Updated: Aug 30
Loujaine AlMoallim, Women’s Leadership Editor
Summer R. Jackson, Contributor
Loujaine AlMoallim (MBA ’24) interviews Assistant Professor Summer R. Jackson about her personal journey, her time at HBS, and her advice for HBS leaders.
Can you briefly tell us about the journey that got you to where you are today?
Wow, there are so many places that I could start. To keep it simple, I’m a multiracial woman who grew up internationally, and as a result, I’ve found myself always navigating different dimensions of identity depending on where I am at the time. I started off my career pursuing the international element of my background, which ultimately led me to the U.S. State Department and work in Washington, D.C. and around the world. However, over time, I kept coming back to this broader topic of one’s identity and how it can impact one’s experience in organizations. This puzzle led me to pursue a PhD at MIT Sloan School of Management, and more recently, a professorship at Harvard Business School.
How has your teaching experience been at HBS so far? What do you like most about the case method and classroom experience?
Teaching at HBS has been energizing! The students are so engaged and bring their various work experiences into the classroom in a way that makes the case – and the case method – come alive. My favorite part of the case method is how it creates an environment where we can learn with each other and from each other. You never know what new experience or insight people are going to reveal, or where the conversation will take you, and that’s exciting.
Your research focuses on policies and practices associated with building diverse, inclusive, and equitable workforces. Could you give us a summary of different initiatives that organizations are using to support this work?
Absolutely! Some of the more traditional policies and practices are things like having a company statement on DEI, hiring a Chief Diversity Officer, and setting public goals and measuring progress towards those goals in order to provide greater accountability, transparency, support and financial resources towards a given DEI initiative.
One area of my research that I’m particularly excited about looks at how organizations can use emerging technologies to help foster diverse, inclusive, and equitable workforces. In my work with companies, I’ve seen employers use what I call “tech-enabled DEI products” to name-blind resumes, de-bias job descriptions, identify and correct pay inequities, flag gendered language in performance reviews, and address other sources of human bias in the hiring, promotion, and retention process. One exciting trend to watch is how specialized and targeted recruitment platforms are now using algorithms to not only help employers access more diverse candidate pools for their open positions, but also to match job candidates more equitably with their open positions.
What recommendations would you give current and future HBS leaders when it comes to implementing such initiatives?
I’d caution against two common ‘failure modes’ I see from business leaders: information overload and choice paralysis. Of course, these two challenges are not unique to DEI initiatives, but I’ve seen them become especially detrimental in the case of DEI because leaders want to pick the right solution and want to do right by their employees. But, when these two challenges combine, I’ve seen leaders opting to do nothing for fear of pursuing the wrong solution, adopting a suboptimal strategy, upsetting a workplace constituency, and more.
So, my advice to our current and future HBS leaders is to remember your action planning (and not just because it’s a LEAD concept)! Action planning for DEI can help structure your thinking, eliminate noise, and focus your approach on what’s critical, coherent, and aligned with your vision of where the company needs to go.
Throughout your journey, what is the greatest lesson that you believe you learned and what is one piece of advice you would give people reading this?
Throughout my career and life, I’ve received some variation of this advice, but I think it’s summarized quite nicely by one of my mentors here at HBS when she says, “keep going.” It’s applicable across all the different twists and turns life can send you. Sometimes the only way out is through—keep going. Sometimes people need more time to see your vision—keep going. Congratulations on all your success—keep going!
Loujaine (MBA ’24) is a Saudi Arabian who spent most of her formative years in Canada. After completing her undergraduate degree at McGill University majoring in International Management, she moved back to Saudi Arabia and worked in Consulting. She enjoys traveling and exploring new places, hosting people over for small gatherings and baking and decorating cakes.
Summer Jackson is an Assistant Professor of Business Administration in the Organizational Behavior Unit at Harvard Business School. She teaches LEAD in the MBA required curriculum. Professor Jackson is an organizational ethnographer and field researcher who studies organizational inequality, social hierarchies (such as race, gender, and class), and related topics in the sociology of work and occupations. She earned a Ph.D. and M.S. from MIT Sloan School of Management, and a B.A. in International Relations from Stanford University. She has lived and worked throughout the Middle East, and prior to graduate school worked for the U.S. Department of State.