Case studies – using real life business situations or imagined business scenarios – are a key pedagogical tool for instruction within management education programs. However, most published case studies used in business schools primarily showcase white male protagonists1 and neglect to address topics related to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) that are critical for new generations of business leaders to navigate.
The lack of diverse case study protagonists reinforces a status quo in which traditional business leaders are primarily both male and white. This disproportionate representation unintentionally promotes an association of leadership ability with masculinity. Highlighting only one model of leadership can signal to people who do not identify as White and male that they are not suited for leadership. It also deprives students of alternative role models.2
Even when cases have protagonists that are not white men, case studies often perpetuate harmful stereotypes and gender norms – such as women being depicted as more emotional, less visionary, and less agentic than men.3,4 In addition, cases with female protagonists tend to be in “pink-collar occupations”.5 Other stereotypes and implicit biases related to race, national origin and age are reinforced in cases as well.6
There is significant educational value for students exposed to cases with diverse protagonists and/or on DEI topics. Students who are exposed to diverse business leaders benefit from a role model effect; students who can relate to diverse leaders enjoy better self-perceptions, feel more confident7, and perform better in the classroom.8
Integrating case studies related to diversity, equity and inclusion can: (1) foster cultural sensitivity among students9; (2) equip students to manage real-life scenarios in which varying perspectives and lived experiences are at play; (3) prepare students for increasingly diverse workplaces where DEI is a strategic advantage; and (4) engage students in critical and timely discussions while offering them strategies to promote equity and inclusion throughout the business.