When you get the deans from seven elite U.S. business schools on a Zoom call to talk about one of the most pressing social issues of our time, the result is a great deal of insight informed by a wealth of experience — and plenty of words of warning mixed with calls for action. Such a frank discussion occurred when the University of Michigan Ross School of Business hosted a panel of deans Tuesday (October 13) to discuss race in business education, the first installment in the school’s Business & Society Series that this year will be dedicated entirely to questions about race and racial justice.
Ross Dean Scott DeRue was joined by Jonathan Levin, dean of Stanford Graduate School of Business; William Boulding, dean of Duke University Fuqua School of Business; Kerwin Charles, dean of Yale School of Management; Francesca Cornelli, dean of Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management; Nicole Thorne Jenkins, dean of the University of Virginia McIntire School of Commerce; and Raghu Sundaram, dean of NYU Stern School of Business. The panel was moderated by David Wooten, diversity and social transformation professor at Michigan Ross.
The deans’ panel was asked to address the challenges and opportunities they see in preparing graduates to be inclusive leaders of a racially diverse workforce. The overarching question that the deans were asked to confront: What have schools achieved in tackling race issues in business education, and what — or how — can they do better?
A DIFFICULT YEAR, AND UNFINISHED WORK
“This has been in many ways an incredibly difficult year — maybe unprecedented difficulty in all of our lifetimes,” Stanford Dean Levin says. “But it has had some silver linings. And one of them is that it’s forced all of us to go through a process of incredible innovation in just about everything we do, and this event is an example of that. And another is that it has focused all of our attention on the issues of race in an incredibly productive way — and in a way that has a lot of potential to help the whole country.”
Though not overly self-critical, the deans did not offer rosy assessments of the job B-schools are doing in addressing racial justice issues.
“A university, unlike business, unlike other things — we traffic in ideas,” Dean Charles of Yale SOM says. “And I would want us collectively to be a place where, during their two years, students feel comfortable in spaces created for that kind of open, vigorous, and free conversation. I candidly feel that we are doing less well at that. And we should be very attentive to that.”
Comparing business education to the business world, Dean Jenkins of Virginia McIntire adds: “I think we’re lagging. And I think we’re lagging substantially in part because there’s a huge difference between what we as universities aspire to what we say we are, and the actual lived experiences of historically marginalized people.
“And when you go into a corporation or some other organization post-university, you’re actually in a more homogeneous set of people, even though there may not be tremendous racial diversity. You are more similar in terms of social economics.”
Following is a transcript of the deans panel, edited for length and clarity, and grouped according to David Wooten’s questions.
RACE & BUSINESS EDUCATION DEANS PANEL
Wooten: How have perspectives on race changed in business education over the course of your academic career, and what are some of the factors that contribute to these changes?
JONATHAN LEVIN, STANFORD GSB
Let me step back and say something a little bit broader, which is that over the last decade, or increasing the last few years, there has just been a profound shift of awareness in this country around patterns of inequality and equal opportunity and the importance of diversity in all organizations, and that has led to very important changes in business schools and in business education that are still ongoing.
And I think, you know, all of us as deans have the opportunity to stand up in front of our current students and look at them and look at who is in business school today. And I know that for me, the picture that immediately comes to mind is to compare what those faces look like to the Fortune 500 CEOs or the leading investors in this country, the top venture capitalists or entrepreneurs or board members — and it’s just very different. And the only thing you can think when you look at today’s students is, If we do our jobs right, this is education. The most important thing we will achieve over the next 20 years or 30 years, is to change the face of leadership in this country and probably around the world.
That was part of the vision that drove us to start a concerted effort around diversity, equity, and inclusion three years ago and to appoint a senior associate dean to oversee it. And then this year with the heightened and appropriate focus on racial injustice in this country, to turn our full attention to that, start a lot of discussions and look at an action plan for racial equity that we are working really hard to execute on with, you know, incredible energy and enthusiasm. And I’m looking forward to hearing about all the things that are going on at my pure schools today.
WILLIAM BOULDING, DUKE FUQUA
I’m going to give kind of a nuts-and-bolts answer to this question because I’ve been around for many years in the business school industry and I’ve seen things evolve quite a bit. The first thing is that we started by asking questions: How can we improve as an individual school, how can we get better at what we do? And so this had a number of different phases. First was representativeness: How do we actually get students in our programs that better reflect the population the business community serves, and serves the business community in terms of their desire to populate their ranks with more diverse talent?
Then we we looked around and we saw, we’re creating more diverse student communities, but our faculty communities are not very diverse, and so we began to focus on: How can we better make our faculty reflect the student population that we serve?
