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Focus On Diversity Pays Off In Latest Berkeley Haas Class

The UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business MBA Class of 2021 gathers on campus in August. Benny Johnson photo

The repercussions from a year of dismal African-American enrollment in its MBA program were felt far and wide at UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, which weathered harsh criticism and endured a long period of soul searching after welcoming just six black students to its full-time MBA program in 2018. But the school was not idle in response. It developed and put into effect an action plan, and its new dean and others vowed to reverse the two-year decline. Critics were persuaded that the school took the situation seriously and waited to see results.

A year later, initial results are in — and the school’s diversity turnaround, leading to much higher representation not only for black students but for Latinx and Native-American students, as well, is nothing short of remarkable. (It’s a particular bright spot in a year when Haas did not escape the major forces negatively impacting MBA programs across the United States — see page 2 for details.) Black students in the Class of 2021 number 19, or 6.7% of the class of 283, a more-than-200% increase from the previous class and the highest total in three years. Latinx students, meanwhile, number 21, or 7.4%, which is an 81% jump and the highest on record.

Overall, UC-Berkeley Haas increased its number of under-represented minority (URM) students to 14%, double that of last year.

“We’re thrilled with the results this year, and the fact that we can see change occurring as a result of some of the things that we’ve put into place over the past academic year,” says Peter Johnson, assistant dean of the full-time MBA program and admissions. “I think we’re seeing some of the hard work on the part of our admissions team, as well as other parts of the school, coming to fruition. We were really disappointed in our representation in last year’s incoming class, to the extent that the team decided that this would be one of our top priorities.

“We had an ongoing process throughout the last academic year to look at all aspects of this issue, and to come up with an action plan of how we were going to address it in our program. And I think that the proof is in the outcomes, and I think many of the things that were implemented have in fact enabled us to move the needle this year.”

ADDRESSING THE CHALLENGES OF DIVERSITY & INCLUSION

UC-Berkeley Haas Dean Ann Harrison. Jim Block photo

The Haas School, ranked No. 6 by U.S. News and No. 8 by P&Q, was caught flat-footed last fall when some black alumni protested the enrollment of just six black students in the full-time MBA, a mere 2.1% in a class of 291. The low number represented a 68% drop in two years from an all-time high of 19 enrollees in 2016. Latinx students, meanwhile, were just 4.1% of the incoming class, and URM students altogether represented only 7% of the class.

Haas’ plan to reverse the slide focused on three main objectives: rebuilding trust with URM students and alumni; making Haas a community that African-American and all URM students want to join; and increasing outreach to, and yield of, URM students at Haas. The last point was a response to black student yield of 22.2% last fall, far below the school’s mark (50.9%) for all admitted students.

The school’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Plan included nine concrete actions, from hiring a top inclusion officer to changing MBA admissions criteria to consider applicants’ experience in the areas of diversity, equity, and inclusion. The school also announced it would increase funding for diversity initiatives developed by “affinity groups or other student-led initiatives,” as well as financial support — read: scholarships —for not only URM students but also diversity-related case competitions and academic endeavors. Among the targets for increased funding were “periodic events for URM community building.”

In February, shortly after taking the reins as dean, former Wharton professor Ann Harrison said increasing diversity at Haas was one of her main goals.

“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 said, “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.”

HELPING NEW ARRIVALS FEEL AT HOME

Address it they did — and they are still addressing it. Berkeley’s focus on diversity became the theme of “Week Zero” orientation for new MBA students last month. Among the events were sessions on diversity and leadership led by Director of Inclusion & Diversity Élida Bautista and new Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer David Porter. The week kicked off with alumni speaker and Cisco executive Nikita Mitchell, Haas Class of 2015, and continued with a business case reveal and surprise visitors, including Frank Cooper, global CMO of investment management firm BlackRock.

Lloyd Johnson was one of the new MBA students taking part in Haas’ Week Zero. The Penn Law grad, who earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Morehouse College, came to Berkeley hoping to “become a better marketer” and found the orientation highly instructive and helpful. “It was a really good introduction not only to the culture of Haas but the people,” Johnson tells P&Q. “It gave us lots of opportunities to talk with the people who make Haas what it is, and gave us a good grounding on how we can do our best work here and the people we can engage to make that happen.”

But it was another Haas event, the school’s Diversity Symposium in October 2018, that really piqued Johnson’s interest.

“That was one of the prime reasons that Haas moved up from a school that I was considering to a school that I definitely wanted to apply to and attend,” Johnson says of the two-day event, a series of panels, workshops, and presentations on the Berkeley campus. “A lot of the things that I took away from that experience — the openness and willingness to change from faculty and staff, but also the drive of students to make a better experience at Haas — was really important.

“The event showed us that through a variety of experiences — not just a single talk or a single presentation, it was the whole of it that really made me feel quite at home, especially getting perspectives from different students, either from under-represented groups or otherwise. It was super helpful.”

Haas’ next Diversity Symposium is scheduled for October 4-5.

‘AN ONGOING, CONTINUING EFFORT’

UC-Berkeley is one of 20 members of the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, an academic and business network that was founded to help African-American men acquire the skills they needed to find jobs in corporate America, and that has since expanded its mission to include women and members of any ethnicity who avow the principles of DEI: diversity, equity, and inclusion. This fall the Haas School enrolled a record 54 students through the Consortium, partly though outreach and partly through offering increased scholarships.

“Part of our strategy as it relates to admissions this year was deepening our engagement with the Consortium, which includes students of a variety of ethnic backgrounds who have demonstrated commitment to achieving greater diversity, equity, and inclusion in their business organizations — and in some cases in their past academic organizations,” Peter Johnson tells P&Q. “I think that that’s been a very helpful way for us to get out in front and say this is something that we value. We were able to increase scholarship offers to Consortium students because as you know, Consortium scholarships are actually provided by the member institutions.”

Johnson says working more with the Consortium was only one part of the school’s strategy — and the work is not done.

“I would say that all of the things that we did were important in moving the needle in one way or another,” he says. “Certainly some of the elements of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Plan were focused on climate here for students who are studying at the school. Others were focused on outreach efforts. Others were focused on scholarships, and I think all of them played a role in helping us achieve this outcome.

“I think that’s one of the key things about the plan that was important — that it wasn’t only trying to address the admissions process or scholarships or all of those things needed to be addressed in concert to get to the numbers that we have this year. And of course this is really just the start — it isn’t a one-time effort. This is going to be an ongoing, continuing effort at the school.”