Harvard Business School Launches Action Plan for Racial Equity - Higher Education

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Harvard Business School Launches Action Plan for Racial Equity

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Harvard Business School – long critiqued for its lack of minority representation – launched an action plan for racial equity on Sept. 23, as universities across the country engage in an ongoing national reckoning with racism.

“The horrifying murder of George Floyd, and an all too long history of similar injustices, has spurred our collective awakening to the grave and continuing systemic racism in the United States that creates unacceptable, even dire inequities for our Black community members,” wrote Harvard Business School Dean Dr. Nitin Nohria in a statement. “This moment has made urgently clear that the School must redouble its commitment to combat racism—and anti-Black racism in particular—to create meaningful and enduring change that will enable every member of our community to thrive.”

In July, a taskforce of 25 staff, alumni and students came together to create a seven-layered plan. In it, the school commits to hiring a chief diversity officer and funding a series of visiting scholars on race and inequality. To foster faculty diversity, it’ll increase its support of higher education diversity organizations like The PhD Project and encourage its faculty units to hire candidates who study diversity by ensuring it won’t affect their capacity to hire other candidates.

The plan also promises to up minority student representation by offering a needs-based waiver of the application fee and creating a new fellowship for low-income students “who have demonstrated exemplary commitment to serving Black / African American, Hispanic / Latinx, and other marginalized communities of color prior to enrolling.” The Recognizing Individuals Seeking Equity (RISE) Fellowships will award each student $20,000 over the course of two years on top of needs-based tuition scholarships. The school also aims to offer low-cost online prep courses for diverse high school and early college students to expand the pool of students interested in business school. At the executive education level, it’ll create programs targeted at Black talent, like a program on the “unique challenges and opportunities of senior Black female leaders.”

To boost representation in the course material itself, Harvard Business School also plans to diversify the subjects of the case studies presented to students and to invest in publishing scholarship at the intersection of diversity and business.

“We set out to create a bold but achievable set of recommendations that included specific actions the School could take in the short, medium, and long term,” wrote Brian Kenny, chief marketing and communications officer at Harvard Business School, in an email to Diverse. “We tried to approach our work with humility. We believe the work we do to promote racial equity will not only benefit Black members of our community. It will also make Harvard Business School a better institution for every member of our community.”

The school’s diversity record leaves room for growth. Only 3% of faculty and staff are Black and 2% are Latinx with little to no variation since 2018. The 2022 incoming class of MBA students is 11% Black and 9% Latinx, a small jump from prior years, but there are no Black or Latinx students in this year’s class of 26 doctoral students. The Harvard Crimson reported, overall, only 5% of the school’s students were Black as of Fall 2018, a number that’s held steady since a decade before. And, curriculum-wise, only 4% of the cases assigned to business school first-years featured Black protagonists.

Unfortunately, Harvard Business School isn’t alone, said Farrokh Moshiri, a lecturer in Cal State Fullerton’s management department and marketing department.

He and Dr. Peter W. Cardon – academic director for the MBA for professionals & managers as well as professor of clinical business communication at the University of Southern California – published a study on best practices to increase racial diversity in business schools. Their research found that business schools across the country struggle with underrepresentation, particularly among faculty.

Across schools, “the faculty has very low representation of African Americans and Hispanics in a full-time capacity,” Moshiri said, about 4.5% and 2.5% respectively, and that’s hardly changed in 45 years. “That’s something that really hits you in the face when you go to most business schools. That is something that really needs to be addressed.”

But he thinks Harvard Business School is on the right track. His study examined what strategies businesses use to increase diversity and applied them to academia. It ultimately surveyed 317 business school deans and analyzed the 52 completed surveys to determine best practices employed by more diverse business schools, where at least 10% of full-time faculty members were underrepresented minorities.

He found that the “number one” step business schools could take to increase diversity was to create a structure for it, “making an office, people and full-time staff that their task is to increase diversity – and holding them accountable for that.”

His study also found that it was important to create pipelines to ensure a diverse talent pool, another focus of Harvard Business School’s plan.

“That’s exactly what Harvard is doing,” he said. “Pretty much everything that Harvard is doing is what our study shows that they should be doing.”

Sara Weissman can be reached at sweissman@diverseeducation.com. 

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