BUSINESS SCHOOLS WORLDWIDE are
adopting initiatives designed to make
everyone in their communities
feel welcomed and supported. At some
universities, these efforts are led by
faculty and administrators
who are themselves members of underrepresented
groups. At other schools,
institutional policies and behaviors
have only served to isolate minority
professors and students even more.
BizEd asked four academic leaders
how they have worked for equality,
acted as role models, and overcome
the challenges minorities often face
in academic environments. Below, we share
their insights on what strategies they
have found to be most successful in
promoting true diversity, equity, and
inclusion in higher education—and
what more still needs to be done.
'Our Right to Exist'
Last summer, when Carma Claw became an assistant professor of management
at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, she was the first
Diné, or Navajo, citizen to be a doctorally qualified business professor
at an AACSB-accredited business school, according to the college. She
earned her doctorate as part of The PhD Project, which is dedicated to
attracting underrepresented minorities to business doctorate programs.
Last November, she presented at AACSB’s Diversity and Inclusion
Summit, and she further describes her path to academia below.
After earning your MBA at New Mexico State University, you worked for 17 years in the
defense sector before deciding to pursue your PhD at NMSU. How welcome did you
feel in your doctoral program, given your perspective as a Diné citizen and the type of
research you wanted to pursue?
As I was looking at doctoral programs, I visited campuses when I traveled for my job—
well-known institutions with high percentages of native populations. But I didn’t feel those
campuses were welcoming—perhaps based on the people I spoke with. After several years,
I found Joe Gladstone, then an assistant professor at New Mexico State who was studying
Native American enterprises. Joe had found mentors, so I knew there would be professors
there to support me. When I made my campus visit, the dean at the time was also very excited
and supportive. I felt he was authentic when he talked about this avenue of research.
From the late 1800s to the 1970s, the U.S. government forced many Native American
parents to send their children to boarding schools to receive a Western education. You
have described how your great-grandparents refused to send your grandmother to
these schools. How did their resistance affect your own education?
In the late 1800s, the Navajos were being rounded up and sent off to concentration camps.
When they were released, the government decided, “If we cannot exterminate them, let’s
assimilate them.” But my great-grandfather decided to protect his children from these
schools, which he viewed as another way to extinguish the Navajo existence. Because of
that decision, my grandmother was able to pass our philosophy to my mother.
Eventually, Navajo leadership decided that we would have to
adapt to the changing environment we were living in if we were to
be able to fight for our right to exist. We would have to incorporate
some Western education without losing who we are. So, when I
went to college, my mother told me, “Don’t forget your language.
Don’t forget who you are as a Navajo.” She told me to use Western
education as a tool, not as a replacement for my Navajo education.
You have noted that many business schools view your research
on enterprises operating within tribal cultures as too “niche” to
support. What is lost when such research is overlooked?
Culturally specific business research related to indigenous cultures
already exists, it’s just rarely recognized. I remember studying
the idea of reciprocity—the theory of social exchange—in my first
organizational behavior seminar. I thought, “This sounds exactly like
my culture.” When I started looking into it, I realized, “That’s because
it comes from the study of indigenous culture!” But schools often
teach the concept without a direct link back to the original research.
When business leaders don’t have a connection to these authentic
sources, they are not fully informed. People like me, who are
connected to those authentic sources, can help strengthen their
understanding and make this information more reliable and credible.
At AACSB’s D&I Summit, you described the willingness to pursue
culturally specific research as “a form of resistance as research.”
Could you expand on what you meant by that?
By “resistance as research,” I mean we must create what [Arizona
State researcher] Bryan Brayboy calls “liminal spaces”—spaces
where we find ways to exist and pursue the work we want to do. I
think these spaces are out there. Just the other day, I read newspapers from native communities that quoted several Native American
PhDs. There’s a whole group of indigenous scholars finding ways
to share what we know—what mainstream society has told us is
inferior or irrelevant. That’s exciting, but we need to see more of it.
Creating these spaces is part of my job now. Joe mentored me,
and it’s now up to me to find a student to mentor, especially in business
academia where we don’t have a lot of representation.
What might attract more Native Americans to business schools?
It’s difficult for people to have a positive experience in programs
where their perspectives are not accepted by top leadership. For
example, I know that many programs would never look at me as a
potential researcher—they would view my work as too diverse, too
narrow, irrelevant, or nongeneralizable. But it’s important for institutions
to see the potential for “outlier” research to generate new
and interesting insights into business phenomena. When they do,
students will view their cultures as places of growth and opportunity
that support new ways of thinking.
How can schools bridge Western and Native American cultures?
It would be helpful to develop more case studies on topics that
affect indigenous populations, such as the Dakota Access Pipeline
(DAPL). It also would be helpful to ask nonindigenous students,
“How do you think an indigenous person would view this? What
would you do if faced with this situation?” Faculty could ask students
to compare how indigenous communities have responded to
situations such as the DAPL to how nonindigenous communities
have responded to similar situations; they could adapt sources written
by indigenous scholars in other disciplines to business environments.
Such approaches would help bridge the two spaces.
Is it as simple as creating more case studies?
I think institutions also need to consider the community outside of the organization, which can be difficult for people to navigate. For example, Fort Lewis is located in what is considered a border town, which lies along the border of Indian communities. It’s a town where racial differences still exist. When I came here, I had to consider, do I want to be in that space? Are my kids ready to take on that kind of environment? But I realized that we would face difficulties anywhere we went, so we must learn to manage them.
That’s why I always tell my kids, “Act like you’re supposed to be here, because you are.” When my middle-school-aged daughter faced racism at her school, I told her, “Let’s not look at it from a discrimination standpoint, let’s look at it from a miscommunication standpoint and see how far we can get.” When we’re in town and my kids say, “We’re the only brown people here!” I tell them, “Act like we’re supposed to be here. We’re having a good time.”
Journey to Leadership
Terrill L. Drake is the associate dean of strategic
initiatives at the Villanova School of Business
in Pennsylvania. He oversees external
relations; diversity, equity, and inclusion; and
programs and events. He also serves as the
chief operating officer for VSB outreach and
What challenges did you overcome in your journey to your
When I started at my previous post, I immediately recognized a lack
of representation at the highest levels of senior leadership. There
were a handful of underrepresented minorities at the director level,
but no clear path or opportunities for any one of us to be a part of
the dean’s leadership team. There were no natural leaders I could
look to as advocates. This created a glass ceiling for underrepresented
minorities, which contributed to turnover for high-potential
members of this group over the years.
I saw this as a challenge to overcome and made it my personal
mission to earn a spot on the senior leadership team. While I was
given promotions to executive director and earned a full scholarship
into the executive MBA program, what I ultimately wanted was
an opportunity to lead change at the highest levels of the organization.
I wanted to be the voice for my team or others like me.
After conversations with the dean and vice dean, I was given the
opportunity to write a proposal for an organizational restructure
that would create a position for an assistant dean who would serve
as the chief operating officer. After many iterations, my proposal
was accepted and the new role was created. There was a shared
understanding that I would be appointed to this position after a national
search process would legitimize my candidacy. But, ultimately,
I wasn’t chosen for the role, in part due to a change in leadership
at the dean level.
What was your next step?
I expressed disappointment and pointed out the need to diversify
the voices among our leadership. Eventually, I was promoted to the
leadership team and had the opportunity to establish and oversee
the office of diversity initiatives, which focused on inclusion issues
for faculty, staff, and students. I took on this new responsibility in addition to my role overseeing the office of programs and events
and advising the dean and vice dean on strategic initiatives. The
new position gave me the opportunity I had been looking for to
bring about change and allowed me to be a voice not only for myself,
but for others.
It also led me to my current position at the Villanova School of
Business. Culture was extremely important to me in my job search,
and I wanted to be a part of a community that values the contributions
of all faculty, staff, and students.
