Why diversity in your case studies matters. (And no, it’s not political correctness.)

A great collection of case studies and stories are what make business books come alive. But if the protagonists of your stories all look alike, you’re limiting your audience and constraining your insights.

An expansive view of diversity

The purpose of case studies and other stories in your book is to allow your reader to put themselves in the shoes of the people they’re reading about. If you have a book about entrepreneurship, your readers, prospective entrepreneurs, want to read about other entrepreneurs. If your book is about marketing, your readers want to read what other marketers did. If it’s about business strategy, they want to read about the actions of business strategists.

This works better if your set of case studies looks like your audience — that is, varied. For example, your case studies should be:

  • From different industries (e.g. retail, financial services, manufacturing, media)
  • From different size companies (sole proprietors, small business, mid-market, big companies)
  • From different geographies (North America, Europe, Asia, rest of world)
  • In different roles (marketing, sales, finance, strategic planning, operations, manufacturing, service, and so on)
  • Of different ages and levels of experience
  • Men and women
  • Racially diverse
  • Varied in every every other way you can accommodate.

Obviously, if your book is about financial services, it won’t have a diversity of industries (although it should have a diverse set of banks, investment companies, and insurance companies). And if it’s about late-career decision-makers, it won’t have many young people in it. But to whatever extent possible, your case studies should represent the diversity of all the possible people who could read and benefit from your book.

Why diversity matters

Can Black people be entrepreneurs? Clearly they can, but if there are no Black people in the case studies in your book about entrepreneurship, it’s a little harder for those readers to say “Oh, those people are just like me.”

Can women write business books? There are lots of examples of female business authors, but I certainly put in extra effort to make sure that in my book on writing, there were plenty of stories of women authors. I want women readers to read my book and say, “Ah, I see how this could work for me.”

It’s easy to imagine that, say, a young Black woman reading your book will read about all those stories of older white men and think, “Well, I can do these same things.” But she may be facing challenges that come from biases in how people look at her that aren’t represented in your book. That makes it harder for her to believe that your advice will work for her.

In researching my book on business authors, I took extra effort to reach out to Black authors. And I found that their situation wasn’t exactly the same as that of white authors. One Black author told me that his book was helpful in getting him respect that he wasn’t automatically granted when calling on new clients. And another told me that there’s a common problem, that people have a preconceived notion that Black authors are automatically experts in diversity and inclusion, when in fact their expertise may be in creativity, artificial intelligence, search engine optimization, or any of a hundred other topics that have nothing to do with diversity. I was grateful to add these insights to my book, because I knew it would expand my audience.

On the other hand, in interviewing women authors, I found they faced many of the same problems as male authors, which is in itself a useful insight. But it’s still the case that the women authors I profiled allow women to read my book and say, “I could do this, just like Charlene and Melanie and Fotini did.”

Creating diversity in case studies is work

Tracking down case studies and stories requires extra effort, even before you layer diversity on top of it.

But casting the net as wide as possible isn’t just a good idea because it expands the number of readers who can identify with what you write. It also teaches you things. Every case study you research will teach you something about your topic. If you’re not pursuing diverse case studies, you may have a blind spot about a segment of your audience. Conversely, if you collect a diverse collection of potential stories, you may expand insights beyond what you found in the same group of people you’re used to interacting with.

So make the effort to diversify your case studies. It’s the smart way to make your book as broadly applicable as possible.

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