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Business Schools Taking the Initiative to Increase Diversity in MBA Programs

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Business schools across the U.S. are renewing efforts to increase the racial and ethnic diversity of their MBA programs.

In the wake of protests following the death of Minneapolis resident George Floyd in police custody, college campuses—much like the rest of America—are being forced to reckon with systemic racism and inequity. For schools, this means addressing recruiting and retention of people of color in their MBA programs as well as promoting anti-racism on campus and in the curriculum so that MBA grads can bring this knowledge into the workplace.

It is rare nowadays that a school lacks an office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). Most business schools are incorporating diversity and inclusion training into the MBA program curriculum, holding events and annual symposiums, and supporting on-campus affinity groups, which assist students from underrepresented backgrounds and enrich their experiences in the program. Reviewing self-reported demographics reveals that U.S. people of color make up about a quarter of MBA classes on average. Business schools around the country are directly addressing these students’ concerns in reiterating their commitment to anti-racism and promoting their efforts to diversify their student bodies, faculty, and curriculum.

New Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives

Several business schools have committed to action plans that are utilizing years of collaboration, research, and data to launch new initiatives intended to make progress in the pursuit of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Stanford GSB

The Stanford Graduate School of Business has introduced a new program designed to increase applicants from Latin America, including Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, Central America, Mexico, and South America including Brazil. Announced in July, the Sí Se Puede Latin America Fee Waiver Program automatically waives the $275 application fee for applicants from these countries making less than USD $40,000. Those who are admitted will also have access to need-based financial aid. Becky Kleiner and Micky Malka, managing partners at Ribbit Capital, designed the fee waiver and fellowships program to attract candidates from their native Venezuela and Latin America. “When the right tools are given to the right people, good and massive changes in society will follow,” said Malka.

This new policy was announced on the heels of Stanford GSB’s Action Plan for Racial Equity, which aims to increase representation of Black and underrepresented minority faculty and staff, amplify recruitment of Black graduate students, and strengthen outreach to historically Black colleges and universities and other national groups. This plan also launches the Stanford BOLD Fellowship (Building Opportunities for Leadership Diversity) to improve need-based financial support to MBA students who have committed to success despite financial hardship.

Stanford’s action plan resolves to build an inclusive community through new classes on race and power, guest speakers, and a rising scholars conference for diverse students to present their work. The university seeks to expand these positive initiatives off campus to the wider community through alumni partnerships and an alumni consulting team to undertake projects with organizations committed to inclusion and racial equality. Finally, the establishment of a Diversity Equity and Inclusion Council promises to sustain these efforts and ensure goals are met through accountability.

Michigan Ross

The University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business alumni Stephen M. Ross and Jeff T. Blau have committed $6 million to help the Ross School of Business further its commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. The Blau Initiative for Diversity in Real Estate and Infrastructure targets students from underrepresented minorities and low-income backgrounds with programs that are intended to spark interest in business and investing. The initiative works towards making Michigan Ross more affordable and offering learning experiences in real estate and investing through internships. The Blau Initiative will support the Related Scholars Fund to supply scholarships for students from underrepresented populations in business leadership, who are interested in pursuing careers in real estate and investment. Other new projects the fund will provide for include a new investing academy, a career development series that holds professional workshops and mentorship opportunities, and new internship programs.

Scott DeRue, the Edward J. Frey Dean at Michigan Ross, said, “This summer I announced a Commitment to Action related to diversity, equity, and inclusion at Michigan Ross, and one of our commitments is to expand support for students from diverse backgrounds at the school. This new gift from Stephen Ross and Jeff Blau will help Michigan Ross create opportunities for students who are underrepresented in business leadership.”

Columbia Business School

Columbia Business School followed up its leadership’s statements on solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement with the announcement that The Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiative, spearheaded by the office of DEI, has refocused their commitment to anti-racism by taking active steps to implement policies and research. The University is accelerating its recruitment and retention of minority faculty through supporting cluster hires in STEM and racism scholarship, health sciences faculty who specialize in reducing healthcare disparities in communities of color, and recognition for faculty who are working for diversity and inclusion.

Inclusive teaching and learning environments across the university’s schools are being augmented by training programs, Dean-appointed committees and new positions, and financial resources related to improving the curriculum. Regular public updates are promised on the progress they are making.

In the works is also a concerted effort to identify and address symbols on campus that represent slavery and white supremacy. This agenda stems from the Columbia University and Slavery Project to identify Columbia’s historical connections to slavery and anti-slavery movements. The overall goal of these initiatives, according to University President Lee C. Bollinger, is to “to preserve the constitutionality of these educational policies in American higher education and to put them on a better intellectual foundation.”

MIT Sloan School of Management

MIT Sloan’s Dean David Schmittlein issued a letter to the university on July 2nd announcing the establishment of the MIT Sloan Endowment for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion with the commitment of $5 million in new endowed funds. The school plans to match all endowed gifts for fellowship aid targeting the expansion of student diversity, inclusion, and community-building efforts over the next two years. With a current total of $6 million in endowed assets, the school also plans to fund at least one staff position in DEI, and is currently seeking a Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

The Dean promised a renewed commitment to working with the student body to address concerns of underrepresented minorities on campus, and review programs that foster diversity in the prospective student pipeline with the admissions office.

Chicago Booth

The University of Chicago announced plans on June 26th to build on existing research and partnerships to address racism and create sustainable change both at the university and in the surrounding South Side community. Efforts include using diversity data from the student body and faculty to increase recruitment and retention, develop new anti-racism programs for staff and faculty, expand research and curriculum content that pertains directly to racism and race issues, address the black experience on campus, and partner with the community and law enforcement to address policing.

Chicago’s Booth School of Business followed this announcement on July 10th with a comprehensive Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan aimed at addressing underrepresented minority student concerns within the MBA programs. Focus areas include student admissions, curriculum, faculty and staff, communications, employer relations, and engagement. 

The steps these schools are taking are designed to embrace commitments and turn them into action. Making use of existing research and data, collecting input from students and faculty, and investing in program development should allow these institutions to make a measurable positive impact on underrepresented minority students seeking to make their mark with an MBA.

Christina Griffith
Christina Griffith is a writer and editor based in Philadelphia. She specializes in covering education, science, and history, and has experience in research and interviews, magazine content, and web content writing.