From the representativeness dimension, we started to look at inclusiveness, not just counting numbers and getting people in the game, but making sure that people felt like they were on the team, and so I think a number of schools started to work on those dimensions that are very important to the community. And concurrent with all of this was something fundamentally important which was serious scholarship in the area of diversity and inclusion that helped us understand and identify the value. And so this serious scholarship then led to a second phase, which is more current: that this kind of content populates our curriculum.
It has really flipped from the question of How do we work on this problem, and how do we improve? to, How do we own the problem? How do we take responsibility to become a force multiplier and tackle these issues of systemic racism? — and to foreshadow a question that you’re going to ask: to actually flip from lagging the industry in terms of our performance in this area to leading the industry and helping them find the way forward to really deal with these very problematic issues.
The last point I’ll make, which is really embodied with what we’re doing today, is that instead of focusing again on our own programs, we’re now once again thinking about how to cooperate across the business school industry. And today’s event is a wonderful example of that. The business school industry, normally the deans in this call are competing with each other unbelievably fiercely — but now we recognize here’s an opportunity, for the third time in my career, to come together to tackle a problem together. The first time was around gender equity. The second time was around immigration reform. And now this time around, racial equity and justice.
Bill Boulding, dean of the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University, speaks during the Race & Business Education Deans Panel hosted October 13 by Michigan Ross
Wooten: How should we think about DI (diversity and inclusion) issues as global business schools, when some of the issues, specifically those around racial justice, are local?
FRANCESCA CORNELLI, NORTHWESTERN KELLOGG
It might be clear from my accent, but I am Italian, and I arrived in the U.S. has a dean a little more than a year ago after 25 years in London. So for me, the way I see it is the two sides, global and local, really reinforce each other — they’re very important on both sides.
First of all, being global means having to deal with incredible diversity, which is not only race, it is religion, it is culture; so I feel, how can we be a global business school and equip our students to be global if we are not trying to tackle that diversity, equity, racial justice in the country in which we are all based? I feel it would be hypocritical go out to deal with this diversity global but not in our own country. Right now in the UK they’re talking about problems with racism in the Met Police in London; in France, in my country, Italy, there are longstanding discussions of racism. You see right now that I still look at the news.
To me, it is very humbling here in the U.S., I’m working with everybody I can, to think about what to do, because as other people have mentioned, there are critical systemic issues that we need to address, and we can’t address it all, and they’re very difficult, and we need to think hard. At the same time, I find it very humbling to think that in completely different systems, different sets of institutions, different history, different everything, and yet we still find racism. So that is telling us how complex the problem is, and we have to learn by looking at other systems — where other systems failed — so when we are tackling racism they can make our thinking about these stronger.
RAGHU SUNDARAM, NYU STERN
Yale School of Management Dean Kerwin K. Charles
Let me echo Bill’s words that I look forward to working with all my fellow deans to work on this and other important issues. To answer your question, looking at racial justice, undoubtedly there is a local flavor to it. It resonates particularly in the United States for historical reasons that all of us are familiar with: the inhuman institution of slavery. The dehumanization of black lives that long survived slavery’s formal abolishing, these are all issues that we are familiar with.
America has soft power; the power of the media and culture and its reach is simply enormous. I think one has to have grown up outside America to truly appreciate the extent of this power. What happens in America is followed by the entire world — it greatly influences thinking, and events, everywhere.
For decades, and to some extent even today, the relentless negative portrayal of Black people in media and literature influenced how people in many other countries, many of whom had no direct contact with Black people, view Black people. And it has resulted today in the significant casual racism that Black people face when they travel in Asia and elsewhere.
But equally, that soft power has the ability to do enormous good, as we have seen with the women’s rights movement, the gay rights movement, many other movements in America. George Floyd’s brutal murder made global headlines, but so did the Black Lives Matter protest that followed almost immediately, and they have sparked very similar soul searching and protest movements for marginalized and brutalized groups across the globe, from the Indigenous Lives Matter movement in Australia to movements in India and elsewhere.
So what I’m trying to say is, DI issues and racial justice in particular are not local but they are global issues, and as global business schools, even as we train students for leadership in a more globalized world, decisions have to be an integral part of the education part of the reasons that Francesca articulated so well. One small example is our most recent effort at Stern. Every single entering student in our undergraduate program, MBA program, and executive programs all take the Intercultural Development Inventory assessment to gauge cultural competence, and every student has assigned a coach to interpret their assessment, and to provide a plan for growth. I think this is almost an essential part of creating better leaders for tomorrow.
KERWIN CHARLES, YALE SOM
I’d like to echo the comments of my fellow deans here and thank Scott and Michigan for putting on this important event. I’m delighted to be on the panel with my peers.
