‘Humans Of Wharton’ On Diversity & Inclusion


Return on Equality coalition members. Courtesy photo

You’ve probably heard about Humans of New York. The blog features portraits and stories collected from around the city, earning millions of followers on Facebook and Instagram. It has also inspired “Humans of” blogs in different cities around the world — and now in business schools.

A coalition of MBA students called Return on Equality is encouraging the community of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania to learn and engage in conversation about diversity and inclusion. To frame that conversation, show off the diversity of their school, and share their own stories, organizers created “Humans of Wharton.”

“As business students, we’re very focused on data and statistics. But when it comes to diversity and inclusion, storytelling is a much more powerful way to get people talking about topics that are sometimes uncomfortable or divisive,” says Elizabeth Tang, ROE co-chair and a second-year MBA.

Return on Equality (ROE) was launched during spring semester last year. Tang says organizers’ goal is to equip students to become advocates and allies of diversity and inclusion. She hopes the coalition’s efforts will help them learn from each other and become effective leaders in the future.


Wharton students are no strangers to diversity issues. In spring 2015, the year before ROE was created, MBA student Jeehae Lee called out her fellow students for inappropriate race-based humor. In an article in The Wharton Journal, Lee cited incidents at Wharton targeting Asians and exploiting Asian stereotypes. She wrote that awareness about diversity and inclusion is especially important for MBA students, who will doubtless face diversity issues on a larger scale after graduation.

Though ROE was not founded in response to the incidents Lee exposed, its mission addresses Lee’s concerns.

“When we graduate, we’ll have the power to make very important decisions, whether as a business leader or a community leader,” Tang says. “We’re going to be in positions to recruit, hire, promote, and retain talent. We’re going to make decisions about product design and advertising to address the needs of an increasingly diverse customer base.”

Tang emphasizes that diversity and inclusion are sometimes difficult concepts — and that they are not the same thing. Diversity is a short-term framework, she says, more about getting numbers up and bringing unrepresented voices to the table. Inclusion is longer-term and more meaningful. It’s about asking harder questions about how the status quo is designed to benefit certain groups or exclude others. And it’s about creating a new system that’s fairer.

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, authors Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev note that diversity in business management hasn’t really grown much in the last 30 years despite the fact that multiple banks have recently been forced to settle serious race and sex discrimination suits. Among companies with 100 or more employees, they write, the proportion of black, male managers hardly changed from 1985-2014; and though the proportion of women managers increased from 1985-2000, it has flat-lined since then.


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