Screenshot of four presenters at AACSB 2020 Global Diversity and Inclusion Summit

Making Strides in Achieving Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

How can business schools “move the needle” toward greater diversity? Educators share ideas at AACSB’s Global Diversity and Inclusion Summit.

If business schools want their campus communities and corporate partners to reap the many benefits that diversity has to offer, they must be willing to move beyond one-off training workshops and superficial definitions of diversity. Instead, their administrators and faculty must take diversity initiatives into new directions and embrace a wide range of differences based not only on race and gender, but also on age, sexual orientation, disability, religious affiliation, and political beliefs.

That message was central to the keynote presentation, delivered by Julie Park, that kicked off AACSB’s three-day virtual Global Diversity and Inclusion Summit held earlier this month. “Diversity training has become sort of a crutch,” said Park, an associate professor in the department of counseling, higher education, and special education at the University of Maryland in College Park. She added that unless training is “surrounded by a broader culture with strong leadership around promoting equity, diversity, anti-racism, etc., it’s not going to do very much.”

How can business schools effectively build such cultures? Summit attendees described the initiatives that were helping to make DEI a central part of their schools’ strategic plans. The examples below represent a sampling of ideas that are sparking positive change at a wide range of institutions:

  • The Zicklin School of Business at Baruch College–The City University of New York has established the #ZicklinTogether microsite, which features videos and webinars that highlight experiences of its faculty, staff, and students.
  • Students and faculty at the University of South Carolina Moore School of Business in Columbia collaboratively set “agreements for engagements” at the start of each class to encourage the inclusion of diverse perspectives in their discussions. These agreements might include “listening to understand, not to defend,” “respecting confidentiality,” or “being willing to see issues through a broader lens,” explained Deborah Hazzard, associate dean for diversity and inclusion.
  • The Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at the University of South Carolina (USC) conducts climate surveys of its community every two years. These surveys ask members of the USC community to contribute their honest feedback about their experiences on campus so administrators can assess the school’s progress toward its DEI goals, identify students’ current pain points, and work toward solutions.
  • Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts, is putting together a plan for “cluster-hiring” a cohort of faculty whose research or teaching focuses on DEI issues. “We have to bring together the deans and department chairs so that we can discuss what they need in potential hires,” explained Donna Maria Blancero, interim vice president of academic affairs and provost.
  • Universidade Nova de Lisboa Nova School of Business and Economics in Portugal launched its Inclusive Community Forum (ICF) in 2017, a multifaceted initiative focused on increasing the participation of people with disabilities in the workforce. For example, ICF’s Peer2Peer program pairs students with disabled people looking for work; over two months, students help these job seekers identify their capabilities and overcome barriers. ICF also links to Inclusive Future, a series of 10 short videos created by Design the Future, an online platform that helps users explore potential career options. Each video shares the experience of a person living with a disability. ICF is now piloting HR4Inclusion, a program in which the business school works alongside nonprofit recruiting agencies to help place disabled individuals in the job market.
  • Sampoerna University in Jakarta, Indonesia, established Sampoerna Academy in 2001. The academy works with parents and teachers to deliver an online program to high-school-age students from disadvantaged backgrounds. The standardized curriculum helps prepare students throughout the country for university education.
  • Delaware State University’s College of Business in Dover has created its Pipeline of Diversity, or POD, program. Companies agree to provide one-on-one executive mentors to a “pod” of students from underrepresented backgrounds, with each pod containing at least seven students. “Within each pod, we create a ‘success pathway curriculum’ that can include internships and career placement,” explained the business school’s dean, Michael Casson.
  • Princess Sumaya University for Technology (PSUT) in Amman, Jordan, opened its Learning Support Office five years ago to provide additional tools and support to students with learning disabilities or other special needs. The objective is to provide all students with equal access to educational opportunities, noted Abdelraheem M. Abualbasal, dean of PSUT’s King Talal School of Business Technology. “Small steps,” he said, “can make an impact.”

Recommended Resources

At every stage of the conference, educators were eager to share resources that they have used to support their DEI efforts. These included:

  • Pollyanna, a New York City-based nonprofit, which works with organizations to engage people in DEI issues. Paquita Davis-Friday, senior associate dean at the Zicklin School, mentioned that its faculty have attended a professional development seminar organized with Pollyanna’s assistance.
  • Giving Voice to Values (GVV), a program created by Mary Gentile, a professor of practice at the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. The GVV curriculum provides exercises, cases, modules, scripts, and teaching plans to help individuals learn to manage ethical conflicts in the workplace.
  • A webpage created by Harvard Business Publishing that provides educators with a curated collection of case studies featuring protagonists of color.
  • A 15-minute training module created by Oregon State University that teaches professionals to address DEI issues in remote learning environments.
  • 1 City. 2 Realities,” a virtual exhibition designed by Rem5, a Minnesota-based virtual reality company. Visitors to the exhibition can explore, at their own pace, images, videos, and data that highlight issues of racial inequities.

Tools such as Rem5’s virtual exhibition can be especially useful in sparking conversations and introducing DEI to those who might not yet fully understand its importance, said Nakeisha Lewis, associate dean of undergraduate and accelerated master’s programs and diversity, equity, and inclusion ambassador at the Opus College of Business at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota.

“Start with the folks who are already on fire as much as you can, and then you can move forward to people who are on different levels,” Lewis said. “Create initiatives to bring in people who may not be in the same space.”

Final Thoughts

In the end, no DEI initiative will succeed unless it recognizes diversity in all its forms and contributes to building a culture where everyone feels a sense of belonging. Many presenters emphasized the importance of linking DEI efforts to the school’s values and priorities. Otherwise, they noted, those efforts are likely to be short-lived.

In addition, it will become even more crucial for business schools to collaborate closely with their corporate partners, who recognize the value diversity brings to their business models. As companies strive to recruit people with a wider array of perspectives, many will turn to business schools to develop that talent.

That’s the case for professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), which works closely with colleges and universities to expose students from underrepresented groups to its culture. At the summit, PwC representatives described programs such as Career Preview, which introduces PwC to students from minority groups, protected veterans, and individuals with disabilities; and Start, a summer internship experience in which individuals from those same populations participate in development opportunities and work on real-world projects.

In the summit’s final keynote, Ken Bouyer, EY Americas Director of Inclusiveness Recruiting at the professional services firm Ernst & Young, further emphasized that academic-industry partnerships will be a critical component for bringing more diverse perspectives to the workplace.

Bouyer implored each educator in the audience to make issues of diversity as personal as possible by answering a question he thinks is too seldom asked in business and business education: Why does diversity matter to you? The answer to this question is important because, as he put it, “you can’t have empathy for what you don’t have proximity to.”

He then gave all business schools a final call to action to make DEI an integral part of their missions. “This work is hard, and you need more than a glossy brochure with a few data points if you want to move the needle in this space. It’s going to take hard work, it’s going to take commitment, and it’s going to take passion,” he said. “We in corporate America are counting on you to deliver.”


Tricia Bisoux, Editor, AACSBTricia Bisoux is an editor with AACSB International.