So your question touches on or asks explicitly how we are to conceive of the diversity conversation in a global context when so much of anti-racism and related matters are local. In thinking about anti-blackness, for example, it has a decidedly local and American flavor; as has been pointed out, there are issues of diversity and racial heterogeneity elsewhere. But the thing that generates large national and international attention is the anti-Black, anti-racist movement in the United States. How do we as a global business school deal with that, given its local character? It seems to me there are three reasons — at least three — if we focus on the representation issue, that we bring students here from elsewhere, and the bringing of students from elsewhere into our community or into our wherever we are, be it Palo Alto or New Haven or Ann Arbor, means that those students must engage with this matter, in, for example, their classroom experience.
And so one is in a class. A question comes up, one notices that one’s peer doesn’t respond or is discomfited by what one says, thus and so. And so, precisely because we are global, the likelihood of that kind of innocent, misinterpretation, accidental offense giving and the like, means that we have to attend to this issue in an important way for students brought into our midst — because it will affect their educational experience. Our failure to address it thoughtfully means that it will affect the lived experience of the students of color with whom they come into contact. They’re meeting these people at the coffee shop, they’re having pizza and beers with them, they are talking about their projects together. Insensitivity, ignorance, unfamiliarity with these matters raises the likelihood of an unpleasant, albeit unwitting, but an unpleasant interaction, which can affect the experience of their peers.
There’s also this. So we go and we recruit and say, ‘Look, you should come to my school to receive MBA training.” And we’re successful at that and we get people to come. And they come. And many of them return home. It is this returning home piece that is often prominent or top of mind for me. Because when they return home they take with them much of what they learned and picked up here — and not only in the finance class, or in the OB class. Indeed, that might be secondary. They take with them the kind of tacit signals they receive: how we interact with each other racially, how we deal with this matter. And to the extent that they are not well-informed and exposed to the best ideas that have been thought about these matters, they take bad ideas about American race back home.
But it’s worse than that. It’s worse than that because these people are in general not returning themselves to homogeneous communities. There is the issue of race — or class or caste or whatever — where many of them come from. And so we have a chance during their two years, three years here to perturb, to disrupt, the bad notions they may have had about type and race and caste. And we are failing morally, it seems to me, if we do not engage with it in a productive way during their two years in our midst. In a way, our being global, the fact that we’re global, raises the ante, raises the stakes in ways I just described for dealing with this matter in our local context. So that’s my view about the global-local tension.
Raghu Sundaram, dean of the Stern School of Business at New York University, speaks during the Race & Business Education Deans Panel hosted October 13 by Michigan Ross
Wooten: This isn’t a requirement that you give us a grade, but how well are business schools doing with respect to issues of diversity, inclusion, and racial justice, compared to industry? Are we leading or lagging behind?
Honestly, I think it would be hard to argue that we are not doing better than industry. I think one reason is what Jonathan mentioned: When you look at boardrooms and corporate leadership and CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and you look at our classrooms, you see significantly greater diversity in the classroom and that gives you hope for the future.
Recently Jane Fraser was just appointed CEO of Citigroup, and she’s going to become the first woman to head a major bank in America. Universities and schools in general have done better on this when you look at the leadership of our student bodies, our student clubs. I think in a myriad of other ways we’re doing better than industry, but I’m not sure that I would use that as the right bar.
I’m glad to use a higher and absolute standard. And on that basis I think there’s no doubt that we are improving in many ways. Because as was pointed at the beginning, these are issues that have concerned us for many years, but they’ve taken on urgency today. And there’s no question in my mind that we still have a very long way to go on all three issues — on diversity and inclusion and on racial justice on diversity.
We start by looking at the student body. And that means we have to work hard to not just diversify the student body from amongst the applicants, but remove the obstacles, both real and perceived, that typically have discouraged some historically disadvantaged group from even applying to business schools. We have a business school that has a significant undergraduate population, and a significant graduate population, and in each group we face different challenges in diversification.
The challenge that’s very different for different populations with our undergraduates, for example, as I presume is the case in other undergraduate business schools, is that our students come from local areas in which the other students look largely like them. Students of color are used to coming from areas where students of color are the majority, and suddenly nobody is the majority. These issues of belonging are different from the way they are in the graduate program. Those students have been working for some years and are used to meeting different kinds of people.
The challenges are different, and the approaches have to be different. And I think there has been progress, but you still have a very long way to go before we can even remotely be satisfied with where we are.
NICOLE THORNE JENKINS, VIRGINIA McINTIRE
Nicole Thorne Jenkins
I just have a different opinion: I think we’re lagging. And I think we’re lagging substantially in part because there’s a huge difference between what we as universities aspire to what we say we are, and the actual lived experiences of historically marginalized people. And when you go into a corporation or some other organization post-university, you’re actually in a more homogeneous set of people, even though there may not be tremendous racial diversity. You are more similar in terms of social economics.
