Diversity and Inclusion: From Plan to Action

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Tuesday, June 6, 2023
By Sharon Shinn
Photo by iStock/filadendron
Discussing diversity initiatives is one thing—implementing them is another. How can business schools go from identifying problems to solving them?
  • At a recent AACSB conference, two educators discussed how their schools diagnosed and addressed diversity issues on their campuses.
  • Kozminski University improved gender equality by equalizing pay, highlighting the work of female professors and staff, and creating programs targeted at women.
  • The University of Iowa promoted inclusivity by creating new administrative positions, integrating DEI into all school activities, and creating a classroom guide for teachers.

A school might pledge to increase the diversity of its student body or create a more inclusive environment, but how can administrators turn their goals into reality? Two educators answered that question during “From Plan to Action,” a session at AACSB’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging Conference held virtually in mid-March.

Anna Górska is an assistant professor in the human resource management department and director of the Research Center for Women and Diversity in Organizations at Kozminski University (KU) in Warsaw, Poland. She also serves as a member of the school’s international accreditations team and co-leader of the school’s Gender Equality Plan.

Michele Williams is an associate professor of management and entrepreneurship at the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business in Iowa City. She is also the school’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Faculty Fellow; John L. Miclot Fellow in Entrepreneurship; and SFBI Scholar.

At the conference, the two women discussed how their schools had diagnosed issues with diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI); devised strategies to address the problems; and implemented their plans to effect real change.

Focusing on Gender Equality at KU

Górska led off by describing how Kozminski University had identified and addressed issues related to gender equality. At KU, the topic had gained importance in part because the European Union “has encouraged all universities across EU to introduce their own gender equality plans if they would still like to participate in the EU’s funding schemes,” Górska noted.

But internal advocates at KU also were pressing for more equality. It was clear not only that men predominated in certain business programs—particularly the EMBA—but also that female professors were not advancing as quickly through their careers as their male counterparts. Górska said, “We decided to look at the issue very seriously and find the reason behind it.”

The first step was for the school to analyze secondary data about professors in terms of how many papers they published, how much money they earned, and how many hours they spent teaching. Data was organized not just by gender, but also by teaching positions, years of experience, academic titles, and other factors. “We found some disturbing discrepancies between men and women,” said Górska.

The school also launched an annual satisfaction survey that included gender perspectives to determine the differences between men and women; and it conducted focus group discussions with students, faculty, and administrative staff to get in-depth qualitative feedback.

It was clear that men predominated in certain business programs and that female professors were not advancing as quickly through their careers as their male counterparts.

One key finding was that women were performing the vast majority of “invisible work” such as providing emotional support to students, working with student associations, and organizing events. This time-consuming work was not reflected in evaluations and gave female professors less time to publish research, slowing their career progress.

Based on this data, the school came up with a plan to improve equality through five objectives: supporting the development of women’s careers; increasing the involvement of women in the functioning of the university; encouraging work-life balance, especially for women with children; making “invisible work” visible by acknowledging it and including it in evaluations; and fostering an inclusive culture.

Putting a Plan Into Practice

“Strategizing is one thing, but it’s crucial how a plan is operationalized,” Górska said. KU committed to embedding gender-based initiatives across the university in these ways:

At the organizational level, the goal was to make the gender equality plan part of, not separate from, the school’s general strategy. First, the school instituted equal pay for men and women in the same positions, which was “one of the biggest costs we had to bear.” The school also implemented training opportunities designed to help faculty and administrative staff create an open and inclusive culture.

At the administrative and faculty level, the school looked for ways to showcase the work of its women. The school launched a new center, started a social media campaign, promoted research written by women, and highlighted information about “distinguished professors and any women who had interesting hobbies or stories to share.”

The school also began encouraging the use of inclusive language, as well as language that celebrated gender differences. For instance, in Polish, the word profesor denotes the male gender, but for years it had been the term used for both men and women; as part of gender equality initiatives, the school encouraged people to use profesorka when speaking of or to female professors.

At the external level, the school made similar efforts by using profesorka in outside communications. The school also began working with a PR agency that helped promote the visibility of KU’s women.

At the classroom level, the school created additional programs and opportunities. New courses in managing diversity and promoting gender equality in organizations were launched as electives but eventually will be integrated into the core. The school also created a postgraduate program specifically aimed at women leaders, as well as more accessible online and summer programs.

As part of the gender equality plan, Kozminski University instituted equal pay for men and women in the same positions.

