First Look

August 1, 2006

What is the relationship between race and mentoring? How do racial dynamics come into play in cross-race development relations? This subject has been part of groundbreaking research conducted by Harvard Business School professor David Thomas since the early 1990s, when he studied the career paths of minority executives who had been successfully mentored by white managers. A new working paper, "Unfinished Business: The Impact of Race on Understanding Mentoring Relationships," by Thomas and two colleagues, updates his earlier work with new insights gleaned from the study of social networks, racial identity, and organizational culture. Also new this week: a case study on Indian retailer Pantaloon as it experiments with new formats, an article on the changing structure of law service firms, a bibliography on derivatives coauthored by Robert Merton, and a study of the innovation life cycle.
— Sean Silverthorne

Working Papers

Unfinished Business: The Impact of Race on Understanding Mentoring Relationships


W.E.B. DuBois's 1903 words are prophetic, as he proclaims the importance of an issue with which we are still grappling in the twenty-first century—race. As contributors to this volume, we were asked to focus on the relationship between race and mentoring. What do we learn about this important developmental relationship by examining the research on race and mentoring? Like DuBois, we believe that the analysis of race is fundamental within our society. Race continues to be a critical factor as we examine relationships in organizations, particularly if we are located in a U.S. based context. Race is a socially embedded phenomenon that affects just about every aspect of our lives, and as such, provides a critical lens with which to examine the mentoring literature (Thomas & Alderfer, 1989). Now, more than ever, is a timely moment in our history to examine the influence of race in the extant literature on an important topic such as mentoring. Foreman (2000:30) describes race as "America's major piece of unfinished business." Race is clearly "unfinished business" because of the plethora of conflicting emotions that are unleashed as we approach the taboo (Thomas, 1989). This tension speaks to the importance of this chapter as we explore the issue of mentoring as embedded within the social context of race within today's dynamic and diverse organizations. First, we delineate several important reasons why it is critical to discuss mentoring and race. We explore how race has been positioned within the literature to provide a context for our review of how the mentoring literature has discussed (and omitted) race as a key factor. We ask a critical question within this review: what do we know about the intersection of mentoring and race in organizations? Finally, we explore some of the unfinished business concerning race and mentoring and present a model to drive future research in this vital area.

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Cases & Course Materials

Big Bazaar

Harvard Business School Case 606-099

Describes a high-growth Indian retailer, Pantaloon Retail (India) Ltd., and two of the company's formats—Big Bazaar and Food Bazaar. Challenges students to debate the company's concept, its strategic decision on how quickly it would like to grow, and some key decisions on its supply chain. At the time of the case (2006), small "mom-and-pop" stores still dominated Indian retailing, but that was changing rapidly because of the entry of "organized" retailers such as Pantaloon. Pantaloon's management faced some exciting opportunities as well as some potential competition both from global retailers planning to enter the Indian market and from large Indian business houses planning to establish retailing businesses.

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The Derivatives Sourcebook: Foundations and Trends in Finance

The Derivatives Sourcebook is a citation study and classification system that organizes the many strands of the derivatives literature and assigns each citation to a category. Over 1,800 research articles are collected and organized into a simple web-based searchable database. We have also included the 1997 Nobel lectures of Robert Merton and Myron Scholes as a backdrop to this literature.

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The Changing Structure of the Legal Services Industry and the Careers of Lawyers

We use the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory to explore how changes in the nature of the relationship between law firms and their clients may have implications for the structure of the legal services industry, the organization of law firms, and legal careers. We find evidence consistent with a shift toward a commodity relationship and an increased reliance on business-getting. Specifically, we find some evidence of a disappearance of the midsized firm and strong evidence of a rise in the largest firms and multi-office firms. We find that leverage is increasing, though mostly in the smaller and midsized firms. We find that promotion clocks are increasingly longer and that firms are lessening their use of "up-or-out" promotion policies.

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Organization Design and Effectiveness over the Innovation Life Cycle

Differing bases of competition in early and later stages of an innovation's life cycle call for differing organization designs. Designs that fit early strategic contingencies tend to misfit later ones. Over time, innovating units must either minimize the negative effects of misfit, or make difficult changes in design. Using four paired case studies, we examine how firms address conflicts in strategic contingencies, how managers adjust to misfits, and how organizations adapt their designs. We find that firms use one of three adaptation modes, none of which is fully autonomous nor fully integrated, and all of which change over time. Each mode optimizes for one contingency while suboptimally attempting to address the other. The study suggests practical insights for researchers and managers.