So the challenges that you face as a historically marginalized people at a corporation are not the same as what you experience on university campuses, which have a far more diverse set of backgrounds in terms of racial and ethnic diversity, but also socioeconomics. And so I’m sure all of my colleagues have had experiences in your school, where there will be an incident that occurs on campus, and it’s very inconsistent with who we say we are as universities, but the lived experiences of under-represented people create such a challenge for individual students and student groups that can change their perspective and do damage to students that last a lifetime.
And I think that’s where we are very challenged at universities, in part because we are balancing free-speech issues. We cannot control students, staff, and faculty the way that corporations can — they have much greater control over the individuals who work there. And those are the challenges that we have — that we are in a fight for people’s hearts and minds, that we need staff, faculty, and students to really want to do this work, to want to be inclusive. And those are things that we’re unable to legislate. And so that’s what I think is fundamentally the challenge that we have at university, and it’s a very difficult thing for us to overcome.
SCOTT DERUE, MICHIGAN ROSS
I think we’re leading and lagging, and I’ll try and draw some pieces together from what both Raghu and Nicole said in terms of leadership. When I look across business schools, I see our students’ voices — their empowered voices — and their strong desire to be part of the solution to racial injustice and a broader set of diversity-and-inclusion-related issues. I think business schools relative to industry are proactively leaning in to these conversations and the really hard work that’s necessary to create awareness, to mobilize people to address racism in education, address racism in business.
When we look across universities and business schools, I think more often than not we are coming to the realization that racial justice and other forms of justice are a core part of our mission — Bill mentioned it earlier: scholarship, research, teaching. Someone said earlier, we have both an opportunity and a responsibility because we’re a pipeline of talent to industry. And so we’re leaning into these conversations, such as this one, because we’re coming to the realization that this is a core part of our mission.
And if I compare that to industry. Many companies, many organizations around the world, I don’t think have woken up to the opportunity and the responsibility to have diversity, equity, and inclusion as a core part of their mission. And to those companies, I would encourage them to review closely the data on the value of diversity, the value of inclusion for business results, because if you care about business results you also care about diversity, equity, and inclusion.
I think in terms of embracing racial justice and diversity broadly, we are leading, but there are many ways that we are lagging, and I would agree with Nicole entirely that we are lagging in many ways around the lived experience that we create for marginalized communities, this notion of diversity versus inclusion or belonging. It’s one thing to invite people to the party; it’s another thing to have a lived experience where we can feel included, belong, learn from each other and have a lived experience where we elevate everyone. And on that dimension we can and must do better.
But I would also argue that even on the diversity side, business schools have a long way to go relative to industry. In my opinion business schools are not as creative about where they go to discover and recruit talent relative to some companies and industry partners. I mean, look at companies like LinkedIn. LinkedIn reduced its on-campus recruiting across universities by 73% and increased its URM hiring by 23%. How did they do that? By using other channels, more diverse channels, than many universities to identify, recruit, and develop talent.
And so business schools, whether it’s because of the constraints of our own creativity or more structural reasons such as rankings that don’t value diversity — or if you’re a public institution, state-level policies that restrict diversity in a variety of ways — we as a business school industry have not been as creative about seeking out new and different channels for attracting talent. And on that dimension I think we can and must do better.
And we certainly are all doing things in this space, launching initiatives and infrastructure. We just launched our Blau Initiative for Diversity in Real Estate — it’s an industry-wide problem in real estate, and we have a responsibility and an opportunity to help address that. Our Och Initiative has doubled the number of women going into finance, at least from the business school, over the last five years. So we have opportunities, but we also have a big responsibility, and we are lagging more than we are leading.
Jonathan Levin, dean of the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University, speaks during the Race & Business Education Deans Panel hosted October 13 by Michigan Ross
Wooten: How are we doing, or perhaps, what’s stopping us from doing better? What are the major structural or cultural challenges that business education faces in becoming more diverse, equitable, and inclusive?
What are the fundamental challenges we face? I might piggyback on a previous question about how we’re doing. I think there are ways in which we’re doing great — maybe great is too strong, we’re not doing badly. There are ways, though, in which I would think we can be better. And I don’t want to compare us necessarily to industry, but to the values we proclaim of institutions of higher learning. For example, I think we can do better, collectively, in talking about the issue of diversity, inclusion, race, anti-racism, etc. in our curriculum, so that it is interwoven through what we teach. It is not a stand-alone, separate thing, but it is evident in everything we do. A structural impediment to doing that is that there are fields represented in schools and business that don’t naturally include diversity talk. It is harder to introduce a topic about race and representation in a class on accounting, say, than it would be if I were talking about a course on real estate law.
