Business school deans discuss diversity, inclusion in business education

Tuesday, October 13, 2020 - 7:31pm

Business School deans met to discuss diversity virtually.

Business School deans met to discuss diversity virtually. Buy this photo
Courtesy of George Weykamp

Seven business school deans from across the country gathered on Tuesday for a live webinar to discuss issues concerning diversity, equity and inclusion in education. The event, hosted by the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, comes on the heels of growing concerns over a lack of diversity among students and faculty at the Business School.

Each representative answered questions poised from both moderator and Business Professor David Wooten, as well as prepared questions from the viewing audience.

Much of the conversation at the webinar focused on identifying obstacles in improving campus diversity, as well as providing mechanisms to fix them. 

When asked about how business schools are doing in terms of diversity compared to the business industry as a whole, Raghu Sundaram, dean of New York University’s Stern School of Business, said universities have done a better job diversifying than companies have.

“When you look at boardrooms … and Fortune 500 CEOs, and you look at our classrooms, you see greater diversity in classrooms,” Sundaram said. “When you look at the leadership of our student bodies, our student clubs, in a lot of ways it's better than industry.”

Nicole Jenkins, dean of the University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Business, said business education differs from the actual experience of working in the business world.

“I think we’re lagging," Jenkins said. "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.”

Ross School of Business Dean Scott DeRue seconded Jenkins’ remarks on social and economic barriers. DeRue said schools often focus on rankings of their schools, which do not usually include the diversity of a student body when determining where schools fall.

“Rankings drive behavior for a lot of business schools,” DeRue said. “To date, our ranking favors things like selectivity, test scores or GPAs over diversity or over inclusion or equity.”  

The event comes amid renewed calls for changes to the University’s Business School. Students have shared concerns about the experience of people of color in the predominantly white school. 

In a previous interview with The Michigan Daily, Business junior Karla Bell, Black Business Undergraduate Society president, said she has dealt with microaggressions when working in small groups in classes where a majority of the other students were white.

“There have been experiences, especially working within teams, where I would say something and then I’m not heard, and then someone will say a similar thing and then they’ll be listened to,” Bell said. “A lot of times, it’s the lack of people believing that you have the skills that you obviously have because we’re all in the same place.”

Kerwin Charles, dean of Yale University’s School of Management, also cited concerns over curriculum as a major structural challenge facing business school administrations.

“There are fields represented in schools of business that don’t naturally include diversity talk,” Charles said. “It is harder to introduce a topic of race or representation in a class on accounting than it would be if I were talking about a course on real estate law.”

Charles said universities can make students uncomfortable and challenge them through open conversation.

The school leaders also discussed solutions. William Boulding, dean of Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, called for business school administrations to diverge from the norm when adopting diversity policies, noting they should be prepared to face backlash.

“Not everyone will support your efforts,” Boulding said. “The more you try to drive these changes, the more the status quo will organize to resist those changes.” 

Francesca Cornelli, dean of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Business, said business schools need to find different ways to evaluate potential students apart from quantifiable statistics. Cornelli said schools should try to look at students’ potential rather than just metrics.

The panel then moved on to discuss the role of faculty in campus diversity. Both Sundaram and Charles called for universities and business schools alike to broaden the pipeline from which they selected faculty candidates.

They also said there was a tendency for universities to recruit faculty members from a specific set of schools or programs. Sundaram cited NYU Stern’s addition of underrepresented doctoral candidates from related fields to come to teach and interact with students as an example of business schools broadening students’ views on the industry. 

The panel addressed the importance of diversity in higher education in preparing students for a diverse workforce. Boulding criticized the idea of having mandatory diversity training, instead favoring incorporating diversity into the core business curriculum.

DeRue said diversity must be integrated into the core business curriculum rather than in training, but also noted the necessity of promoting diversity in conducting everyday business.

“Every business leader in today’s global marketplaces must be able to lead diverse teams (and) build inclusive organizations,” DeRue said. “Every student needs to understand that on a very deep and profound note.” 

Daily News Contributor George Weykamp can be reached at gweykamp@umich.edu

Correction: This article has been updated to add additional context to Jenkins' quote about the difference between business education and the business world. 


The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown challenges at all of us — including The Michigan Daily — but that hasn’t stopped our staff. We’re committed to reporting on the issues that matter most to the community where we live, learn and work. Your donations keep our journalism free and independent. You can support our work here.

For a weekly roundup of the best stories from The Michigan Daily, sign up for our newsletter here.