As companies across industries grapple with systemic racism and inequality, business school students must sharpen their knowledge and skills in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in order to create positive change and a more just future as the next generation of business leaders.
Marilyn Anthony, previously an assistant professor in the Department of Strategic Management, received an Honorable Mention in a case writing competition that sought to help students acquire experience in this critical field.
WDI Publishing’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Global Case Writing Competition focuses on academic case studies that involve a DEI-related business dilemma or feature diverse protagonists as business leaders. These cases are intended to increase the understanding of the unique and realistic challenges of creating, implementing and sustaining DEI in an organization, provide learning opportunities that challenge current ideas about DEI in business, and spur critical thinking for enacting positive change.
Anthony’s case, titled “When Racism is Involved, Is the Customer Always Right?”, was co-written with Shreshthi Mehta, an HR professional and seasoned case-writer. Their case features Blake Human Services (BHS), an identity-disguised nonprofit mental health clinic based in Boston that dealt with a tense conflict between one of its Black staff members and a racist patient. After the staff member reached out to the vice president of human resources about the situation, the executive had to decide how to resolve the conflict in a way that maintained a responsible balance between the needs of clients and staff.
“For me, what was interesting about the case is that I’m not an HR expert. When you write a case about an industry or an area you know little or nothing about, it’s an opportunity to learn more about that field, and that’s really rewarding,” Anthony said. “This case offered a highly relevant topic because it’s about the tensions of who has a right to say what. How does a company respect both the rights of their employees and the rights of their clients? How do you foster an environment of a company culture that is respectful of your employees and all stakeholders?”
The case invites students to analyze the challenges of supporting DEI initiatives within diverse populations and identify what HR policies, processes and management decisions can effectively and fairly expand DEI efforts. While the case is primarily meant for undergraduate students from a variety of business disciplines, it can also be used as a real-world example for adult employee and management training in organizational behavior and diversity issues.
“After the murder of George Floyd and increased awareness of the Black Lives Matter movement, there has been more conversation about inequality, discrimination, racism and white privilege. This seems to be a topic that students can really relate to,” Anthony says. “It’s challenging because the case asks students to be honest about their own feelings, to recognize the legitimacy of other people’s feelings and to put that in a context of managing people. You’re never managing a business—you’re always managing people. Our intent was to confront students with the complexity of an actual HR situation and to explore how one solution might work for some of your constituents or your employee base, but not for the rest. You have to carefully construct not just a solution, but a communications plan that results in maintaining harmonious and equitable company culture.”
As an Honorable Mention recipient, Anthony and Mehta’s case is eligible for publication and distribution by WDI Publishing. Anthony, who is building a new career as a ghostwriter for business books, will be returning as an adjunct professor at the Fox School in the fall 2021 semester and continue writing business cases.
“As long as Shreshthi keeps wanting to enter competitions, I’ll probably stay on this path,” Anthony says. “When a topic catches our eye, we say, ‘We’d like to know more about that.’ Then a new case gets underway.”