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From Darden to Haas: Tackling Issues of Race and Diversity Head On

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With issues of race and diversity in the headlines daily—driven by continuing national attention around police shootings, controversial state-legislated bathroom policies and the extraordinarily contentious election season, among other things—leading MBA programs from coast to coast are tackling these complex subjects head on.

UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business this past weekend hosted a Diversity Symposium for prospective applicants, featuring panels and workshops tailored to issues surrounding women, racial and ethnic minorities, the LGBTQ community and veterans. While Haas has put on this event each fall for several years, a record 250 prospective students were expected to take part this year, joining more than 100 current students, alumni, faculty and staff.

“Our mission as a school is to develop leaders who redefine how we do business, and that requires people who experience the world in different ways, who think differently, and who welcome different ways of thinking,” Haas Dean Rich Lyons said in an article looking ahead to the event on the school’s website. “We want to do everything we can to create an environment where everyone feels included and has the support to succeed.”

It’s an attitude that current Haas students get behind—even as they recognize that more work needs to be done. A group of full-time MBA students recently conducted a survey of their classmates, discovering that while 90 percent believe that understanding racial dynamics is critical to effective leadership, fewer than half felt comfortable talking about race.

Let’s Talk About Race

Race Inclusion Initiative leaders from the full-time MBA classes of 2016 and 2017; Photo courtesy of Haas

Propelled to do something about this disconnect, Haas students last spring formed the Race Inclusion Initiative (RII). Inspired in part by the Gender Equity Initiative—another student-led effort, now in its third year, that has helped increase female enrollment at the school—RII is one of the latest efforts led by Hass students seeking to create a more inclusive community.

“The Race Inclusion Initiative seeks to understand and improve the Haas experience for full-time MBA students as it relates to underrepresented minorities—African Americans, Hispanic Americans and Native Americans,” Lauren Dugard, MBA/MPH 17, vice president of diversity for the MBA Association and one of the leaders of the initiative, said in another article on the Haas website.

Incoming full-time MBA students pose for a selfie during orientation week. Photo courtesy of Haas

Part of creating a more inclusive community is tackling the hard-to-talk-about issues head on. To this end, Haas students have started a discussion series called Hot Topics, which regularly delves deep into charged issues; Story Salons, where students share their personal stories, a Diversity Digest newsletter, a Haas Perspectives Blog and a Humans of Haas podcast, the school reports. And earlier this month, Q@Haas, a club for LGBTQ students and allies, hosted a talk entitled “Sex, Gender and the Tax on Being Different.” Later the same week, the Black Business Student Association (BBSA) held an event entitled “Ask me Anything: An Open Conversation with BBSA,” in which a panel of speakers Black students shared the ways in which implicit bias and systemic racism have impacted their daily personal and professional lives and invited questions from allies. In a similar vein, the school’s Women in Leadership Club features an active group of “manbassadors” who work to get other men to see gender equity and discussions of gender dynamics as important to all, not just women.

Admissions Initiatives Seek to Increase Diversity
The school’s admissions office, too, is actively employing initiatives it hopes will help build a pipeline of talented students from diverse backgrounds. These include working closely with organizations like the Robert Toigo Foundation, Management Leadership for Tomorrow and the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, which work to increase opportunities for underrepresented minorities in leading business programs and in the larger business world. Haas welcomed 47 Consortium fellows this year, a record for the school and the largest group admitted by any of the Consortium’s 18 member schools, according to the Haas website. This year, African-American students make up 7.5 percent of the incoming Haas class, also a record.

These efforts are in addition to collaboration between the school’s admissions office and the student-led Gender Equity Initiative to increase the proportion of women MBA students, including through personalized outreach by current women in the program to prospective students. This year, women comprise 38 percent of the incoming class and 40 percent of the program overall, and the past two years have seen incoming classes of 43 and 41 percent women respectively. In fact, the name Gender Equity Initiative is an evolution from the group’s initial name, 40by20, which reflected a goal—of reaching 40 percent women by 2020—that was quickly surpassed.