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Darden Hosts Inaugural Diversity Week

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Last week, the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia hosted five full days of events, panels and workshops devoted to exploring the challenges and benefits of diversity in business. The Darden Student Association (DSA) and the Diversity Student Advisory Group (DSAG) helped launch this inaugural Darden Diversity Week as part of an effort to place discussion of diversity-related issues front and center within the Darden community.

The idea for a week focused on diversity was first raised by Darden’s student liaisons from the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, a nonprofit organization devoted to increasing the representation of African Americans, Hispanic Americans and Native Americans in business schools and corporate management. The suggestion, coming on the heels of a year in which a range of events focused the nation’s attention on both race relations and marriage equality, was readily embraced by the DSA’s first-ever vice president of diversity, second-year MBA student Patricia Martin. Previously, the DSA had a single vice president for both diversity and international students, but in recognition of the fact that the needs of the two groups are different, the roles were broken apart this past year.

Diversity Week
Martin distributes Diversity Week tee shirts

“One of my main goals in this new position was to take a more proactive approach to discussing diversity,” Martin says, acknowledging that several campus affinity groups did host discussions around diversity last year in reaction to national events. “I really wanted to think about incorporating diversity into the Darden fabric in a more proactive way,” she says.

And so Diversity Week was born. When approached by the Consortium student liaisons with the idea at the end of last year, Martin suggested that responsibility for coordinating the week’s events fall to the VP of diversity so that it would involve the entire Darden community and have continuity from one year to the next. Working closely with DSAG, the Consortium student liaisons and numerous other campus affinity groups, Martin scheduled a week full of events devoted to diversity in all of its forms, including ethnicity, gender, nationality, thought, culture and religion—all with a focus on its impact on business.

“This is what businesses and corporations are thinking about, and we wanted to make sure that Darden students are exposed to these issues before they go to their internships and jobs,” Martin says.

Events Each Day Explore Different Diversity Issues
The week’s programming kicked off with a First Coffee on Monday morning, followed by a panel discussion on education inequality and the STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) pipeline led by representatives from Hewlett-Packard and Boston Consulting Group. Co-sponsors included the Black Business Student Forum (BBSF), Hispanic American Network at Darden, the Technology Club and the Education Club.

Diversity WeekOn Tuesday, Darden’s own Professor Martin Davidson led a workshop on leveraging difference, helping participants think about how to talk about diversity without getting stuck in political correctness. The workshop was delivered in two sessions, one for first-year students and a second for second-year students, faculty and staff. “Professor Davidson is an expert in the field of leveraging diversity and having uncomfortable conversations in all areas—diversity of race, thought, backgrounds. He helped us learn how to break down barriers and be a bit more vulnerable to people, which allows you to have more difficult discussions,” Martin says.

Another panel focused on LGBTQ policies, specifically on how to attract and retain LGBTQ talent. This panel, co-sponsored by Pride at Darden, included representatives from McKinsey and Johnson & Johnson. Graduate Women in Business and the Finance Club co-sponsored their own panel on women in finance, drawing representatives from Amazon, Goldman Sachs, Harris William and J.P. Morgan.

Diversity WeekParticipation from so many high-profile companies really helped draw people to the events, Martin says. She estimates that between forty and fifty percent of Darden students attended at least one of the week’s events. “The fact that companies like McKinsey, J&J, BCG and Goldman Sachs are supporting this has been another stamp of approval,” she says. “These companies believe in the value of diversity.”

Complementing the serious tenor of many of the week’s events were more social activities as well, such as the BBSF Pink Party on Thursday night in support of breast cancer awareness. This event, which took place at a popular Mexican restaurant in downtown Charlottesville, was co-sponsored by multiple affinity groups, including the Adam Smith Society, Darden Capital Management, the General Management & Operations Club and the Marketing Club.

DSA also coordinated with Darden’s Office of Admissions, which each year hosts a series of “Darden Days” for prospective applicants, many of which target specific groups of applicants, such as members of the military or women. “Admissions worked with us so that the Darden Days focused on diversity fell during Diversity Week,” Martin says. In this way, prospective applicants considering Darden got a first-hand glimpse of the ways in which the community is coming together around issues of diversity.

Goal to Host a Diversity Event Each Month
In addition to coordinating Diversity Week, Martin has also set a goal of planning at least one diversity event every month. In September, DSA hosted a Black Lives Matter panel, October brought Diversity Week, and a Diversity Theater is scheduled for November. She’s also working on a future panel that will address issues of religious diversity.

She has also worked to involve not only full-time MBA students, but participants in Darden’s executive and global MBA programs. An EMBA student sat in on the Black Lives Panel, and the event was streamed for students not on campus.

By planning events each month—rather than holding events in reactions to issues that arise—Martin hopes to allow for better discussion and greater curiosity. “I think we will get better results when we offer events as an opportunity to learn from each other—rather something happening in the news and diversity suddenly getting thrown in people’s face,” she says.

Martin’s successor as DSA VP of diversity will inherit responsibility for continuing Diversity Week, and she hopes to leave him or her positioned to expand on this year’s efforts. “We’re only here for two years, you’re only on leadership for one and there are so many moving parts involved in planning an event like this,” she says. “This is the first time we have done this, but I will leave guidelines for whoever follows me, so it won’t be reinventing the wheel.”

Watch an interview about Diversity Week and diversity at Darden featuring DSA Vice President of Diversity Patricia Martin and Darden Associate Director of Diversity Recruiting Karen Ohen,