The Elephant in the Room

By William F. Meehan III, Charles G. Prober, Sheila Melvin
2021 | Case No. ETH32 | Length 6 pgs.

This is a fictional roleplay based on the experiences of Daryn Dodson, the managing director of Illumen Capital, an investment firm that aims to leverage its power as an investor to deliver capital combined with evidence-based bias-reduction training and coaching for its portfolio of fund managers.

Through Illumen Capital, Dodson worked to train portfolio fund managers to discern and eliminate implicit and explicit biases, thereby helping them to increase their returns by optimizing investment opportunities, hiring, and board selection. His approach included the “Illumen Impact Experience” in which Dodson linked slavery, lynching, and mass incarceration to the asset management industry to help people understand how assets became so imbalanced and created the huge disparities that contribute to suboptimal returns in investment portfolios. Dodson supported these historic linkages with current research, including a study conducted with Stanford SPARQ’s Jennifer Eberhardt that revealed, counterintuitively, that the better Black, male fund managers performed, the greater the levels of bias they faced.

Dodson is just wrapping up a pitch to the endowment of a university that was long ago saved from financial collapse by the sale of 272 slaves. The university had attempted several things to make amends for this, but Dodson thought they could do a lot more — and one was through management of the endowment. Should he, as a Black asset manager, bring up this history? If he brings it up, what tone should he use? What outcome would he be hoping for? How would bringing it up help, or hinder, his achieving the outcome? This is the elephant in the room.

One student plays Dodson and the other plays the university investment officer in this roleplay that broaches on numerous issues related to race, justice, and the possibility of reparation.

Learning Objective

Students practice holding difficult conversations about race, justice, and the possibility of reparation.
This material is available for download by current Stanford GSB students, faculty, and staff, as well as Stanford University alumni. For inquires, contact the Case Writing Officeopen in new window. Download