In his last job, David Porter ran a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community opportunities in the cable, media, and entertainment industries. It was a role that saw him provide strategic advice on diversity and inclusion efforts to major trade associations, while also managing huge budgets that, to date, have impacted some 10,000 diverse leaders across the industry.
Porter’s networks go beyond the entertainment and media industries to include the National Society of Black Engineers, the National Black MBA Association, and many other national groups, and extend to academia, as well: before his nonprofit work, he worked in diversity and inclusion at Howard University and UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. All those connections and the insights from so many years in the diversity space will come in handy as he tackles his latest challenge: helping UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business respond to a controversy over extremely low enrollment of black students in the full-time MBA program.
“I’ve always worked in the diversity space, I’ve always his this national approach, so I think that will play to my advantage,” says Porter, who started his new gig as Haas’ chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer on July 15. “I’m still in fact-finding mode, but when I think of things broadly, my priorities are how I can work with everyone across the Haas community — faculty, staff, students, and alumni — to continue to build on the work that’s been done to create a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive culture. I know this year we are going to increase the number of under-represented minorities, focusing on the full-time MBA program.
“That’s just the start, and there’s more work to be done. There are things that we need to do to ensure that every element of the Haas culture and environment is really and truly inclusive.”
HAAS REELS FROM BACKLASH AFTER LOW BLACK ENROLLMENT; VOWS CHANGE
The controversy began when Haas only managed to enroll six African-American students in the fall 2018 full-time MBA intake. Word got out that so few black students had been enrolled despite the school admitting 27 African Americans — and despite the fall 2018 cohort being Haas’ biggest-ever, at 291 — and after the expected outrage and blame, Haas accepted the widespread criticism leveled at the school and released a “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Action Plan” to address its shortcomings.
Haas’ DEI plan focused on three main objectives: rebuilding trust with underrepresented minority students and alumni; making Haas a community that African-American and all under-represented minority (URM) students want to join; and increasing outreach to, and yield of, URM students at Haas. The last point was a response to the black student yield of 22.2% last fall, which is far below the school’s mark (50.9%) for all admitted students.
To achieve its three goals, Haas’ plan outlines nine actions, some of which have already been taken, such as the hiring of a chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer in February. Among the highlights are calls to: “change MBA admissions criteria to consider an applicant’s skill set and experience in the areas of diversity, equity, and inclusion that enhance their contributions to the curricular and co-curricular environment”; establish a Diversity Admissions Council “representing a cross-functional group of staff, faculty, students, and alumni,” including the hiring of up to two second-year full-time MBA students to serve on the FTMBA Admissions Committee; and increase funding for diversity initiatives developed by “affinity groups or other student-led initiatives,” as well as financial support for diversity-related case competitions and academic endeavors and funding for “periodic events for URM community building.”
AT HAAS, ‘WE WELCOME THOSE WITH DIFFERENT LIVED EXPERIENCES’
New Dean Ann Harrison joined the school in January and immediately embraced the commitments of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Action Plan. In a February “fireside chat” on the Berkeley campus with former Dean Laura Tyson (who helped design the plan as interim dean last fall), Harrison said she recognizes there is a culture problem at Haas, and that something has been causing black students to choose to go to graduate school elsewhere. As leader of the management team established to implement the recommendations of the DEI action plan, she said one of the main things she will focus on in the first year of her deanship is diversity and inclusion.
“Berkeley and Haas don’t look like the rest of California,” Harrison said, “and I think that is something we need to address.” Offering what surprised her most about the school, she added, “I was a little surprised at the lack of diversity, particularly among the faculty who I’ve been spending a lot of time with. So that is a challenge, and there are other challenges associated with diversity and inclusion.” One big one has to do with gender and career outcomes: Harrison noted that in a presentation from students she was told “a fact that just blew me away” — that “10 years out, for every dollar that a male MBA who graduated from our program is earning, women are earning only 57 cents. That is also something that we need to address.”
Hiring Porter is one step among many in addressing it, Harrison wrote in an email announcing his hiring to the Haas community.
“Hiring David reflects my commitment to you and to Haas more broadly to make diversity, equity, and inclusion a top priority of my deanship,” she wrote. “My goal is to ensure that Haas is providing access to talented students, faculty, and staff from all backgrounds, that we welcome those with different lived experiences, and that we develop leaders who will build diverse teams and manage across differences as they address some of the major challenges facing our world.”
CHALLENGES & ADVANTAGES
Porter joins Élida Bautista, Haas’ director of inclusion and diversity, and Marco Lindsey, a former dean’s chief of staff whose new role will focus on DEI. “Both have done an outstanding job in developing and implementing many of our DEI efforts to this point,” Harrison wrote in her email to the school, adding that Porter “will work closely with our director of diversity admissions, a new role for which Haas is currently recruiting. Together they will build on our strategic plan’s diversity tactic and the DEI action plan to move us forward in becoming a leading business school for diversity and inclusion.” Porter will report directly to Harrison and serve on the Haas Management Team, which makes strategic decisions on all aspects of the school’s organization. He will “serve as a catalyst for change at Haas by leading the long-term vision and goals for diversity, equity, and inclusion at Haas and building new programs and trainings for students, faculty, and staff,” Harrison wrote.
Porter spent the last 12 years as the executive director and CEO of the Walter Kaitz Foundation, a media nonprofit dedicated to providing women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community opportunities in the cable, media, and entertainment industries. Prior to that he was the director of graduate programs for the Howard University School of Business and an assistant professor at the Anderson School of Management at UCLA. He has a Ph.D. in organizational behavior and a master’s in sociology from Harvard, as well as a master’s in industrial engineering, a master’s in sociology, and a bachelor’s in industrial engineering from Stanford University. His research has focused on the psychological and sociological underpinnings of unconscious bias and their impact on race and gender issues in the workplace. At Howard and UCLA, he applied this research to help build and enhance those schools’ executive education and MBA programs.
Regarding his return to academia, Porter tells Poets&Quants that in many ways, he never left. “Even when I served as executive director of the Walter Kaitz Foundation, I also did a lot of executive education at UCLA. So I maintained my connection to academia even after I officially left my academic roles.”
Haas and other top-10 institutions face similar challenges when it comes to diversity, Porter says.
“What that means is, you’re vying for a group of the best students and faculty and in some cases staff, and that just tends to be less diverse,” he says. “You add to that the fact that depending on the ethnic groups you’re looking at, California is not as diverse, especially when you look at the black community — it just doesn’t have as many blacks in the local population. Not that we draw from the local population because obviously we’re an international university, but it is a little bit easier in looking at all of our programs writ large if you have a greater population. Obviously we have a large Latinx population in California, and that does play to our favor.
“Part of what you do is, you work with applicants even before they’re applicants, trying to help them understand that Haas actually is a very welcoming environment and offers a world-class education, and it’s a good place for people regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. It’s about broadening the types of relationships and the depth of relationships, and that’s what I’ll be trying to do.”