business Analytics summit, wrote in a recent LinkedIn blog post that to avoid bias, an artificial intelligence system should ideally have many data sources, from as wide a range of viewpoints as possible.

Examples of this that she cited include when Nikon created a camera that could detect if someone blinked at the crucial moment—but did not take into account that not all people around the world have the same shaped eyes—and when Winterlight Labs built auditory tests for neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and multiple sclerosis that only worked for English speakers of a particular Canadian dialect.

“The problem with AI comes when we knowingly or unknowingly expose the engine to data which only tells one story or does not show the whole picture,” she wrote.

Haas course inspires CityLab podcast on how tech is disrupting cities

When Molly Turner started as Airbnb’s first policy liaison back in 2011, most people in urban planning and government were still thinking of tech as an industry—rather than a force that was about to unleash a barrage of services and technologies that would disrupt the very fabric of city life.

Five years later, Turner took what she had learned on the front lines of this disruption to create the Berkeley Haas course on the topic, “Tech and the City: How to get urban innovation right.”

Berkeley Haas Lecturer Molly Turner
Lecturer Molly Turner

“I was both inspired and terrified by how much money was pouring into what I call ‘real-world tech startups,’ because I noticed that the entrepreneurs and the investors building them didn’t know very much about the cities they were disrupting,” says Turner, a lecturer in the Haas Business & Public Policy Group the whose background is in urban planning. “It felt like a very good time to go and teach the future tech leaders at the business school a little bit about cities.”

Now, Turner’s course has inspired a new podcast, “Technopolis,” produced by The Atlantic’s CityLab and which she co-hosts with Jim Kapsis, a Washington D.C.-based start-up advisor. The first eight-episode season launched today.

Remaking, disrupting, overrunning

Each episode is inspired by “a technology that is remaking, disrupting, or overrunning our cities in some way, good or bad,” Turner says. In some cases it’s a specific company, in others it’s a concept such as autonomous vehicles.

“We start by asking what we know about it right now, and then we bring in guests to broaden our thinking and ask the questions people aren’t asking about this stuff,” Turner says. “What could this mean for cities 50 years from now? What are some of the impacts that no one is planning for, and some of the unintended consequences, both good and bad? And what does it mean for our lives in cities, and how cities govern.”

Technopolis Co-Host Jim Kapsis

The show’s guests come from some of the hottest tech companies and from city government, and also include academics and researchers who provide historical, philosophical, or futurist perspectives. The first season is sponsored by WeWork—though the company has nothing to do with the content, she says.

Turner says it was Kapsis, a friend who had served as a climate advisor in the Obama administration and with whom she often discussed these topics, who proposed the idea that they host a podcast together. So they pitched it to CityLab, “the best publication covering what’s going on in cities and what the future of cities look like,” she says. CityLab provides an editor-in-chief, seasoned radio producers, and access to the deep knowledge and connections of its reporting staff.

“It’s a true partnership,” she says.

From VC explosion to batteries and more

Episode 1 of Technopolis starts at the beginning, in a sense: it’s all about venture capital, and why tech investors are so interested in cities all of a sudden. They look at what that means for city leaders, and how the venture capital influx has transformed jobs as city halls.

The second episode covers autonomous vehicles, exploring some of the impacts no one is thinking about, while the third episode looks at batteries, and whether they may soon be turning buildings into mini power plants.

What about electric scooters? “Of course the scooters have home up—I think they’ve been mentioned several times in the first three episodes already, because they’re such a visible example for everyone in cities about how technology is changing our lives,” Turner says. While they haven’t devoted an episode entirely to scooters, Turner says they do explore the different tactics scooter companies and other startups are using to deal with city government.

“Is it better to ask for permission or beg for foregiveness? Companies are definitely trying both,” she says.

Listen or subscribe to Technopolis for free on Apple PodcastsStitcher, or Google.

Strong job outcome for full-time MBA Class of 2018

<em>The job market is bright for the 2018 full-time MBA class. </em><em>Photo: Noah Berger</em>
The job market is bright for the 2018 full-time MBA class. Photo: Noah Berger

Salaries and sign-on bonuses remained strong for the Class of 2018, with a bump in the number of students landing jobs three months post-graduation.

About 93.4 percent of job seekers accepted offers within three months of graduation, with about 83 percent receiving job offers by graduation.

