Q&A with Sonya Mishra, PhD Candidate

Sonya Mishra is a doctoral researcher at the Haas School of Business. Sonya employs social experiments and big data insights to examine how gender inequalities manifest in workplace environments. Through studying the mechanisms behind prejudice and discrimination, Sonya seeks to develop intervention methods to encourage diversity and equality. She is also a two time recipient of EGAL’s annual research grants program, most recently to support her research exploring how heightened perceptions of women and minorities’ ethical behavior encourages greater engagement.

We connected with Sonya recently through this Q&A. She shares more about her research, how it ties into her lived experiences and leadership approach, as well as advice for those looking to pursue research in this field.

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

My journey to DEI research was not a typical one. I began my career as a banker on Wall Street. Although I had heard that investment banking was male-dominated and not-so-friendly towards women, I was confident in my own abilities to fight the uphill battle. I was also hopeful that the gender dynamics on Wall Street would naturally shift over time as the industry became more egalitarian, making more room for women like myself. Unfortunately, as I’ve learned through my lived experiences and my research, waiting for the world to change did not move the needle. During my time in banking, I experienced a number of unsettling instances that made me question whether or not I was willing to endure such an environment for the entirety of my career. More problematically, I was unsure of whether my experiences were due to gender bias, or if something unique to me and my behavior was causing others to treat me differently. Considering the latter caused me a good amount of stress, and eventually I left investment banking and joined a female-led startup, where I worked as a dating coach for professional women in New York City. My clients were women who were pioneers in their fields, but many of them experienced the same (if not worse) gender-based discrimination that I had experienced, leading them to also question themselves and their behavior. I realized that gender-based discrimination was ubiquitous, and that many people were simply waiting and hoping for the problem to solve itself. Cumulatively, these experiences motivated me to turn to data and research to develop innovative approaches that improve outcomes for women and minorities in the workplace.

How have the findings from your research shaped your own perspectives and leadership approach?

I research the intersections of diversity and power. One of my projects examines perceptions of teams that have similar levels of diversity but varies whether that diversity is concentrated in positions of lower power or spread throughout a team’s various seniority levels. When I was in industry, I was exposed to lots of teams that had diversity in their junior ranks, while their senior ranks were largely white and male. My research drives home the fact that promoting women, POC, and WOC is just as important as hiring them, and that a team can’t realize the benefits of its diversity if the people with unique perspectives are concentrated in positions of less power. When organizations ask me how they can improve DEI, I urge them to target their diversity recruiting efforts at senior levels.

What do you want your legacy to be in your academic discipline as it relates to DEI?

I want to develop empirically validated solutions that improve career outcomes for historically excluded groups. Much of the research on gender in workplace focuses on “admiring the problem,” and uncovering the myriad of ways women are discriminated against. Simply raising awareness of the problem doesn’t solve it.

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

I would tell myself that there is no shame in having multiple career switches. When I left banking, a part of me couldn’t help but feel as though I lacked resilience, since I felt obligated to pave the way for women that came after me. While resilience is important, there is no nobility in enduring unfair circumstances. Most importantly, if I had stayed in banking, I would not have ended up on the path I’m on today.

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.