And so our hands are tied in a way, by virtue of the subject matter we discuss. We have to be thoughtful and imaginative and energetic and creative to address that structural problem, it seems to me.
My views about the need to diversify the way we should address anti-racism and the like are very well known by students, and now and then my colleagues and faculty. But I want students in the classroom to come into collision with ideas different from the ideas they have. I talked to our students recently, and they were surprised to learn that there are faculty members at great universities who are nervous about diversity initiatives or pushes. I disagree with those faculty members. The point is that a university, unlike business, unlike other things — we traffic in ideas. And I would want us collectively to be a place where, during their two years, students feel comfortable in spaces created for that kind of open, vigorous, and free conversation. I candidly feel that we are doing less well at that. And we should be very attentive to that. I don’t know if I answered the question exactly but it’s a genuine feeling.
Michigan Ross’ Scott DeRue. Ross photo
We are, after all, talking about a long history of injustice in equity, and we’re talking about system change. And so there’s both structure and cultural elements of that system change and we can look at a number of dimensions. Rankings drive behavior for a lot of business schools; looking industry-wide and to date, our rankings of favorite things like selectivity, test scores, GPA is over diversity, or over inclusion or equity in terms of the lived experience of students, for example. We also have university policies and, in some cases, public institutions such as ours have policies and structural practices that put other factors ahead of diversity — and in some cases actually undermine our attempts to enhance diversity, or create a climate in a lived experience that is more equitable and inclusive on campus. And so from a structural perspective, I think there’s a range of dimensions; from a cultural perspective, the word that comes to mind for me is entrenchment in some of these elements at business schools: hiring faculty from the same places they’ve always hired faculty, for example, and those places not becoming more diverse over time. And in terms of what we teach and how we teach, and the intersection of business school curriculum with issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
We are culturally more divided than we have been in a long time. And people seem to think that if one person gains somehow it’s a loss for them — and to me that zero-sum mindset holds us back from making real sustained progress. From a cultural perspective, there’s a significant amount of change that needs to happen, and we as business school deans have an opportunity — but also a responsibility — to use our platform to lead, and serve as a role model for that change.
I want to link it back to the prior question about business schools in relation to industry. I think it’s really important to keep in mind that as educational institutions, we are just fundamentally different than industry, and part of that is that education itself is fundamentally about encountering difference: different people, different cultures, different ideas. And it’s important to keep in mind that that is at the core of our mission, exposing people to that difference — that’s what enables us to deliver on what we’re trying to accomplish. And if you come at it from that lens, there are areas where I think we are doing better than we have historically. Certainly student representation. Faculty representation moves much more slowly, staff representation, and so forth.
I think the areas that are the most difficult have to do with creating an environment on our campuses that enables us to benefit from the changes in the composition of our students and faculty that puts people, as Kerwin said, in collision with one another in productive ways, and that draws out people’s different viewpoints, different backgrounds, and different perspectives or ideologies. And that’s just a very difficult thing to do, actually, and it’s particularly hard when there is such division in the country — that’s when it’s most important, and most difficult, to have a respectful disagreement and engagement. I think it’s incredibly important that we commit ourselves to that and try to do everything we can to make our campuses places where anyone can come and just feel, “This is my place. I can speak up. I can share my view. I’m going to be listened to. I’m going to be heard. And people are going to learn from me and I’m going to do the same. In response, I’m going to do everything I can to listen to the people around me and try to learn.” And, you know, I think we have to commit ourselves to that.
And, you know, if we had to give us a grade: We’re an incomplete. Just like the country is on these issues.
NICOLE THORNE JENKINS
As I said before, some of the major challenges that we have are the rules that govern our institutions, particularly those of us that are at public institutions — what we can and cannot do. I agree with the response in terms of inertia. But the opportunity and I think the responsibility that we have as business school leaders is, to look at some of the mitigating factors that we have that students have to go through to gain admission.
So the conversation that we’ve been having at the Commerce School here at UVA is around what in our pre-comm major is necessary to be a successful business major, and what is just a nice-to-have or something that helps us have a smaller pool of students to select from? So I’ll give you one example: calculus. I was an accounting and finance major in undergrad, and I’ve talked to our faculty around, “Do we really need calculus, or are only some aspects helpful to finance and accounting majors? And if we know that students from low-income backgrounds are less likely to have had calculus in high school, are we then creating a perfect storm where students from specific backgrounds are going to be less able to gain admission to the School of Commerce?” And I think those are necessary conversations for us to have, because those are things that are exactly 100% in our control. I think that’s important for us to think about and have conversations around.
