Shaking Up a Board's Makeup

Why Bentley University created a wider-ranging Business Advisory Council (BAC).
AS DEAN AT AN INTERNATIONAL business university, I know that, to produce ethical leaders who can flourish in multicultural organizations, my school must commit to creating a diverse community. This is why, at Bentley University, our current Business Advisory Council (BAC) is more diverse than it has ever been.

And this matters. A diverse advisory board encourages us to develop a broader strategic agenda, which in turn allows us to attract more diverse faculty. A more diverse faculty provides a wide spectrum of role models for our students, which allows us to enroll a more diverse student population. And that diverse student population appeals to corporate recruiters looking to hire new graduates.

But in 2013, we realized we had to shake up our BAC if we were to achieve our ideal, so we spent the next two years bringing in new voices. Today, our 31-member board is 61 percent alumni, 48 percent women, 23 percent African American, 13 percent Asian American, 16 percent Latino, and 13 percent international. Council members range from Exxon executives to representatives from Linden Organics, and they have titles such as chief diversity officer, chief executive officer, chief marketing officer, and director of risk management.

To assemble our new board, we first hired an executive director for external relations to sit within the dean’s office. To fill this position, we chose an individual whose long career at Bentley included stints as an assistant dean and high-level fundraiser. In his new role, he works to develop strong relationships with alumni, students, and corporate and academic partners. He also engages board members with the school by asking them to bring real-world projects into our classes and help students build professional networks.

In assembling our new board, we also acted on the belief that, while alumni are important, non-alumni voices are equally important and often more disruptive—and disruptive voices are what we need if we’re going to bring about institutional change. We committed to finding new advisory council members that varied not only by gender, race, and industry, but also by age. Different generations bring different perspectives, all of which are valuable.

Though advisory councils typically receive less attention than boards of trustees, their role is critical. They are the ones who offer advice on curriculum, strategy, and the business program’s agenda. More important, they are the ones who offer brutal honesty. Although their unfiltered points of view can sometimes be tough to hear, their comments shape our curricula for the better.

A university with a wide-ranging community will be more competitive, and students who learn in that community will be better equipped for the workplace of the future. Therefore, institutional strategy must be informed by diverse views if the school is to create a sustainable culture that will stand the test of time.
Roy “Chip” Wiggins is Dean of Business and the McCallum Graduate School of Business at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts.