Stanford’s Graduate School of Business last year became the first business school in the world to issue a highly detailed report on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Now, after a wave of protests has shone a light on racial injustice in the U.S., the school has accelerated its efforts to stamp out structural racism and improve the representation of Black Americans on its campus.
After a “listening tour” of Black stakeholders, Dean Jonathan Levin and Senior Associate Dean Sarah Soule today (July 27) made public a series of commitments to racial equity. “Over the past weeks, we have listened to the stories of our Black students, alumni, staff, and faculty,” they explained in an email to the GSB community. “We have heard sobering and powerful accounts of bias, including on our own campus, and the obstacles many in our community have overcome to succeed. We have been inspired by the energy of the GSB community to work together toward racial equity across our country and the world. These discussions have helped to motivate and inform our Stanford GSB Action Plan for Racial Equity. The goals and strategies in the plan aim to increase representation, build greater inclusion, drive positive change beyond the GSB, and ensure accountability.”
Acknowledging that earlier efforts to recruit underrepresented minorities to its faculty have stalled, Levin and Soule said that the initiative to significantly increase representation “calls for fresh thinking and renewed commitment.” They pledged to improve the school’s teaching faculty and student recruitment strategies, work closely with alumni to identify outstanding lecturers who are Black, URM, or from other underrepresented backgrounds, and ensure “active outreach and robust efforts to eliminate bias in our staff and faculty hiring processes.”
‘HEARTBREAKING’ STORIES FROM BLACK STUDENTS & ALUMNI
The outreach to Black Americans, they added, highlighted “opportunities to make the GSB more accessible to students from less privileged backgrounds, especially Black and other URM students from families of lower socioeconomic status.” As a result, the school is launching what it calls the GSB BOLD Fellows Program (Building Opportunities for Leadership Diversity) “to augment financial support for students who have shown a deep commitment to obtaining an education in the face of significant financial hardship, and to actively engage in an ambitious cross-Stanford effort to attract faculty focused on The Impacts of Race in America.”
In an interview with Poets&Quants, Soule noted that last October’s diversity report pledged to focus efforts on groups that had been underrepresented at the school. “Before the pandemic, we were beginning the process which we called ‘Lori’s Listening Tour’ (a reference to the diversity’s initiative lead strategist Lori Nishiura Mackenzie) in speaking with alums, staff groups, faculty and students around race and underrepresented minorities,” says Soule. “In some ways, it was a gift. With the protests and the heightened awareness of racial inequity, it accelerated everything we were doing. If there is any silver lining to the horrific. events and the protests, it is the awakening of consciousness that has accelerated everything.”
Some of the stories they heard from Black students and alumni were “heartbreaking,” says Soule. “Most of them were insensitive sleights that did not raise to the level of being reported but would have undermined a sense of belonging. I wish I had known about them because I could have intervened in some way. I felt like I had personally failed. It is these small things that undermine the momentum and this sense of inclusion we are trying to create.”
THE PIPELINE ARGUMENT
The outreach resulted in 40 to 50 pages of ideas, adds Soule. One tangible idea was the need for fellowships to help URM students come to Stanford, above and beyond the school’s need-based scholarship support. “Not all but many of our Black, URM and first-generation students may look on par with other applicants but they may be supporting their families because there is no wealth to fall back on,” says Soule. “It struck me because there has been so much attention to the wealth gap between Black and white families. But to hear our students talking about the sacrifices their families have to make for them to get an MBA made it real.”
Dean Levin, she says, is already approaching alums to fund the fellowships. “What I am hoping is that we can get these details worked out in a month and a half,” adds Soule. “I think we could pull it off for this year. This is a period when people are realizing the vast inequalities and injustices and people want to help. There is just a lot of goodwill and willingness to help.”
To recruit more URM students and faculty, Stanford says it will target the historically Black universities and colleges for students and begin an annual conference to attract Black business scholars so it can identify academic talent early. “The pipeline argument is real but what I don’t like about that argument is that it makes it easy for people to throw up their hands and say it is a pipeline problem there is nothing we can do about it,” says Soule. “What we need to do as a faculty is educate ourselves on how unconscious bias can creep into the hiring process. We have to be honest about that. And we have to be very activist when we put together the seminar on who to invite to speak at our conference. Who are the new assistant profs that we can invite out from Harvard and Columbia and Wharton and then recruit them.”
‘DOING DIVERSITY WORK IS TREADING WATER WHEN YOU ARE JUST BARELY STAYING AFLOAT’
Among other things, the business school plans to take full advantage of a recent university decision to create ten new tenure-track positions for faculty who study the impact of race in America. “We are doubling down on our efforts to increase the representation of URM faculty,” says Soule. “We will improve our development and teaching strategies and our Black alums are helping there. We are diversifying the lecturer pool as well. Having the approval of the provost and president helps, but this is necessary. It has been necessary for a long time.”
The school also plans to formalize an existing diversity and inclusion council with staff and student representation. “We have had an ad hoc version of it and that has been fabulous but we need it to be formalized,” adds Soule. We have a lot of stuff members who have had this as an add on to their jobs. A person said doing diversity work is treading water when you are just barely staying afloat and then somebody throws a baby at you. We don’t want it to be an afterthought.”
To increase inclusion and belonging on campus, Senior Associate Dean Brian Lowery is offering a new course on leadership, race and power. Soule is doing a class for Ph.D. students on bias in the academy and leading training on microaggressions and unconscious bias. “We are also committing to devote resources to identify people of color to lecture and teach and to source protagonists for cases and guest speakers,” says Soule. A Ph.D. conference will be held specifically “for unrepresented minority Ph.D. students to present their work and get them on the radar of our faculty across all the disciplines. We are going to make this open to all schools as well.”
The full communication from Levin and Soule follows:
Dear Stanford GSB Community,
The recent wave of protests has shone a light on racial injustice in the United States, the need for action to eradicate structural racism, and the importance of securing equal opportunity, freedom, and human dignity for Black Americans.
Stanford Graduate School of Business commits to addressing racial inequality in society and within our own corridors. Over the past weeks, we have listened to the stories of our Black students, alumni, staff, and faculty. We have heard sobering and powerful accounts of bias, including on our own campus, and the obstacles many in our community have overcome to succeed. We have been inspired by the energy of the GSB community to work together toward racial equity across our country and the world.
These discussions have helped to motivate and inform our Stanford GSB Action Plan for Racial Equity. The goals and strategies in the plan aim to increase representation, build greater inclusion, drive positive change beyond the GSB, and ensure accountability.
We are committed to increasing significantly the representation of Black and other underrepresented minority (URM) teaching faculty, staff, and students at the GSB. This commitment builds on the momentum of our ongoing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) efforts. We are acutely conscious that prior efforts, especially in the area of faculty recruiting, have stalled, which calls for fresh thinking and renewed commitment. Recent discussions also have highlighted opportunities to make the GSB more accessible to students from less privileged backgrounds, especially Black and other URM students from families of lower socioeconomic status.
Key pillars of this effort will include improving our teaching faculty and student recruitment strategies and processes; working with our alumni to identify outstanding lecturers who are Black, URM, or from other underrepresented backgrounds; and ensuring active outreach and robust efforts to eliminate bias in our staff and faculty hiring processes. Two near-term priorities will be to launch the GSB BOLD Fellows Program (Building Opportunities for Leadership Diversity) to augment financial support for students who have shown a deep commitment to obtaining an education in the face of significant financial hardship, and to actively engage in an ambitious cross-Stanford effort to attract faculty focused on The Impacts of Race in America.
We are committed to strengthening our culture of inclusion and belonging. This has been a priority over the last several years as we have developed workshops around managing sensitive topics in the classroom, new training for staff managers, and a robust student GSB Pods program to engage with issues of diversity. Our discussions with Black students, staff, and faculty have highlighted the work that remains and areas where we have an opportunity to make immediate and tangible progress.
In the coming year, we will introduce two new courses: Leadership for Society: Race and Power, to educate future leaders about racial injustice and inequality and to inspire them to make positive change; and Blocking Bias in Academe, to educate PhD students to be more effective professors and leaders in diverse university environments. We intend to increase the number of Black and URM guest speakers and case protagonists, with the assistance of GSB alumni. We also will organize a Stanford GSB Rising Scholars Conference for diverse PhD and postdoctoral students to present their work and interact with faculty from the GSB and other institutions.
Stanford GSB has an opportunity and a responsibility to contribute to a broad national effort to eliminate racial inequity and injustice. We are committed to empowering faculty, alumni, staff, and students to work collectively to elevate Black Americans and address the United States’ legacy of systemic racism. We envision these efforts as both ambitious and long-term, requiring substantial planning and resources.
Over the coming months, we will launch the GSB Racial Equity Initiative in partnership with our alumni to increase representation, strengthen leadership, and foster economic inclusion beyond our campus. The first step will be the creation of a task force to scope and secure resources for the initiative. As part of this effort, we will support the GSB Alumni Consulting Team to assist 50 organizations over the next five years that are committed to inclusion and racial equity. Finally, we intend to introduce a Supporting Black Business Leadership executive education program to accelerate and advance the careers of exceptional business leaders.
As we continue this journey and implement these initiatives, we must hold ourselves accountable and measure our effectiveness. This fall, we will create a new Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council of faculty, staff, and students to sustain momentum on our broad DEI goals across every area of the GSB and to ensure that we achieve progress around Black representation and inclusion. We also will continue to publish the GSB’s Annual DEI Report, adding more metrics, including those designed to measure representation and our culture of inclusion. In addition, we will work with the university to contribute to, and improve upon, the Stanford IDEAL Dashboard.
The goals and actions we set out today will require sustained effort and commitment. We have been gratified to see the extraordinary and deep-rooted desire of GSBers to contribute to the effort to eliminate racial inequities. We are confident that, together, we will build a more just and equitable world.
Jon and Sarah