Additionally, we have challenges with rankings, and this external pressure that we have to maintain these historical high-quality perceptions — at some point we have to have conversations around what we are willing to give up to achieve what we know to be the right thing, not just for historically marginalized students, but for all the students that we teach. We’re in the transition where more than half of students and half of people in the United States under the age of 18 are people of color. And there’s a transition that is occurring. And we as business schools must do a better job of preparing our students for the world in which they’re going to be transitioning. They’re going to experience this transition over the course of their working lives. We’re going to be the institution that’s responsible for that failing. So we have to make these changes. It’s going to be for the betterment of our students.
Wooten: And now I’d like to shift a bit to solutions, what or how we can do better. So for the next question: What approaches can leading business schools take to increase the diversity of their student body?
I actually think that the key to success here is very much related to what we’ve just been talking about, which is to say that I think every school has asked itself, “What do you stand for and are your values clear? And do you live those values?” Because ultimately your ability to recruit effectively is going to depend on the climate that you create within your organization — your ability to create this real sense of belonging. And the best recruiters that all of us have, if they’re in the right place are current students and alumni.
And so here’s where things get a little bit wonky, which is, depending on what you stand for, you have to recognize that not everyone will support your efforts. And I think that this is very important to realize — that not everybody is is going to be completely on board with all the things that you’re trying to do to create a more diverse, more inclusive environment. In fact, what we know in terms of system change is that the more you try to drive these changes, the more the status quo will organize to resist those changes. A fact of life is that the business community in this country has been dominated by white males for many, many years, and so the status quo is white male. And the reason why I flag this is that resistance to change then creates narratives, which I think happens in any kind of organization.
So one narrative that I imagine all of you have experienced — if you haven’t, lucky you — is the false narrative or false dichotomy of either you choose diversity or you choose excellence, and that there are some tradeoffs that you must accept in order to pursue diversity. And the reality is, you will have people in your community who are saying these things, and you have to be prepared to say what you stand for and why you do not believe in that false dichotomy.
A second thing that that pops up that I think is unique to business schools, because we are so dependent on the paradigm of market economics: the notion that competition will eradicate any behavior that reveals discrimination, that we will compete that away. And this leads to the argument that we shouldn’t look at any kind of diversity issues. Rather, we should have a pure meritocracy.
I think the arguments around meritocracy actually connect directly to our reliance on market economics as a solution, but here’s the shocker: Even those of us who are economists by training realize that markets fail. And so we have to make sure that people understand that markets fail, and that we need to take actions that will in fact remediate some of these issues that are so persistent, and if you ignore those — if you ignore those narratives — I think you do so at your peril. The point is, you have to confront these issues head on. You have to create an environment where you talk about these areas of disagreement and bring out why it is one person believes one thing and another believes another. But at the end of the day, what do you as an institution stand for, and what commitments are you willing to make to get to where you want to go?
Francesca Cornelli, dean of Northwestern Kellogg
This is something that we have spent a huge amount of time thinking about at Stanford and I know that’s going to be true for all of my fellow deans here. I’ll just start by saying I don’t think there’s any one single thing. There are many things, and the places where we have been successful have involved doing many things in a sustained and focused way and being persistent. I think one of the ways that we have had some of our best success is by working with our students and our alumni. We’ve put a lot of work into outreach and into trying to expand our applicant pool to reach groups that were historically under-represented. Our students over the summer will have hundreds of meetings with prospective applicants from under-represented populations. That’s been tremendously valuable to us over the last several years.
We try to do a lot of measurement. So we try to look very carefully at what our applicant pool looks like, what our class looks like, and you have to measure if you want to see if you’re going to make progress and get anywhere in terms of representation in a class. And that’s really paid off for us in areas like gender equity, where we’ve just about reached parity, in things like attracting more international students. And it’s starting to pay off in attracting larger numbers of under-represented United States minorities, but it’s an area that we certainly need to work harder in and keep focused on. We have more more progress to be made and we need to use all the tools, and we’re trying to be creative. Now we’re thinking about working with historically black colleges in terms of partnerships, in terms of better outreach.
I think we will make progress in that area, but we’re going to have to work really hard at it and be focused on it. I think we’ll follow the same philosophy, which is to try to not limit ourselves to one tactic but try to find different things, experiment, see what works and measure, so that we can see what’s working and what’s making a difference in terms of increasing the representation of our applicant pool. And then, when it comes to selection of candidates, we just want to attract an incredibly talented group of students, and a group of students who will collectively come together and form an amazing class, so we don’t think of it as a tradeoff between excellence and and diversity — we think those things are part and parcel together. And I think that’s helping. That’s a good philosophy to go into an admissions process with.
