“Be Bold, Be Authentic, and Be Useful” | Words from the Inspiring Kellie McElhaney

This article was contributed by Kimberly Te, a current Haas senior and Berkeley Women in Business’s (BWIB) Communications Committee member.

“What company do you think is one of the most socially responsible?”



“How about the least socially responsible?”


Professor Kellie McElhaney opened her talk with Berkeley Women in Business last month, on Wednesday, March 5, 2014 with a couple of questions to get us thinking about the companies that surround us. Her brilliant energy and great sense of humor shone as she spoke about her experiences and thoughts.

Professor Kellie McElhaney speaks to Berkeley Women in Business members.
Professor Kellie McElhaney speaks to Berkeley Women in Business members.

Kellie started out her career in banking and in her words – “as a man.” She spoke of how she felt toxic as a banker and was confined to wearing only black, grey and navy colored suits as well as only gold jewelry (because we all know that symbolizes wealth, right?). Let’s not forget, it was the 80s and many women wore ties, including our lovely Haas professor.

Not too long after her stint in banking, Kellie went to live in China in 1992. She told us a story of a time she took a donkey up a mountain and encountered a peddler who was selling Ponds hand products. Further, she noticed that Coca-Cola was everywhere she went in China. This inspired Professor McElhaney to evaluate the reach of such companies as well as their corporate social responsibility.

Kellie McElhaney's book entitled "Just Good Business"
Kellie McElhaney’s book entitled “Just Good Business”

When Kellie returned to Haas after China, she noticed that CSR courses had 65% women as compared to a minor percentage in other business courses. Women have more motivation to do something socially beneficial and trends have shown that women as buyers are more likely to buy Toms, pink (for breast cancer awareness) and more sustainable goods.

This poses another question – “How is there such inequality in a ‘developed world’”?

This is evident even in newborn and children’s clothing. Clothes meant for girls tend to say “I’m too cute to do my homework” or “Pretty like Mommy” while those meant for boys usually say “Smart like Daddy.”

$1 invested in a girl in a poor country sees $0.70 of that going back to the community while $1 invested in a boy in a poor country only sees $0.30 of that return to their community.

No more ties and definitely no black, grey or navy.
No more ties and definitely no black, grey or navy.

In the business world, Professor McElhaney was a different woman. She once had to wear ties and take golf lessons (because that was where all the deals were happening). She tried to act and dress like a man while not be authentic as a woman.

Lastly, our professor was quiet then, but is thankfully she is no longer that way now. With all that said, here are some select pieces of wisdom from the inspirational Kellie McElhaney:

  • Don’t be quiet. Don’t be angry.
  • Define your own all. It is different for everyone and trying to obtain someone else’s “all” might be like trying on their clothes that don’t fit you.
  • Raise Questions. When there is less of a gender gap, GDP is higher.
  • Check out #notbuyingit, a website that calls out gender inequality in companies.
  • Use the power of social media to raise awareness.
  • That means less #selfiesundays and more relevant and meaningful news.

Last but not least, Kellie’s 3 Principles:

  • Be Bold – fortune favors the bold
  • Be Authentic – was I really me today?
  • Be Useful – was I useful today to someone other than myself?
Lucky ladies who all received free copies of Professor McElhaney’s book
Lucky ladies who all received free copies of Professor McElhaney’s book

“There’s a special place in hell for women who do not help other women.” – Madeleine Albright Also, see Professor Kellie McElhaney’s Ted Talk here!

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