At the research level, the school established the Kozminski University Research Center for Women and Diversity in Organizations. Conducting and disseminating research about gender roles “legitimizes our initiatives,” said Górska.

At the student level, the school encouraged more student-run initiatives. For instance, students have established their own scientific network called Women in Organizations, which coordinates networking, debates, workshops, and seminars. According to Górska, these student groups have become part of “the community that generates equality through every level of Kozminski University.”

Promoting Inclusivity at Iowa

At the Tippie College of Business, recent efforts have focused on the wider diversity and inclusion issues that arise at a public university designed to serve a broad community of students, said Williams.

Every other year, the university conducts two campus climate surveys—one directed at faculty and staff, one at students. The surveys not only track the proportions of students from different groups, but also ask students, faculty, and staff whether they feel respected and believe they have a say in their work.

“One of the things we learned is that some groups—for instance, older workers—felt less included than others. And there were people from religious backgrounds other than Christian who felt they were less included,” said Williams.

Students on campus also launched a social media campaign called “Does Iowa ♥ me?” that allowed them to share their experiences of microaggressions and exclusions. The campaign, said Williams, “brought to the forefront” the work the university still must do to be more inclusive.

To address these issues through an action plan, the school hired a woman-owned consulting firm, then held a town hall meeting to discuss how to create a culture of diversity. A first draft was presented and discussed at a second town hall before the plan was finalized and posted on the website.

The plan contained four main goals for the school: to create an inclusive and equitable environment; to recruit people who could contribute to creating a diverse community; to integrate DEI into teaching, research, and service activities; and to enhance DEI accountability and effectiveness.

Operationalizing the Initiatives

The first steps were to reinforce existing strengths in programming, assess faculty needs, and determine how to make classrooms more accessible and inclusive. The next steps were very action-oriented: to appoint an associate director of undergraduate engagement and belonging to oversee existing programs and create new ones, and to appoint an inaugural DEI Faculty Fellow to help increase a sense of belonging among employees.

Iowa’s plan included four goals: to create an inclusive environment, recruit a diverse community, integrate DEI into all activities, and enhance DEI accountability.

The school also supported many additional initiatives:

  • The Summer Gateway Program, which targets first-generation high school students and students from underrepresented groups.
  • BizEdge, which helps students build a sense of community on campus.
  • The Dore-Tippie Women’s Leadership Program, which brings together people of all genders to discuss the challenges of leadership.
  • The DEI Ambassadors program, in which ambassadors work with student clubs and participate in other school initiatives.
  • Technology scholarships given out during COVID to students who lacked the resources to transition to virtual learning.

As part of making classrooms more inclusive, administrators searched for a definition of inclusion that everyone could agree on. They chose one from the Society for Human Resources Management, which calls inclusion “the achievement of an environment in which all individuals are treated fairly and respectfully, have equal access to opportunities and resources, and can contribute fully to the organization’s success.”

To implement these principles, the school first developed a guide to help faculty create inclusive classrooms, which included descriptions of activities faculty could plan to help students get to know each other. For instance, students could form small groups to enjoy a meal, take pictures together, and write about what they learned from each other.

The school also supported the launch of the Inclusive Club Hackathon sponsored by the business analytics club; the creation of the Inclusive Team Checklist to help students pay attention to how they’re interacting with each other; and the development of the Inclusive Leadership course for the MBA program.

Audience Feedback

During the session’s question and answer period, one attendee asked if either Górska or Williams had experienced pushback as they implemented diversity measures, and both said yes. At KU, said Górska, many people questioned the need to use gendered titles and pronouns. She said, “That’s why there is still a need to talk about it.”

Williams explained that, in the U.S., there has been pushback at the legislative level in several states. Florida has passed a law banning DEI programming at state-funded institutions, and Iowa is seeking to eliminate DEI positions and mandatory DEI training. This means Tippie must be careful in how it approaches and discusses its important DEI initiatives.

When another audience member noted that the DEI acronym has become very politicized, Williams responded that all universities will need to acknowledge relevant local laws as they choose the language and frameworks they use for their DEI initiatives. Therefore, she suggested, administrators at each school should determine what language to use when they are discussing empathy, inclusion, and diversity efforts on their own campuses.

Sharon Shinn
Editor, AACSB Insights
The views expressed by contributors to AACSB Insights do not represent an official position of AACSB, unless clearly stated.
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