“This is just about as strong of a job market for MBAs that I’ve ever seen,” said Abby Scott, assistant dean of Career Management & Corporate Relations. “Salaries are up, thanks to stock options and bonuses. We’re really pleased with the employment success of this year’s class.”

Pay is solid this year for the class of 242 graduates, with average salaries of $127,571, up from $125,572 last year. Those salaries were topped off by an  average sign-on bonus of $29,212. About seventy percent of the class received signing bonuses, and about 41 percent received stock options or grants.

Tech, consulting top sectors

Technology was again the most popular sector for new Berkeley MBAs, pulling in 32 percent of the graduates. Amazon, Google, and Adobe were among the top tech employers.

Gabriela Belo Soares, MBA 18, said she took a full-time job at Google in business operations and strategy for a number of reasons.

“I always admired the company’s trajectory and how it changed the way we use the internet, and I strongly identified with the company’s values and mission,” she said. “Tech companies are currently under massive scrutiny from users and the media and have a big pressure to keep up the high pace of growth and innovation. This environment is exciting and requires making smart decisions responsibly and quickly. That was what I was looking for.”

Meantime, 24 percent—or 44 students—took jobs in consulting, with McKinsey & Co., Deloitte, Ernst & Young, Bain & Co., Boston Consulting Group (BCG), and IDEO representing the top hiring firms in consulting.

Carina Serreze, MBA/MPH 17, who graduated in December, took a job as an associate with McKinsey—her first choice of the three offers she received.

“When it came down to it, I was choosing between a full-time offer at Genentech or a startup or McKinsey,” she said. What drove her decision was the opportunity to work across different healthcare verticals at McKinsey, where she also has more geographic flexibility (she now lives in Seattle and travels often to San Francisco).

“Consulting was an opportunity to go really broad,” she said.

New companies make list

Nearly 14 percent of grads took positions in finance, including fintech, up from 11.8 percent last year. Meantime, 14 graduates started companies, while 25 others went to startups in various industries.

New companies on the school’s top hiring list include EY Parthenon, IDEO, Kraft Heinz, and Tesla.

Maxwell Kushner-Lenhoff, MBA 18, said the work he did at Haas taught him many of the skills he needed to be successful in his current role as a global supply manager in battery materials at Tesla.

“I came back to Haas to get into cleantech and I discussed the work I did in the Cleantech to Market course during my interview process,” said Kushner-Lenhoff, who previously worked at the Dow Chemical Company. He is one of seven members of the Class of 2018 who went to work at Tesla.

Read the 2018 employment report.

Haas team tops at Tech Challenge

Cori Land, Max Kubicki, Bryan Chiang, and Catherine Hsieh, all MBA 19s. Photos: Benny Johnson, MBA 20
(Left to right)  Cori Land, Max Kubicki, Bryan Chiang, and Catherine Hsieh, all MBA 19s. Photos: Benny Johnson, MBA 20.

A team of Berkeley MBA students bested groups from seven schools to win the annual Berkeley Haas Tech Challenge for their plan to educate city government officials on how new technologies can support initiatives that improve quality of life and efficiency.

The 2018 Berkeley Haas Tech Challenge, called “Big Data and the City of Tomorrow,” was held Nov. 8-10.

The winning Haas team included Bryan Chiang, Catherine Hsieh, Max Kubicki, and Cori Land, all MBA 19s. Haas took home the $5,000 first-place award for the second year in a row.

The challenge called on students to come up with a plan to entice city government officials to adopt Amazon Web Services (AWS) to create smart cities. Smart cities use data and communications technologies to increase efficiency, share information with the public, and improve the quality of government services and public safety. Example projects include monitoring and managing traffic signals remotely, using a software platform that tracks the real-time availability of spaces in parking lots, and implementing a lighting-management system that allows cities to monitor energy efficiency and maintenance needs.

The Haas team began the Tech Challenge case by asking: Who are the customers, what do they care about, and how can AWS meet them where they are?

“We tested each of our ideas against whether or not it ultimately solved a problem for people,” Land said. “If not, we rejected the idea, and it helped us focus our recommendations.”

