AACSB Blog

Illustration of overlapping multi-colored heads

Business Schools Tackle Tough Issues of Diversity and Inclusion at Inaugural Summit


Posted November 21, 2017 by Hanna McLeod - Senior Manager, Research - AACSB International

Earlier this month AACSB International hosted its very first event focusing entirely on diversity and inclusion issues, challenges, and opportunities. The Diversity and Inclusion Summit, chaired by Sarah Gardial, dean of the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business, brought together nearly 80 individuals from across 50 business schools to tackle some of the major challenges business school campuses face around diversity and inclusion. Attendees sought to share best practices and learn about new ideas on how and why to continue this very important conversation with their colleagues, staff, students, and constituents. Just as complex as the various issues that fall under diversity and inclusion, so were the themes and questions raised throughout the summit, leaving participants hungry for more dialogue, idea and practice sharing, and action planning.

Prioritizing a Diverse Workforce

“Diversity and inclusion cannot be something addressed in a vacuum. It cannot be an initiative that is separate from everything else.” These were the sentiments expressed by Liz Gottung and Mark Buthman, both former chief executives at Kimberly-Clark, a company that specializes in paper-based personal goods and has made strategic efforts over the past decade to increase representation of diverse populations within their workforce, with notable success. The organization established the goal to think, behave, and look like the people who consume Kimberly-Clark products. In order to do so, major changes had to occur within the organization’s culture and core values. Although high employee retention may come across as a favorable indicator of success, Kimberly-Clark came to realize that much of its workforce was “stuck” and that long tenures did not equate to effective performance.

From that discovery, the organization looked at ways to increase the “velocity” of its employees, encouraging those who may have better, more fulfilling careers elsewhere to make room for new talent, especially from underrepresented groups. Major changes were introduced to performance evaluation systems; for example, employees could not be rated as “exceeding expectations” unless they demonstrated they could grow, attract, and leverage diverse talent in some meaningful way. As Buthman shared, “It is not only the results that you deliver, but how you build your team and culture. Individual success can fade quickly, but culture stays.”

Challenging Implicit Bias

Implicit bias was a dominant theme throughout the day, introduced by diversity and inclusion advocate Robin A. Wright, who facilitated much of the summit’s discussion. This notion of attitudes or stereotypes that affect people’s understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner was explored by attendees with a focus on activities occurring within their institutions and opportunities for better addressing ways that individuals can make an effort to overcome implicit bias in order to create more diverse and inclusive environments.

One major area of interest across attendees regarding implicit bias in higher education was within faculty and staff hiring practices. Numerous obstacles were uncovered as participants shared their experiences through group work discussion, report-outs, and guest presentations. Delmonize Smith, dean of the Alabama A&M University College of Business and Public Affairs, expressed that his school intentionally does not say they want to bring the “best talent” but rather great talent that will help the school become the type of institution it wants to be. This resonated with some participants when it came to the conversation around faculty pipelines, metrics, and candidate backgrounds. Others stressed that business schools ought to make greater efforts to ensure that metrics are not biased and are capable of capturing the varying (and often less favorable) starting points that certain individuals must work from toward achieving the same goal as their colleagues who may be at an advantage. A clear need for search committees to have better training and understanding of some of these obstacles when assessing the quality of faculty candidates surfaced as one example of opportunity for improvement.

Rethinking Cultural Fit

Finally, another major theme that was widely discussed during the summit was how business schools currently—and ought to—define cultural fit. In many regards, cultural fit is important for recruiting faculty and staff in order to find individuals who share core values similar to those of the institution, as well as positively contribute to a working environment with other colleagues. However, several individuals raised concern that cultural fit often carries bias, and a more effective approach is to establish clear objectives, rather than this idea of “fit,” which can be vague and subjective. A presentation by Will Geiger, director of education strategy and partnerships at technology design company Knack, aimed to offer some solutions to challenges in assessing cultural fit supported by artificial intelligence and predictive analytics, which in many regards can be less biased than a reliance on interviews, for example, where social desirability biases are more likely to appear.

Although many attendees may have been left with more questions on how to address diversity and inclusion challenges than they came with, the abundance of various perspectives and both opposing and supporting views on how to approach some of these challenges was a clear reflection that more work needs to be done in this space. Some might think this would have left attendees feeling deflated and discouraged, but rather, the room exuded an enthusiastic energy for connecting, debating, and working together to create solutions for all business school stakeholders to have equal opportunities to grow and prosper through the opportunities presented through business education. And what’s further encouraging is that this is only the beginning of the conversation!

Share: