Driven by Difference

Attendees at AACSB’s Diversity & Inclusion Summit identify the obstacles they’ve faced—and the successes they’ve achieved—in creating more diverse and inclusive campus communities.
Driven by Difference

DIVERSITY PROFESSIONALS WANT their organizations to view diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives not just as boxes to check off their to-do lists, but as integral, beneficial, and necessary parts of their strategic plans. That was a sentiment shared by attendees at AACSB International’s Diversity & Inclusion Summit held in New Orleans, Louisiana, in November 2019.

For business schools to achieve their DEI objectives, attendees agreed, they need to set distinct benchmarks for success, measure progress, and convince their stakeholders to view diversity as a priority. The biggest obstacle? Getting those stakeholders to acknowledge that a problem exists—and that they have the ability to solve it.


David Porter kicked off the summit with a presentation on what business schools can learn about DEI from industry. Porter—who assumed the role of chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, in August 2019—noted that organizations that are successful at creating diverse and inclusive cultures are the ones that set clear targets and measure their progress toward achieving them. “If you don’t have particular goals and objectives, how does your team know where it should be going, what it should be working on, how it should prioritize this issue versus any other issues?” Porter asked.

Another factor that hinders diversity? Many people are simply unaware of how much they are affected by their own personal biases. In fact, some faculty might not believe their schools lack diversity at all. Therefore, raising awareness of the problem is No. 1 on the agenda of many diversity professionals— and, for some schools, one of the best ways to raise awareness is to collect and share data on the problem. This not only allows academic leaders to quantify the number of underrepresented minorities on campus, but also highlights any discrepancies between stakeholder perceptions of campus diversity and reality.

In a presentation on “building inclusion with an assessment-based approach,” educators from the University of Utah in Salt Lake City described how the Eccles School of Business recently gathered data using the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI), an online survey developed by intercultural competence expert Mitchell Hammer. The IDI shows people where they fall on the spectrum of “diversity proficiency,” which identifies five mindsets: denial, polarization, minimization, acceptance, and adaptation.

The Eccles School asked incoming freshmen and transfer students accepted to its Business Scholars program to complete the IDI. Faculty then used the results as a basis for a workshop where students discovered their unconscious biases and honed their ability to navigate difference.

Administrators had assumed students were coming to the school with “minimization” mindsets, in which they supported the need for greater diversity, but lacked a deep understanding of what appreciating difference truly means. The IDI results, however, showed that incoming students, on average, still possessed polarization mindsets, in which they were defensive about their views of the world.

“Many of our students were coming into discussions with an ‘us versus them’ mindset,” said Victoria Cabal, director of the school’s Office for Student Inclusion. “It was an interesting piece of information for us [to have] to understand what was happening in our classrooms.”

Attendees agreed that when people don’t recognize the problem, they will be reluctant to fix it. And when barriers to diversity aren’t just unintentional, but sometimes invisible, data can help DEI professionals make a more compelling case for change. As one attendee noted, “We have to figure out what is that core vision that’s compelling enough that it can bring folks together.”


Data collection and analysis are just the beginning. Over the course of the summit, attendees shared a number of other DEI strategies that have proven successful on their campuses:

Require applicants to submit personal diversity statements. At Berkeley Haas, for example, applicants for faculty positions must submit diversity statements that outline what they will do to bring diversity into their research teams or classrooms.

Make DEI part of the promotion and tenure process. Many schools now ask faculty to outline their efforts to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion as part of their performance reviews.

Include diversity training in doctoral programs. With more institutions requiring candidates to submit diversity statements, the University of Nebraska in Lincoln now asks its doctoral students to prepare them as part of their curricula vitae.

Create an ecosystem across the entire institution. Such an ecosystem includes not just ensuring diverse student cohorts, but promoting diversity and inclusion through course content and the choice of corporate partners, guest speakers, and vendors. For example, does the school hire minority-owned vendors? Does its faculty choose case studies with underrepresented minorities as protagonists?

Provide opportunities for students to work across cultural differences. For instance, at EM Strasbourg Business School in France, 300 second-year students take part in a four-day cooking competition in which they form teams to create two original recipes that represent the cultural diversity of their team members. In the process, they learn “communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity,” explains Fatiha Bouteraa, head of organization and process at the school. Students also gain insight into each other’s cultural differences.

Ensure balanced representation on committees. Too often, organizations place the burden of carrying out DEI efforts onto underrepresented minorities. This approach is both unfair and ineffective, said Victoria Parker, an associate dean at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. She described a diversity committee meeting at UNH’s Peter T. Paul College of Business and Economics, where a senior faculty member declared, “We need more white men [here]. They’re the ones with the power.”

The Paul College now makes sure that diversity committee members represent “a microcosm of all the groups at the college,” from students and faculty to members of minority and majority groups, who all share their experiences.

Fix the institution, not the students. About two years ago, administrators at the Lancashire School of Business and Enterprise at the University of Central Lancashire in England discovered that international students weren’t performing as well as other students at the school. Faculty formed a committee to address the issue; at the committee’s recommendation, “we flipped our approach from trying to ‘fix the students’ to fixing ourselves,” said Pradeep Passi, director of academic development.

The school revised or removed modules to better serve the needs of its international students; it also recruited international student mentors who could facilitate better communication between faculty and students. The result: The number of international students earning degrees with honors has increased from 30 percent to 55 percent. “Our faculty have changed their mindsets to teach the students in front of them, not the students they might want to have,” said Passi.

Identify “risks for discrimination.” At the College of Business at California State University, Stanislaus, faculty examined every point of interaction the school has with its community—from hiring to pedagogy to extracurricular activities. Through this analysis, the college found 93 risks for discrimination across its programs.

For example, administrators discovered that because many international students did not have checking accounts with U.S. banks, it was more difficult for them to secure housing, explained Tomas Gomez-Arias, dean of the college. “What in your day-to-day policies could be discriminatory?” he asked.

Similarly, officials at the University of Utah realized that its three-day bereavement policy did not take into consideration the fact that individuals from some cultures might need to observe longer periods of bereavement after the death of loved ones. Once administrators identify such potentially discriminatory policies, they can implement appropriate risk mitigation strategies.

Monetize diversity initiatives. A session on funding DEI initiatives focused on turning them into self-sustaining sources of revenue. For example, Tayah Butler of North Carolina State University’s Poole College of Management in Raleigh shared how companies sponsor DEI-focused events on campus, paying hundreds of dollars to reserve tables at career fairs to speak to students about DEI initiatives in their organizations.

Binnu Palta Hill of the Wisconsin School of Business at the University of Wisconsin–Madison explained how WSB invites companies to sponsor “lunch and learn” events on topics related to diversity; it also offers exec ed programming in inclusive leadership. In addition, alumni have donated US$10 million for WSB to deliver its Business Emerging Leaders Program. The threeweek immersion brings high school students— most of whom are underrepresented minorities—to campus to expose them to the college experience.

Butler and Palta Hill also pointed out that in the U.S., the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act encourages banking institutions to donate funds that support community development. This means that many banks often are looking for ways to distribute this money. “They have to give this money away,” says Butler, “so give them a reason.”

Having the diversity and inclusion office “associated with revenue instead of cost is key,” says Palta Hill. “Embedding diversity and inclusion into the curriculum is where the real impact is. It’s the story that gets the attention of corporate donors and foundations.”


In one of six short TED Talk-style presentations, Nakeisha Lewis, an associate professor of marketing at Opus College of Business at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, summed up the scope of the challenge business schools face in their efforts to achieve diversity. Companies, she noted, “have spent millions of dollars” to improve workplace diversity, “but they’re still not moving the needle.” That’s why, she says, her school puts a DEI item on every agenda. Those items must demonstrate four attributes that she described using the acronym PAIL, which stands for purpose, authenticity, impact, and leadership.

No school can be perfectly inclusive, admitted Audrey Iffert-Saleem, director of the Center for the Advancement of Women in Leadership at Oregon State University’s College of Business in Corvallis. But every member of a business school’s community, she argued, has “some authority over some decisions that are made every day.” And every decision can contribute to greater diversity on campus.

In the end, the summit highlighted the factors that still hinder DEI at many business schools, as well as the increasingly complex task that academic diversity officers have before them. But there is hope in the success stories—and the new ideas attendees took back to their home campuses. In the following pages, we share even more stories from educators who are promoting DEI efforts in business education. As they continue to make progress, they hope their efforts will foster more inclusive and equitable learning environments—and, through greater diversity, lead to more dynamic and successful business organizations.

This article originally appeared in BizEd's March/April 2020 issue. Please send questions, comments, or letters to the editor to [email protected].

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