The Haas team made recommendations for a website redesign that would provide easy-to-understand smart cities information to non-technical city planners, as well as new certification programs to educate government officials on how they could use AWS.Max Kubicki, Bryan Chiang, Cori Land, and Catherine Hsieh prepare their presentation. Photos: Benny Johnson

(Left to right)  Max Kubicki, Bryan Chiang, Cori Land, and Catherine Hsieh prepare their presentation. Photos: Benny Johnson.

The team also proposed a dashboard tool to help city officials compare their city services to others that have adopted smart cities technology—and measure the potential return-on-investment for their proposed projects.

Confidence without attitude may have been what set the Haas team apart from competitors. “One judge kept thanking us for admitting we still had some work to do when we better understood some gaps in our plan,” Hsieh said. Another Haas strength was leveraging broader perspectives by assembling a team with different areas of expertise, ranging from finance and energy to design thinking and change management.

Evan Cory and Charlie Cubeta, Tech Challenge co-chairs who organized the competition for the Haas Tech Club, said they received 108 team applications from 15 schools for the competition, a 25 percent increase over last year.

Competing teams included Yale, Kellogg, Columbia, Chicago Booth, MIT Sloan, UCLA, and Wharton. Eight Amazon executives served as coaches and judges.

Don’t blame the machines: New business analytics summit focuses on people

Berkeley-Fisher Center Summit for Business AnalyticsWhile developing a sophisticated algorithm requires technical expertise, leading a successful business analytics project can’t be done without paying attention to people. That’s the theme of the inaugural Berkeley-Fisher Center Summit for Business Analytics, to be held at the California Memorial Stadium on Sept. 27.

The new event, which is free and open to the Haas community, will explore how data-driven technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) affect people in the workforce, and how organizations can align people with processes to drive the success of analytics initiatives.

“Many business analytics initiatives fail, and our research shows it is due to misalignment with people in the workforce, rather than issues with the technology,” says Gauthier Vasseur, executive director of the Fisher Center for Business Analytics, which is part of Berkeley Haas’ Institute for Business Innovation. “Part of our mission is to educate management, finance and operations leaders on how to help their people become supporters of business analytics projects.”

The event, which kicks off with a dinner gala and awards ceremony on the evening of Sept. 26, is expected to attract an audience of about 100 students, industry leaders, alumni, and faculty to share experiences, learn from the latest research and real-world case studies, and network among peers.

“This summit is Berkeley Haas’ first big event around business analytics, and it matches thought leaders from the private sector with academic researchers and talented students who can join together to solve the biggest business challenges,” Vasseur says.

Why people affect the success of business analytics initiatives

Gauthier Vasseur is executive director of the Fisher Center for Business Analytics, which is part of Berkeley Haas’ Institute for Business Innovation.
Gauthier Vasseur

Vasseur shared an example of what happens when an organization overlooks the importance of people. A manufacturing company wanted to use AI and ML technology to solve a very expensive problem: the lost time and productivity that occurs when a machine stops working due to a broken or worn-out part.

The company built a highly sophisticated predictive-analytics platform to assess when parts needed to be replaced. The technology worked very well, but the maintenance workers didn’t trust the predictions and opted against replacing the recommended parts. The problem was that no one had considered their expertise and input, and the company had not shared enough information to earn their confidence in the new technology.

“In the end, the platform provided no benefit to the manufacturer, despite the significant investment and the accuracy of the technology,” adds Vasseur. “Our goal is to give businesses the research findings and tools to avoid these situations.”

Business analytics evolves beyond IT

Launched this year, the new summit reflects how Berkeley Haas has evolved its focus, research and curricula to address one of today’s most urgent business needs: analytics expertise. Formerly known as the Fisher Center for IT and relaunched last February, the center has held conferences for the past six years, focusing on the changing role of the chief information officer (CIO) and recognizing innovative CIOs with an award. This year’s event continues the tradition of presenting the Fisher-Hopper CIO Lifetime Achievement Award and introduces two new award categories: Excellence in Driving Transformation Award and Business Analytics Woman of the Year.

Awards recognize business analytics achievements

David E. Smoley is the chief information officer at AstraZeneca.
David E. Smoley
Ted Colbert is chief information officer at The Boeing Company.
Ted Colbert
Beena Ammanath, Global Vice President for Big data, AI, and Innovation, Hewlett Packard Enterprise
Beena Ammanath








This year’s Fisher-Hopper CIO Lifetime Achievement Award goes to David E. Smoley, CIO of AstraZeneca, a global, science-led biopharmaceutical business. At the summit, he will share how he led a performance turnaround that reduced drug development cycle times while reducing IT spending by more than $800 million (48 percent) over three years.

