How Leaders Can Be Champions of Diversity

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Monday, July 25, 2022
2022 Innovations That Inspire representatives share how leaders can meaningfully champion diversity in business schools and business.
Speakers (in order of appearance): Zayne Imam, IE Business School; Tayah Butler, North Carolina State University; Michael Henry, Thompson Rivers University; Maggie Merry, North Carolina State University; Elizabeth Moon, University of California Davis; Joshua Park, SolBridge International School of Business; Abdul Hanan Chowdhury, North South University
  • Champions of diversity must listen to their students and ask whether they are being given the tools to thrive in their environment.  
  • Those who champion diversity should aim to identify systemic barriers that block us from enjoying full diversity and inclusion and model the behavior students will emulate in the future when they become leaders.  
  • Leaders, especially those who traditionally held power, are called upon to share power with those who have not had it; raising and amplifying other voices is a critical trait in leadership for the future.  

Learn more about AACSB's Innovations That Inspire member spotlight program, and view the 2022 highlighted selections


[0:00] [music]

Zayne Imam: [0:14] To be a champion of diversity, essentially, for me means to listen, especially to listen to my students. I'm humbled by their generation, and how much this particular subject matters to them in a way that's not nearly as accessible to me because I wasn't afforded the same set of experiences growing up that they have.

[0:45] From a university perspective, what it means to be a champion of diversity is that it means that we need to take a step back. Listen to our students when they feel so passionate.

[0:57] They're these seedlings who care so much about the subject matter. We need to ask if we're protecting them. If we're allowing them the space to grow, to be nurtured, and to have this conversation in a way that is the most productive.

Tayah Butler: [1:14] Being a champion of diversity means that one is humble. That one understands that they only know their lived experience. They can recognize when they need to shift, accept, and go out and reach for other experiences ‑‑ lived experiences, life experiences.

[1:36] A champion for diversity and inclusion is someone who will constantly ask, "What might I not be seeing?"

Michael Henry: [1:47] Being a champion of diversity in a business school and a university, perhaps in any organization, means that you have to take some risks. It means that you have to say some things sometimes that are not popular.

[2:00] It means that you have to identify, not only those individual instances but the systemic issues that are blocking us from full diversity, from full inclusion.

[2:12] At the same time, as a leader, especially, frankly, if you're a White male who's had a privileged life overall, it means that you have to be willing to give up your power. You have to be willing to use what power you have to amplify other voices.

Maggie Merry: [2:27] A champion of diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, and well‑being is somebody who knows where we need to go in the future, who sees that and who knows how to apply all of those aspects in their life, their teaching, and their relationships to help our students be more successful for us to lift others up, everybody up. We have to lift everybody up so that their voices are heard.

Elizabeth Moon: [2:57] Being a champion of diversity requires all of us to listen. To put our own biases that we bring to the table because everyone does, and take a moment, hear each person's voice, and what they have to share.

Joshua Park: [3:13] Being a champion of diversity, I feel is more than just being accepting or tolerant of diversity. It is someone who sees the value of diversity, seeks it out, and notices any deficiencies that may exist, then seek to change.

Henry: [3:29] If a business school wants their students to feel included, to recognize equity, to value diversity inclusion, then students who are coming into your school have to see themselves in positions of power. They have to see people like them, who are full professors, who are deans, who are senior administrators.

[3:52] It's incumbent upon us, as leaders in business schools, to create those pathways. To eliminate some of the barriers. So that when a young person walks into a business school, they can say, "I can be the dean. I can be a full professor. I can be the president of this university."

Imam: [4:08] There's something to be said for us embracing diversity, but diversity and inclusion down to the core of what it truly means. True diversity of thought, to a large extent, means being able to step back and observe a degree of humility when you hear that this is somebody's perspective.

[4:32] Truly be able to include that perspective in the classroom, even if it's not something that we necessarily understand initially. It's down to the core of why I think we're educators is that we're curious, and we want to enable our students to be able to succeed.

[4:51] I guarantee you that if there weren't a couple of administrators/educators who saw the idea of the students back in 2005/2006, who thought to themselves they wanted to create a forum for LGBT students so that they never had to go back into the closet when they were re‑entering the workforce.

[5:15] If that particular idea was not heard by those administrators and educators with that level of humility, with that level of understanding, we wouldn't be sitting here right now.

Park: [5:29] Schools can help students to develop this view and become champions of diversity. It can start in the classroom, like with groups.

[5:40] Rather than allowing students to form homogenous groups of, for example, for us, all Korean students with all international students in different groups, similar languages, or religions just being a group, or similar genders being in a group, we try to mix them up.

[5:57] Going beyond that, we can help to have student leaders or student leadership that is very diverse. For example, with us, like with many other institutions, we do have diversity requirements or diversity standards for our student council. We can start there.

[6:13] Going beyond that, that's a basic thing that all schools should do. We should have outreach, engagement, impact programs, where we're not just leaving it to students, but we're bringing that as part of something that we fund with our school funding or bring in funding from the local governments to interact with our local governments, businesses, and society at large.

[6:38] In that regard, they're prepared, not as students, but as members of society, ready to become champions of diversity when they enter the workforce.

Merry: [6:47] The mindset that the students need that we need to help them develop is based on foundational skills of empathy, listening, understanding. The ability to have difficult conversations. The ability to feel uncomfortable, and what that feels like. How do you work through that? By listening, talking, and respect?

[7:11] It's not just about, "OK, this is what diversity means." It's about building those human skills, just to quote some colleagues, about building those human skills to be a better person.

Moon: [7:26] UC Davis Graduate School of Management has worked on this prior to the pandemic. We brought in a special group that would do interactive theater to talk about, how do you work with team members?

[7:37] This interactive theater experience would actually teach students through role‑playing how to address different people, in different situations, with different backgrounds. You have your parents who are in the program. You have military veterans in your program. You have folks who are coming from a very different background.

[7:58] You have your underrepresented folks who are coming to the table for the first time, who may not have known that even graduate school was a possibility at one point. You're bringing all these voices to the table. You're learning how to talk with each other, and understanding how to stand up for each other.

[8:16] I believe being a champion of this is important that you know the skills to listen, you know the skills of how to stand up for others around you to work on what I call micro‑affirmations, and so that you're constantly building others up around you.

Abdul Hanan Chowdhury: [8:35] In our school, I, being the dean, I have taken many initiatives, in terms of addressing those causes, and try to incorporate diversity, equity issues, and inclusiveness, access, and belongingness.

[8:55] On one front, to these students through our programs that we are running. So that we can see that our students or graduates are eventually going to be transformed and converted as being a good human beings, and eventually be able to reflect their knowledge in the workplace in order to achieve a better society, better community, a better world, I will say.

Butler: [9:24] A very significant mentor in my life taught me, each one, teach one. The most authentic way to show these values for diversity, inclusion, or in belonging is to role model them.

[9:39] We can teach subject matters, and we can provide workbooks and textbooks. If our faculty and our administrators aren't leading by example, then our students will not see the sincerity and the importance.

[9:55] Sometimes I wonder, if students aren't given the opportunity to feel belonging and to feel included, how will they know how to create that space when they're business leaders as well? That's what our challenge will be, is how do we focus on those environments that we're leading by example?

[10:15] [music]

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