When it comes to business school education, case studies are key in presenting students with real-life business challenges. Most of these studies are authored by Harvard Business School professionals.
However, less than 1 percent of the 10,000 case studies published by the prestigious school feature African-American entrepreneurs — even as 9 percent of U.S. firms are Black-owned. Harvard business professor Steven Rogers is looking to change that by diversifying his case studies to feature more Black business leaders.
“It’s imperative that, first of all, our Black students see role models,” Rogers told Boston’s WBUR. “They see people — great businessmen and businesswomen — who look like them.”
Rogers has since written 14 new case studies with Black executives in the central decision-making role, or as the “protagonists” as they’re called at HBS, which he teaches in a class launched this spring focused exclusively on Black entrepreneurship. The subjects of his case studies include notable business leaders like Linda Johnson Rice, who sold Ebony Magazine in 2016. Carmichael Roberts, a partner at private equity firm North Bridge Venture Partners, also is featured in a study exploring whether to venture out and start your own fund.
Roger’s chose subjects from every corner of the business world, from cybersecurity and finance to publishing and real estate. He stressed the importance of encouraging more Black entrepreneurs though racially diverse case studies, as Black-owned businesses are the primary employers of Black people. Data from the U.S. Census showed that in 2012, there were 2.6 million African-American-owned firms in the U.S., a 35-percent increase from 1.9 million in 2007.
“We’re showing the true spectrum of the business world,” Rogers told The Boston Globe. “We are now righting this wrong and being more inclusive.”
More than 40 students have enrolled in the professor’s specialized course, including eager learners from Harvard’s schools of law, divinity, engineering and even some undergraduates. All of the students are Black, but Rogers emphasized that the class is open to all students.
“This not a course about race, per se,” he said. “It’s about Black businessmen and women dealing with everyday business problems.”
“This is bigger than just the Black students,” Rogers continued. “Our non-Black students need to see Black brilliance, as well, to counter the narrative out there that the only things Black people can do is to entertain and play sports.”
Student LaToya Marc, who’s in her last year at Harvard’s Business School, said her professor’s case studies are important because she gets to see business leaders who look like her.
“It’s hard to be what you can’t see,” Marc said. “So, I think that having representation of someone who shares a background as you, who is focused on solving a problem in an undeserved market, can be really inspiring.”
She added that having examples of successful Black entrepreneurs in her case studies would ultimately help her once she entered the workforce.
“No one in my family has attended an Ivy League college, no one in my family has an MBA. This is a unique experience where I don’t really have anyone in my family I can look to,” Marc continued. “So, I’m relying on mentors, I’m relying on professors like professor Rogers, I’m relying on the connections that I make with the protagonists to help to propel my career.”
Jim Aisner, a spokesman for Harvard Business School said that, in addition to Roger’s case studies, the school also is making an effort to expand the diversity of its study subjects.
“We are paying much more attention to this and committed to increasing the numbers of Blacks and other minorities represented in the cases,” Aisner said. “We are a school of general management, and we want the cases to reflect the diversity of business in this country and around the globe.”