Other awards include the Excellence in Driving Transformation Award, which recognizes The Boeing Company’s CIO and Senior Vice President Ted Colbert, and the Business Analytics Woman of the Year Award, which honors Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s  Global Vice President for Big Data, AI, and Innovation Beena Ammanath.

Demystifying business analytics through research and case studies

Vasseur says the goal of the summit is to put data analytics into an actionable context that comprises data, people and processes for business success. Speakers will help unpack what AI and ML are, and how these technologies can be most effectively applied when including people’s support in their design.

Speakers include Haas faculty members Thomas Lee, associate adjunct professor and director of data science at the center; Andreea Gorbatai, assistant professor in the Management of Organizations Group; and Gregory La Blanc, distinguished teaching fellow with the Finance Group. Additional presentations by industry leaders include:

  • Sabrina Menasria, Chanel’s head of business intelligence and master data governance
  • Todd Wilson, Clif Bar’s senior vice president of IT
  • Robert Brown, Cognizant Technology Solutions’ associate vice president for the Center for the Future of Work
  • Alexandre Robicquet, Crossing Minds’ co-founder and CEO
  • Matteo Melani, Ellipsis Company’s CEO
  • Maik Henkel, Global Foundries’ senior manager and deputy director of finance

Tickets for the Sept. 26 dinner gala are still available here for a donation of $250 or more. The Sept. 27 summit is free to all who register at the bottom of this page.

New conference explores the impact of artificial intelligence on business

Berkeley MBA students organized the new AI conference with UC Berkeley computer science and engineering students.

Artificial Intelligence experts debated the promise of smart machines as well as their potential to wreak havoc on the economy at last week’s pioneering Berkeley conference on AI and business.

The “AI: Shape the Future” event, organized by students from Haas and Machine Learning at Berkeley and held April 13 at Pauley ballroom, drew a crowd of more than 250 people. Haas Prof. Laura Tyson, who has written extensively about the impact artificial intelligence will have on jobs and the economy, joined AI experts and UC Berkeley Professors Michael Jordan and Andrew Critch as speakers. AI experts from Amazon, General Electric, and Google, along with Berkeley Haas Dean Rich Lyons and Information School Dean AnnaLee Saxenian, also spoke.

Uncertainty around the future of work

The discussions revealed a divide around how computer systems capable of intelligent behavior—such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and language translation—will impact the job market and the future of our world.

<em>Prof. Laura Tyson</em>
Prof. Laura Tyson

Tyson, the faculty director of the Institute for Business & Social Impact at Berkeley Haas and former chair of the US President’s Council of Economic Advisers, said she doesn’t worry that AI will cause mass unemployment. But she is concerned about the future of the job market overall and the quality of jobs that will be created due to new technology.

“The question is, as more and more intelligent machines can do better than humans at more and more jobs, what happens to societies that depend on income generation?” Tyson said.

Automation has already replaced many routine jobs, she says, particularly middle-income jobs, such as those in manufacturing, and lower-end tech jobs, such as data processing and basic coding.

In the future, she adds, the new jobs created by AI won’t necessarily be located in the places that are losing jobs to automation.

“The evidence shows concern about the quality of jobs that we will have left,” she said.

The conference was organized by three Haas students: AJ Christensen, MBA 19, Brian Polidori, MBA 19, and Daan Kakebeeke, MBA 18, who met through their interest in data science. The Haas students worked with Franklin Rice, BS 18, (electrical engineering & computer science), who is a member of the student group Machine Learning, and got additional support from the UC Berkeley School of Information as they set out to create a new conference that would bring business and engineering students together to explore AI through a new lens.

“You have engineers on one side who understand the machinery, and then you have business students who understand the world in which machine learning is being deployed, but don’t understand the machinery at all,” Christensen said.

“We’re bringing together diverse perspectives on AI from multiple corners of UC Berkeley and Silicon Valley to bridge this gap, break past the clichés and technical details, and help all students to start thinking about AI in a more comprehensive, nuanced, and thoughtful way,” Kakebeeke said.

