Q&A with Solène Delecourt, PhD

Solène Delecourt is an assistant professor in the Management of Organizations group at the Haas School of Business. She earned her PhD at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and holds a master’s degree in Economics and Public Policy from Sciences Po Paris and École Polytechnique. Dr. Delecourt studies inequality in business performance using large-scale field experiments and novel survey data. Her research agenda focuses on what drives variation in profits across firms and how we could reduce inequality in business performance among entrepreneurs in different market settings, including India, Uganda, and the US.

The Center for Equity, Gender, and Leadership recently connected with Dr. Delecourt to learn more about her work. She discusses her research, its links to her personal diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) journey, and shares some advice and anecdotes in this Q&A.

How have your lived experiences influenced your journey to the DEI research you are engaged in?

My research is focused on understanding the sources of inequality in business performance, with a focus on gender. In a recent paper, forthcoming in Management Science, I show that in a sample of business owners in Uganda, 38% of women have a baby with them in their shop, against 0% of men. This stark difference in childcare responsibilities also strongly correlates with a gap in profitability and performance. While working on this paper, my co-author Anne and I both became pregnant and gave birth to our second children. We would always joke that childcare matters. It made us feel a strong sense of empathy and connection with the women in our sample. On a personal level, becoming a mother has deeply affected my perception of the world. I experience daily how difficult it is to manage a career as a woman and mother. Therefore, I must be quite disciplined to be able to juggle personal and professional goals. Most importantly, I am not the only one. As the pandemic has most recently illustrated, a lot of constraints are operating in a way that disadvantage women, and especially mothers, in a wide variety of settings.

How has your field’s approach to research on DEI topics changed since you first started? What has been your favorite development in this work?

In my experience, a major change to the perception of gender research has been the #MeToo movement. In 2017, this social movement encouraged women to speak out against their own experiences of sexual abuse and harassment. When I first started working on gender topics, I would get a lot of pushback, especially in Economics departments. People questioned the validity of even studying gender differences and predicted that we would find no difference. After the #MeToo movement, I found that a lot of people became aware that women face barriers in so many ways that are not publicly visible. When you run into someone on the street, you do not know how many hurdles they might have faced. Yet an estimated 1 out of 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. It is not something that you would see or guess from looking at someone, but these experiences fundamentally shape how people navigate their social worlds. The #MeToo movement has had a broad impact on people’s perceptions of gender and has helped people become more aware that certain hurdles, though invisible, are very widespread.

What advice would you want to give your younger self? How would you prepare them for the challenges ahead within this field?

Most things that you worry about will never happen. So do not waste your energy trying to imagine what might or might not happen. Nobody knows what the future holds. Instead, try to use your energy to address what is currently in front of you! I have become better at doing so and I am still learning. Also, I grew up in a rainy region. Yet even on cloudy days, my dad would often describe the sky as luminous. I try to emulate this philosophy in my day-to-day work. There are always many challenges, but you can focus your mind on the moment and see the brightest aspects.

In your field you’re addressing and challenging barriers that have been fought by generations before you, how do you stay motivated to continue this work and push forward even when you can’t see immediate results?

I have continuously been telling myself that patience is the greatest virtue. You cannot make grass grow faster by pulling on it.

Who is a notable Equity Fluent Leader who inspires you? What are the traits that make them such an effective leader?

The most inspiring leader in my life has been Beyoncé. She tirelessly pushes the limits of art, and she has also courageously used her power to address various forms of inequality. She has had a big impact on my life as I listen to her almost daily and before every talk I give. She has been an inspiration to millions of girls and women all over the world. Whenever I get stuck, I ask myself: “What would Beyoncé do?”

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.

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