Equity Fluent Leadership

In the classroom and beyond


By Kellie McElhaney

The clear mission of the Center for Equity, Gender, and Leadership (EGAL) is to educate equity fluent leaders™️ to ignite and accelerate change. Equity Fluent Leaders (EFLs) understand the value of different lived experiences and courageously use their power to address barriers, increase access, and drive change for positive impact. I developed this new construct with the help our Student Advisory Board and several inclusion experts, including our own at Haas, Élida Bautista. We believe there is a significant feeling of diversity and inclusion fatigue. When we say those words, some groups feel defensive, as if they are going to lose something that they feel belongs to them. Our assertion is that equity and inclusion are about human leadership. Period. It is now more necessary than ever to be the best leaders we can be, and that we must be. Equity Fluent Leadership is not a nice-to-do, it is a need-to-do. If corporate leaders want to attract today’s top talent, elevate their teams’ performance to the highest levels of collective intelligence, meet the needs of their increasingly diverse consumer base, design the most innovative products and services, and financially win in the marketplace, they must do so with equity fluent leadership. We are extremely proud of this new contribution to the inclusion and diversity space.

Over the summer, I developed a new MBA course entitled Equity Fluent Leaders: The Value of Inclusion & Diversity and am teaching it this semester with EGAL Student Advisory Board member, Rafael Sanchez, as my graduate student assistant and true teaching partner. As a testament to the intellectual curiosity, status quo questioning, and conviction of our students, we have 40 full-time and evening-weekend MBA students, and several alumni auditors, enrolled (as students always, Haas alumnus can audit any current class). At the end of the second class, Laurie Peterson, the Founder & CEO of Build & Imagine, a toy company that she recently sold, quite eloquently said:

“Five years after graduating, I returned to audit Professor McElhaney’s course and am appreciating just how savvy the students are on world and social issues compared to any group I experienced during my time at Haas previously. These students truly represent the equity fluent leadership McElhaney touts. Being in the presence of this caliber of discussion is a welcome reset for my intellect.”

When I asked the first night why the students enrolled in this new class without previous information about the course, the answers focused on four areas: to be the strongest and best leader; to understand the evidence, data and business case; to use my platform and voice to begin courageous and difficult conversations; and to drive change in my future workplace. While I am out of my comfort zone in launching this new course (I was reminded that my comfort zone is being out of my comfort zone), and have to work ten times as hard to prepare each lecture, I leave each session absolutely blown away and inspired by the dialogue, the questions asked, the level of understanding and commitment of our Haas students, and the solutions they develop to make ours a more equity fluent world. They develop human and business solutions to drive profound change. Students have reflected upon and written about an inequity they have experienced, and some chose to vulnerably share in the classroom. A common theme throughout the assignment was shame, self-blame, anger, and frustration at themselves for not speaking up. Sound like a common theme in the time of #metoo and the Kavanaugh hearings? The fear of speaking up and the real retribution, backlash, and victim blaming that we are witnessing feels very real to our students. The class listened with empathy, and together worked to develop an effective response using the readings, discussions, and what they know today.

In discussions of the Google/James Damore case, students worried about the “echo chamber” that we have become, both in companies like Google and Facebook, and inside of our very own Haas. They challenged their own biases and lack of diversity of their personal boards, as well as the dismal state of people of color currently inside of Haas. I do not allow any class discussion to remain in the negatives that exist. I divide the students in to teams of equity fluent leadership consultants and they come back with real tactics and solutions.

Haas graduates over 1000 leaders a year across all of our degree programs. Our goal with EGAL is to stop nothing short of graduating 1000 equity fluent leaders who do not have the capacity to remain complicit through silence and who have the strength, talent, experience, and leadership to amplify and model equity fluent leadership. Join us and become part of our tidal wave of change!



Center for Equity, Gender & Leadership (EGAL)

At the heart of UC Berkeley's Business School, the Center for Equity, Gender, and Leadership educates equity-fluent leaders to ignite and accelerate change.