Case #2242.0

Embracing the Uphill Struggle: Marc Morial’s Quest for Corporate Diversity

Publication Date: October 25, 2021
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As incoming President and CEO of the National Urban League in 2003, Marc Morial believed that promoting racial equity in corporate America was a natural part of the organization’s remit. In the latter third of the 20th century, the NUL had helped individual African Americans secure employment in a number of major industries, but these successes were hard-won, time-consuming, and, most frustrating, isolated. Morial wanted to push corporations to move beyond their one-off diversity improvements to institute sustained, systemic advances. Yet how exactly to do that was not so clear. Despite its longtime relationships in corporate America, the National Urban League did not have any obvious leverage to push its diversity mission. But Morial found a way to increase the NUL’s bargaining position in two ways: one, by joining forces with other civil rights groups and two, by seizing on moments when a company needed permission for an acquisition or merger. This leadership case focuses squarely on Morial and his thinking. It includes descriptions of Morial’s personal and family background in New Orleans during the 1960s, a time of racial change and difficulty, and it includes background about the history of the National Urban League and its challenges to meet the 21st century civil rights landscape. 

Learning Objective:
Designed for a class in leadership, the case allows students to consider how personal influences, the opportunities and constraints of a given historical moment, and a set of leadership skills and approaches combine—in this case, to create an advocacy strategy for corporate diversity. The case could be paired with any leadership framework. At HKS, it was paired with the “4P” framework, which highlights the roles of perception, process, people, and projection.


Other Details

Case Author(s):
Pam Varley
Faculty Lead:
Robert Wilkinson
United States