Based on your experience, what initiatives do you think work
the best to increase inclusivity and diversity among students,
staff, and faculty?
It is extremely important for people in positions of power to mentor
and sponsor talented individuals from underrepresented groups.
Mentors and sponsors build the network of people who not only
understand what those individuals do, but realize the value these
individuals bring to the organization. Sponsors can ask if all of the
voices are being heard around the table when a school is making
Simply put, if organizations want to increase diversity, they need
to make sure the culture is set up to seek out diverse opinions and
put people from underrepresented groups in positions of power.
Representation is important as we look to recruit faculty, students,
and staff. We need to communicate a desire to change and
the benefits of change within an organization, because the world
around us is also changing.
Do you think part of your job is to be a role model for students,
staff, and faculty who come from underrepresented groups?
I believe my role is to be a resource to assist them with their needs.
I take many opportunities one-on-one or in groups to listen and
understand their experiences, and I help them voice their unique
experiences to our leaders. I also mentor them and work to create an
environment where they feel included. I want them to look back on
their experience here and see they were thriving instead of surviving.
At the Villanova School of Business, we believe our efforts to
create an inclusive, equitable, and diverse community will enhance
mutual respect and give every member of the community a sense
Working Across Differences
A.T. Miller serves as the chief diversity officer for
Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant.
Before coming to CMU, Miller served as
associate vice provost for academic diversity
at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and
as faculty director of the Center for Global and
Intercultural Study at the University of Michigan
in Ann Arbor. He also helped start and directed the
Africana studies program at Union College in Schenectady, New York.
What inspired you to study issues related to race?
My parents were very active in the civil rights and open housing
movements when I was a child. I learned early on that there are
lines we should not cross in terms of our own identity. In other
words, you can’t just assume that you can join in other communities
and other engagements—you have to know how to be a
respectful ally and advocate.
Since then, I’ve come to understand more and more about
power and privilege, about the imbalances and inequities within
our society. I’ve learned that it’s important to know how to navigate
where power is flowing.
How have you seen higher education’s attention to diversity,
equity, and inclusion change over your career?
Each of my various positions has reflected what at that time was
considered the way to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).
At Union, for example, I was a faculty member and program director
of Africana Studies, and then I chaired the multicultural affairs advisory
group. Those first efforts often took the form of task forces
and committees run by dedicated volunteers.
I went to Ann Arbor as the coordinator of multicultural teaching
and learning, as universities started investing more in these efforts.
At the time, these new positions were often established as a result
of campus activism—my role grew out of a movement on campus
called FAIR Teach, or Faculty Against Institutional Racism. Then,
when I went to Cornell as associate vice provost, institutions were
taking diversity, equity, and inclusion even more seriously.
Now that I’m chief diversity officer at CMU, DEI is in the C-suite.
Now that institutions understand that the complexity and persistence
of these issues must be addressed more systemically,
more universities have chief diversity officers to address socially
embedded inequities in all realms of the institution, not just in the
classroom or within the student experience.
Was it difficult for you to be accepted as a white man teaching
Africana and race studies?
Oh, yes. I’d walk into the room, and people would ask, “You’re the
professor?” I think that’s healthy—it’s important that everyone is
conscious and questioning and aware at all times. But I know many
people don’t want to ask these questions out loud. So, I’ve learned
to get the fact that I’m a white diversity officer on the table, because
it’s an important part of my identity and how I’m doing this work.
You also ask whether people have been “accepting,” but I think
it’s more important that people are open to working across differences.
You may not accept other people’s politics, but you need to
be able to listen and share your viewpoint with them in a respectful
way, not write them off or have a shouting match. Everyone, including
myself, should always be slightly off balance, slightly uncomfortable.
I try to stay in a learning mode and in a state of curiosity—
to ask others, “How do you do this?” or “How are you involved?”
Could you describe situations when you’ve had to apply this skill?