What can we do to increase the diversity of faculty and staff?
I think one thing that we do at universities is, we put a lot of authority and responsibility on the faculty, but it’s not clear that we help our faculty to execute accurate assessments in the hiring process, either for staff or faculty. So we must teach faculty the managerial skills they need to successfully coach, mentor, and collaborate all members of the university community.
This will not only help historically marginalized individuals but everyone in the organization. So some of this could look like de-biasing methodology, which is being used in our hiring and evaluation practices for staff and faculty, and expanding the way that we evaluate faculty. We generally evaluate faculty based on their research productivity in their classroom instruction, but what if we also had expectations for senior faculty around true mentorship of all junior faculty, and we were more robust in how we evaluated faculty’s ability to create inclusive classrooms. These are some of the things that we could do that would really go a long way in helping historically marginalized individuals that we recruit to the organization be retained and thrive in the organization.
Where do these schools get the Ph.D. students from? There’s a standard pipeline that they use to get Ph.D. students from certain locations from certain countries. I think the key thing we need to do is to break that pipeline challenge and use other ways of attracting faculty into the profession. At Stern, we are casting the net a lot wider, and we’re going beyond just the standard 10 schools we hire from, which is all the schools on this panel, and we’re looking beyond that at talented people.
The second thing we’re doing is, we launched two years ago something called Diverse Pathways, when we go to talented Ph.D. students from under-represented populations, but not in business schools or even business-related fields, because oftentimes they may not have automatically thought of business schools is an option. And we talk to them. They speak to many of our faculty over two days, interacting very intensively. And if even a few of them express interest in business schools and apply to one of our competencies, all of us will be delighted. Even our guests we are trying to diversify through a postdoctoral fellows program that was also launched a few years ago where, again, talented but under-represented groups get mentorship from a single faculty member for two years before they go on the job market.
I think there’s an enormous pipeline problem, but much of it has to do with the way we do hiring, and we need to break that the way we do hiring. And so we have a multi-pronged approach in trying to do this. It’s an issue like the student diversity issue on which we are putting lots of attention, breaking the way we do things for students and faculty.
Yes, so I am working with some of the faculty here, and what we are trying to do is really embedded in making it a strategic issue, and embedding it in our culture. Typically we go out and say that we have a very cooperative culture, very collaborative culture, and we create leaders with empathy. Well, if you don’t have inclusiveness, if you don’t appreciate the “I,” how can you cooperate? This is not AI, where we’re going to try to make more courses — but we are trying to say “This is who we are, this is part of everything, which is co-curricular and creating the culture. The inclusion aspect is going to be a part of it — obviously if you don’t have that, how can you claim to be a cooperative person, to be a person with empathy? So we’re trying to make it this is who defines us.
First, I would say that every student needs to understand that diversity is not only an issue of social justice, but it’s also good business. And so every business leader in today’s global marketplace must be able to lead diverse teams and build inclusive organizations. And so every student needs to understand that on a really deep and profound level.
We need to be integrating diversity, equity, inclusion into the core experience, so that when we’re talking about marketing we’re talking about cross-cultural issues that arise when segmenting your markets globally. When we’re talking about finance, we’re talking about inclusive access to markets. When we’re talking about business fundamentals, diversity has to be integrated and woven into that in a really deep and and profound way. If we can get everybody to understand those things we will be in a much better place.
Wooten: Okay, I would like to invite each of the panelists to offer their parting thoughts.
For those of you who know me, you know I am certainly not deep, I’m not sophisticated, so please don’t laugh when I quote the poet Yeats. What Yeats said was an extraordinary insight, which is “talent perceives differences/Genius unity.” And if you look around in the world today, my opinion is that you have many talented people playing up differences in a negative way, and increasing the degree of polarization and separation that we see in the world.
And so what we really need today is the genius to tackle the persistent and pernicious issues of systemic racism. And in my opinion, the scarcest dimension of genius that we need is not IQ; it’s not even EQ or emotional intelligence, but DQ, or a decency quotient. And what we need is the decency to actually care about one another, to bring the best out of one another and give people the opportunities that they deserve.
And so, in my opinion, decency compels us to act to dismantle systemic racism and to act now. Thank you.
Very little to add to the comments that preceded mine, so I won’t go on unnecessarily. I will say that it is useful for us as leaders in the business school environment to articulate why it is that diversity, inclusion, belonging, and related concerns are so important to us. In many ways, that’s the most important thing we do as leaders: we speak for institutions. Seems to me that means reminding people — reminding all of our constituents, our alums, our faculty, the broader university — that we must address diversity, equity, belonging, anti-racism and related things, because it is essential to our pedagogy.