AI technology is immature

The sessions focused on three areas: opportunity recognition in AI, the impact of AI on the economy, and new laws and policy.

Gert Lanckriet, head of machine learning at Amazon Music and professor at University of California, San Diego, said the growth of AI is fueled by the exponential increase in data that’s zipping across the internet.

“The more data, the better AI can be,” he said.

But Michael Jordan, director of the UC Berkeley AMPLab and an AI pioneer, argued that technology such as speech recognition and computer “vision” is still immature, lacking the understanding and creativity that humans are capable of. He warned that machine learning can sometimes do more harm than good.

“What we have as AI is not as far along as people think,” Jordan said. As proof, Jordan shared a story about how an AI-enabled machine misdiagnosed him with calcium buildup based on data compiled from other patients. The doctors used that data to recommend a dangerous operation. “Based on that (recommendation) I could have died,” he said. “Around the world that same day people got that same diagnosis, that same false positive,” and they may have had the risky operation, he said.

Critch, who co-founded the Center for Human-Compatible AI, warned that smart machines have the potential to wreak havoc, and asked how we will prepare as a society. “I see it as my job to prepare for the eventual arrival of AI that is generally smarter than humans or sufficiently smart to pose an existential threat in some manner,” said Critch.

Home team takes top prize at Berkeley Haas Tech Challenge

The home team took the top prize at this year’s Berkeley Haas Tech Challenge, for its futuristic look at how Ford could help Seattle residents commute around the city.

The winning Haas team, which included Jaime Tellez Sanchez, Maryli Cheng, Francesca LeBaron, and Conor Farese, all MBA 19, bested teams from nine other schools.

Tech competition winners with Dean Lyons
The winning Haas team: Conor Farese, Francesca LeBaron, Jaime Tellez Sanchez, and Maryli Cheng (pictured with Dean Lyons). All photos by America Gonzalez, MBA 19.

Ford Smart Mobility sponsored the three-day challenge, held Nov. 9-11. The automaker’s theme was: “Driving Change: Finding solutions for the future of urban mobility.” Competing teams arrived at Berkeley from across the U.S. for a Friday tour of Ford’s Palo Alto Research and Innovation Center and an interactive project hosted at Ford’s Greenfield Labs, a collaboration with IDEO.

For the challenge, students were asked to consider technologies like autonomous driving, electrification, and machine learning to design the future of mobility for the city of Seattle.

Shifting from automaker to mobile player

The Haas team decided to create a high-level, integrated platform that would enable people to coordinate multiple kinds of transportation—a bus or train connected to a ride- or bike-sharing service—to get to their destinations.  Their goal was to help Ford better understand how people use different kinds of transportation, as the company shifts its business model from automaker to full mobile player, with car- and bike-sharing services and eventually autonomous vehicles.

The challenge involved thinking about what Ford provides its customers at a higher level, Farese said. “When you got keys to your first car you were getting mobility, freedom, and the ability to move into spaces that were personal and flexible,” he said. “In the future, that freedom will be delivered in a bunch of different ways because people won’t own vehicles. We wanted to show how Ford could provide mobility and freedom in an age where people didn’t own a car.”

Students in Haas Tech Club
Nine teams from around the country participated in the Berkeley Haas Tech Challenge.

Noam Nishry, who with Mehmet Örgüt (both MBA 18) organized the competition as Haas Tech Club co-chairs, said they received an unprecedented 75 applications from 22 schools interested in competing this year. They whittled those applications down to nine spots.

“We had many ideas around driverless cars,  connected roads that identify parking lots, and drone delivery of packages–a lot of things,” Nishry said.

Haas Tech Challenge 2017
An attentive audience gathered at Spieker Forum in Chou Hall for the competition presentations.

The teams  made their presentations on Saturday. By the afternoon, three top teams were chosen for a final round. Dean Rich Lyons presented the $5,000 first-place award to the Haas team.

The power of design thinking

LeBaron said the Haas team’s experience with design thinking and storytelling played to their favor, giving them the tools they needed to tell a compelling story of what their platform could mean for Ford.

“The members of our team had all taken a design-thinking course,” she said. “Our advantage wasn’t that we knew the mobility space inside out or that we we were car enthusiasts, but that we knew and understood human-centered design. We weren’t the experts in the car field but we were thinking out of the box. We had Post-its up all over the place. We were color coding, and moving things around and brainstorming and it all ended up working out.”