There are moments when I need to make folks in the LGBTQ
community understand that just because the university’s diversity
officer is a gay man, that doesn’t mean they “win” or get extra attention.
And then there are times when things get a little too warm
and friendly—the doors close, and people think, “Oh, we’re all white
here, so I’m going to say this.” I don’t want others to assume I’m
part of their group just because I look this way or behave that way.
That said, I’ve learned that it’s helpful to be the person in a room
full of men who can view issues through a feminist lens. I might be
able to leverage my perspective in a way that a woman could not
because of persistent systemic misogyny. I try to learn from the
discomfort of these moments, rather than ignore it.
What advice would you offer to other diversity professionals?
That diversity where people don’t feel included is chaos, and
inclusion where everyone agrees with each other is not diversity.
One without the other doesn’t work. Schools need to find the right
balance if they are to create communities where people can be fully
themselves. If people are constantly self-censoring, they’re not
able to give their best work.
Also know that with true diversity and inclusion, there will
always be misunderstandings. We must notice and attempt to
address these moments by learning and growing from them, not
by trying to eliminate them.
A Better Way to Show Belonging
Kamil Omoteso is pro vice-chancellor and dean
of the College of Business, Law and Social Sciences
at the University of Derby in the United
Kingdom. Previously, he was the head of the
School of Economics, Finance and Accounting
at Coventry University in the U.K., and he also
has held academic positions at Lagos State University
in Nigeria, De Montfort University in Leicester
in the U.K., and University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield, in the U.K.
Is there one particular challenge or incident you have experienced
as part of an underrepresented group in a business
In one of my previous institutions, all the staff within the department
had to be relocated to a new space. To our surprise, the only
four black staff members—out of about 35—were relocated to
the same segment of the building with our offices adjoining each
other’s. Even the nonblack staff in the department were shocked to
see the arrangement. We used to jocularly refer to the area as the
“colonial wing.” My thought on this was, “Is there a better way to tell
a group of people that they don’t belong here?”
How did you react? How did the institution react?
We just rolled with it—held our heads up and did the job we were employed
to do, and we did it really well. The issue was addressed immediately
when a new head of the department assumed the office.
The four of us didn’t have to say a word about it—it was too obvious!
Based on your own personal experience, what initiatives do you
think work the best to increase inclusivity and diversity among
students and faculty in higher education?
One of the things that works is mentoring on different aspects of
academic and leadership progressions. Mentors can be internal,
external, ethnic minority, and ethnic majority. Sponsorship is also
good for boosting confidence and providing reassurance, advocacy,
Other things that work are unconscious bias training for managers
and colleagues, role modeling, fairness, and fair representation.
As for quotas, sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t.
What obstacles do you believe are still hindering change at the
university and in the workplace?
One obstacle is the negative mindset or perception that minorities
can’t be good enough. Another is risk aversion, as executives or
administrators think it might be “risky” to hire black, Asian, and
minority ethic (BAME) candidates. Another problem is the lack of
role models, which perpetuates the vicious cycle.
Do you think part of your job is to be a role model or resource for
students and staff who come from underrepresented groups?
It certainly is. I’ve had BAME students tell me how proud they are
to meet a black professor or pro vice-chancellor. I’ve experienced
this within the university, at recruiting events, at graduation, and so
on. My presence boosts the aspirations of these students, creating
a mentality that says, “If he achieved this, it means I can.” Some
students have even approached me informally to be their mentor.
My presence also has an effect on the staff. I’ve observed an
increase in the proportion of BAME applicants whenever we advertised
any post, whether for an academic or leadership position. This
has followed me everywhere I go.
This article originally appeared in BizEd's March/April 2020 issue. Please send questions, comments, or letters to the editor to [email protected].
Driven by Difference
Committing to Diversity
Creating a Sense of Belonging
Creating the All-Inclusive Campus
¿Son Las Mujeres Iguales?
The Inclusive Curriculum
Learning Other Cultures