But one cannot teach, as well as one otherwise might, if the class sitting before you on Zoom or in person all is the same. The quality of instruction and what goes on in the classroom is diminished. We’re training people, after all, for success in the real world, to leave our hallowed halls and to enter and have successful careers in business. And so we cannot prepare people for successful careers in society broadly and business narrowly unless they have come into close contact, meaningful contact, with a diverse, heterogeneous group of people during their training.
We remind people, finally, that we have a moral obligation — a moral obligation — to amend the system, our institutions, that played a role in generating some of the racial inequities we observed by historically not admitting certain people from particular ethnic groups or not engaging with this issue in 1968 or ’75 or ’88, the way they could. We have come belatedly, I would argue, to an aggressive engagement with this problem. And because of our late start, we have more to do. So communication for me is an essential part of what we do. And I’ll just stop there.
Sometimes I think about what happens if we don’t get this right. It’s such an important issue. I mean, it’s just beyond the business school, is just beyond the “Do we look good if we don’t get this right?” — it’s really our future. And it’s so important and that is makes the stakes so much more than me and my business school and the students in the business school and everybody involved. It’s so much higher.
The problem to me is so humbling, so complex, but it’s the impact that we could make that will make so much more of a difference for our future. Whenever I talk to the students I always end by saying “I am an optimist,” so let me finish by saying, I am an optimist — I feel there is progress being made, you hear people talking about this, talking about racial injustice, and there is momentum. It doesn’t make the problem easy, but I think if we can we must work right now as hard as possible.
We’ve told students, “If you work hard, you go to college, you’ll have a great career — and it all depends on you,” without really pulling back and saying to students, “The reality is, there’s so many other things around you that determine your success. The family of origin that you have, the passport that you hold, and the race that you are.” And those systemic things are really important. And I think the opportunity that we have in business schools is to tell all of our students that, yes, you are hard-working, you are smart, but your success is not solely due to your hard work and your effort — there are systems and structures in place that contribute to and detract from one’s success.
We can get in front of our students and explain to them and help them make that connection, and if we do they will have a much deeper appreciation for the racial inequality that exists in the United States.
This has been in many ways an incredibly difficult year — maybe unprecedented difficulty in all of our lifetimes. But it has had some silver linings. And one of them is that it’s forced all of us to go through a process of incredible innovation in just about everything we do, and this event is an example of that. And another is that it has focused all of our attention on the issues of race in an incredibly productive way — and in a way that has a lot of potential to help the whole country.
And I think one thing that’s always important to keep in mind in all of our roles is that all of our institutions, at a fundamental level, exist to serve the public welfare. We have a fundamental public mission, whether we’re a public school or a private institution — either way. And I actually think that one thing that this year has done is, it has given all of us at business schools a sense of renewed purpose for that fundamental mission.
I really appreciate seeing this group come together and hearing all of my colleagues speak on these issues so eloquently and well. It makes me very optimistic for what we’re going to accomplish over the coming years. Thank you.
Bill began by quoting Yeats, and I’m going to go ahead with a quote from one of my favorite poets, the Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes. I think my fellow deans have articulated the challenges and problems that we are facing far better than I could have. We’ve come out of a season of despair, but also a summer of hope. Immense challenges, but there is also optimism because of what we are facing. And here is where this particular poems resonates with me very deeply — I don’t know how many times this summer I looked at it even though it’s imprinted on my brain.
This is a poem called “Dreams.” Hughes says:
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is barren field
Frozen with snow.
This is a time for action. It is a time for us to move together on what we’re doing, but it is also a time to make sure that we don’t lose the dreams of a better future, and we have a precise idea in mind of what it is that we’re moving toward.
Like my colleagues, I too am an unwavering optimist, and I’m inspired by the optimism that is apparent in this group. I want to thank my fellow deans — it is a true privilege to join you all for this dialogue. I respect you, I admire you and the work that you do, and I feel like we’re part of a community —part of a family — that is all sharing a common set of values and a common mission. And so I just want to express my gratitude to each and every one of you.
And then lastly, I want to reiterate the importance of our collective commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, not as a moment, but as a movement. We need a sustained movement whereby all business schools, all universities, embrace the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion as a core part of our values and our mission. We need a sustained movement whereby we recruit diverse talent and help them develop the skills to thrive in a diverse workforce. And we need to be role models for other schools and industry in business, and it’s in that spirit that I want to just again thank my fellow deans for joining the discussion today. It’s not every day that we get to come together like this, but it is always a joy when we do, and it is truly inspiring to know that we’re all in this together.
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