The competing business schools included Yale, Kellogg, Columbia, Chicago Booth, MIT Sloan, UCLA, Wharton, and Darden.

Ellen Pao shares experiences of workplace discrimination and how to fight it

Ellen Pao speaks at Haas on diversity and inclusion in tech.
Ellen Pao spoke on diversity & inclusion in tech and beyond. Photo credit: Genevieve Shiffrar

While serving as interim CEO at Reddit, Ellen Pao tried a new system for salary negotiations: Everyone was assigned to a band based on their experience and skills, and they were then offered compensation at the top of their bands—a strategy aimed at leveling the playing field for women and minorities.

“It was very time-consuming…but you felt better when you gave an offer. And we would cut out one or two weeks of awkwardness [in negotiations],” said Pao, who also banned revenge porn posts and unauthorized nude photos while at Reddit.

On a mission

Pao has been on a mission to fight discrimination since she rocked the tech world with her 2012 gender bias suit against venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers. She spoke about diversity and inclusion at Haas last week in an event co-hosted by The Berkeley Forum and Asian-Americans@Haas—a new MBA-student affinity group.

Pao now serves as chief diversity and inclusion officer at the Kapor Center for Social Impact, and last month released “Reset: My Fight for Inclusion and Lasting Change,” a chronicle of her journey through her unsuccessful lawsuit and ongoing attempt to change how the tech and business worlds view women, ethnicity, race, and culture.

Co-hosted by MBA & undergrad student groups

MBA students Carolyn Chuong and Nolan Chao, both MBA 18, said they felt lucky to host Pao for their group’s inaugural event. They had a classmate who recently interned at Kapor Capital, and they made a successful call to her publicist. Pao had also gotten an invitation from The Berkeley Forum, an undergraduate group that brings speakers to campus, so they decided to work together.

Carolyn Chuong and Nolan Chao, MBA 18, introduce Ellen Pao
MBA students Carolyn Chuong and Nolan Chao of Asian-Americans@Haas introduced Pao. Photo credit: Genevieve Shiffrar

During her talk, moderated by Berkeley sophomore Shaina Zuber for The Berkeley Forum, Pao talked about the crucial importance of workplace relationships in career-building. Though she was serving as a junior partner while at Kleiner Perkins, she said she found herself being excluded from emails, decision-making and executive dinners.

“I didn’t realize until much, much later that … those dinners with partners were different than dinners with peers,” she said. “Throughout my career, there would be little things I noticed but brushed off.”

Ellen Pao spoke on diversity and inclusion in tech.
After a moderated conversation, Pao took questions from students. Photo credit: Genevieve Shiffrar

Working to get women included 

During seven years at Kleiner Perkins, Pao said she observed signs of gender inequality in the form of all-male dinners or periods when all the men got promoted. None of the women, who seemed to have more education and work experience, received promotions, she said.

Despite evidence showing that the women’s investments were doing better than the men’s, for example, women were not being rewarded the same way, she said.

“That was a signal to me that something was wrong,” Pao added.

Pao remembered her time during the Kleiner Perkins lawsuit as a very lonely one. Her colleagues at the firm were afraid to talk to her and avoided her at the workplace. But people reached out through emails outside of work, sharing their own experiences of gender discrimination.

Last year, Pao co-founded consulting nonprofit Project Include to help technology companies implement diversity and inclusion strategies.

“Everyone has a voice. There is a systemic problem where people are not being included. And we need to change the whole system so everybody gets included fairly,” Pao said.

Ellen Pao spoke at Berkeley-Haas on diversity and inclusion in tech.
Photo credit: Genevieve Shiffrar


Chuong and Chao formed Asian-Americans@Haas with several other classmates last spring to bring attention to the Asian-American perspective in a business world still mostly led by white males in top positions. They plan to host workshops, social events, and speakers, and are also connecting with undergraduates, Chuong said.

“There are a lot of stereotypes that plague Asians in the workplace,” Chuong said. “Nolan and I felt like there wasn’t a dedicated group to the Asian-American community at Haas, which was quite surprising. Part of it is just to do some relationship-building.”

Check out the video of Pao’s talk.