Inclusion Is the Only Representation That Really Matters
How Harvard Business School case studies affect the world but have often left Black women out
Representation is often discussed as seeing oneself. Yet in a world where Black women, in particular, are vastly underrepresented when it comes to access to capital, representation can be our strongest tool in both educating the decision-makers and accessing the resources we deserve.
While I was a student at Harvard Business School (HBS), I read hundreds of case studies on business leaders. Reading about and discussing business challenges and exemplary leadership through these cases — the “case method — is the primary tool used there. HBS cases are also used and taught in business classrooms across the world. With that many case studies featuring a wide range of people and businesses, it seems like it would be hard not to represent the diverse U.S. population. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
While reading through cases, I discovered an atypical case protagonist, Taran Swan, a Black woman. I felt a special sense of pride seeing someone who looked like me being represented and discussed in the business school classroom. I remember thinking, “Finally! My class of mostly White men will have to discuss the leadership style and challenges of a Black woman executive.” Maybe they’d even take that discussion beyond the classroom.
Of the 300 cases we were required to study in our first year, it was the only one featuring a Black woman.
Years later, as a venture capitalist focused on investing in underrepresented founders, I have noticed that this figure of one out of 300 (0.3%) case studies is eerily similar to the number of Black women who have gotten VC funding (0.2%).
I am definitely not saying that one causes the other, but I do believe they are related. The lack of diversity of who is being studied has a direct impact on the industries that business students end up leading.
Evidence continually shows, on the access-to-capital side, that for those who are underrepresented, it is not a pipeline problem. As an investor with Backstage, I can confirm that Black women are the fastest-growing…