New Wharton Dean Speaks Her Mind 

Erika James, Dean of the Wharton School. Emory photo

New Wharton Dean Speaks Her Mind 

In July, Erika James made history by becoming the first woman and first person of color to be appointed dean of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

James, who previously served as dean at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School and associate dean of executive education at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, brings a deep knowledge of leading business education into her new role at Wharton.

She recently spoke with The New York Times and discussed the state of the MBA today and how she hopes to steer Wharton in the right direction when it comes to issues such as corporate social responsibility and diversity and inclusion.

WHARTON’S CURRICULUM: A TWO-FOLD PROCESS

One of the main topics of discussion in the business world today is the role that business plays in society.

Students, for one, are placing more focus on topics such as environmental and social responsibility as well as diversity and inclusion.

When asked how Wharton is addressing these topics, James says it’s a two-fold process.

“The conversations in the classrooms are changing because the students are asking for it,” she tells NY Times. “Their expectation is that that’s in our syllabus. We’re going to have coursework and reading material and discussions on corporate social responsibility. We have to.”

Additionally, James also highlights a shift in faculty as a new generation takes on leadership positions and plays a greater role in aligning the curriculum and setting the agenda.

“I would also say there’s a generation of faculty that’s now coming into significant leadership roles as department chairs, for example, who have much more influence in preparing the curriculum and setting the agenda, and those faculty are increasingly aligned with where the students are coming from.”

REAL, MEANINGFUL DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION

In many corners, the business world lacks diversity and inclusion.

In 2020, there were only five black CEOs, according to Fortune.

When asked about whether she feels there has been real progress on the diversity and inclusion front, James says the data speaks for itself.

“There hasn’t been a lot of progress if you look at the sheer number of Black C.E.O.s or Blacks within one or two reporting relationships of the C.E.O.,” James tells NY Times. “Why is that the case? I think it’s the case that we haven’t fully prioritized it as much as we have talked about it. And the two are very, very different.”

Talking about diversity and inclusion is one thing. But creating real, meaningful initiatives and opportunities is another.

2020 saw the murder of George Floyd, a rise in protests calling for change, and the efforts of CEOs and executives in taking action – something James says is unlike anything she’s seen before.

“The question is how much of what we saw this summer was a reaction to his killing, versus how much of that will be a sustained effort to really think about the ways in which organizations recruit and attract and develop and promote and compensate Black professionals,” James tells NY Times. “Time will tell.”

Read the full New York Times interview here.

Sources: New York Times, P&Q, Fortune

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