Insight and Intention
SHERRY M.B. THATCHER
Being bullied as a child is a formative experience. As Sherry Thatcher found, it can shape your future.
“I grew up on the small island of Kauai in the Hawaiian Islands, where I experienced my childhood and young life as a minority,” Thatcher explains. “I had a number of experiences with bullying and harassment, which made me want to understand why some people were fine to accept me how I was, and others weren’t — just because of the color of my skin. Having experiences where it’s because of your race makes you think about the world differently.”
These experiences ultimately led Thatcher to develop an interest in diversity, as well as in traveling the world to better understand other people and cultures. She was particularly drawn to Asian countries and studied abroad in Japan and Korea before being awarded a Watson Fellowship.
Fieldwork stints in Hong Kong, Thailand and Singapore followed. After earning a degree in international business from the University of Hawaii, Thatcher landed a job through the university’s Pacific Business Center Program. “I worked in Micronesia as a nonprofit consultant helping indigenous populations start small businesses,” she says. “I really enjoyed the training parts of my job.”
Thatcher’s experience working in Micronesia motivated her to earn an MA in management, as well as a PhD in organizational behavior, from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. In the process, she became interested in researching how diversity can improve group dynamics, leading her to study team-based faultlines.
Faultline theory suggests that moderately diverse teams tend to form subgroups around attributes such as age, gender or race, and are more prone to bias and conflict. “For managers, it’s not just about diversity in terms of numbers,” Thatcher says. “It’s also about understanding the alignments and structures within that configuration.”
As a leading expert in team faultlines, Thatcher is widely published and respected. She currently serves as editor-in-chief of the Academy of Management Review, a top-ranked management journal. She is also a highly sought-out presenter for conferences around the world.
In January 2022, Thatcher was invited to speak at Haslam, where she received positive feedback and came away with a vision of expanding opportunities at the college. That fall, she joined Haslam’s Department of Management and Entrepreneurship as the Skinner Professor of Business. This May, Thatcher was named the Regal Distinguished Professor.
Through continued efforts to minimize group conflict, Thatcher turns childhood experiences and her passion for diversity into a benefit for various teams.
“What I want people to remember me by is intentional inclusion and intentional travel, trying to understand the world, how people work and how we can work better together,” she says. “I feel like every choice I’ve made and everything I’ve done has that thread attached.