FOSTERING SPACES OF BELONGING
While alumni like Hill work to instill DEI practices with GSB administration, current MBA students like Shilpa Kannan and Jenna Louie are working to create an inclusive student body. As elected members of the Diversity Committee, they together lead class-wide initiatives on the DEI.
Kannan, who was a finance undergrad at the University of Pennsylvania, realized the importance of DEI work when she was the only woman on an investment team in Silicon Valley. “It wasn’t an easy experience,” she tells P&Q. “I started to realize how much your environment can force change you might not want to see in yourself. I became more aggressive to fit in and get heard, which I only realized after I left. Later, I started focusing on elevating women in Silicon Valley — specifically in finance — but over time, I realized how much more there is beyond gender in this work.”
Following Louie’s Harvard undergrad in social studies, she started her career in diversity and inclusion consulting services where she helped chief diversity inclusion officers at Fortune 500 companies improve their performance. As part of the Arbuckle Fellowship program, Louie is one of 70 MBA students chosen to gain additional leadership training to help guide first-year MBAs to foster spaces of belonging.
Combining their unique experiences, Kannan and Louie are spearheading the Diversity Committe’s Arc of Learning: A pilot project that started in 2019 and is delivered across the first-year MBA class in discussions around identity and privilege. Kannan and Louie have recruited and trained over 50 second-year MBA students to be facilitators of these discussions, and they each facilitate Engage events, which are biweekly conversations between 9 -10 first-year MBA students.
“During these small group sessions, we discuss fairly hard issues. People are asked to think about a time when they didn’t belong and to think about a time when they were an only representative of whatever facet of identity. And I think that there are many times at the GSB where that is the case,” says Louie.
PROGRESS OVER PERFECTION
Soule says they’ve made some big changes since the first DEI report, including facilitating training for instructors on how to manage sensitive topics in the classroom, reviewing who’s represented in class case studies, improving their roster of diverse speakers, and increasing recruitment efforts of Black MBA, MSx, and Ph.D. students, resulting in the MBA Class of 2022 having its largest proportion of U.S. students of color at 37% of the total class.
However, Kannan and Louie express the need for continued commitment to this work.
“The daily experience of being a student in some of the GSB classes can be challenging; there are often subconscious reinforcements that you don’t belong. In the academic experience, the power structures have not evolved in the way that I would have hoped during my time here. I believe the conversation is certainly happening behind the scenes. That stuff takes a long time to change, which makes me both sad and hopeful because I see students as activist stakeholders,” says Louie.
Kannan explains that her experience with race and gender at GSB is most reflected in the speakers that are brought to campus. “There are so many gaps in the speakers’ set that could make other people feel very alienated. But seeing some progress has been nice. The class I had this quarter was so much better than what I had last year in terms of speakers.”
NEXT STEP: DEI INTEGRATION INTO ACADEMIA
Since creating spaces for discussion, Kannan and Louie have received feedback from students that they want the Arc of Learning to be a core part of the GSB experience.
“We’re working with the administration to transition the topics discussed in the Arc of Learning to the overall curriculum. We want the DEI to not just be a component of the academic experience, but also entrenched in the social and extracurricular experience.” says Louie.
Impressed with the efforts being made by the student body, Hill echoes Kannan and Louie’s thoughts, saying that she hopes to see the DEI go from being more student-led and grassroots-focused to something that is “fully felt and integrated in every every part of the learning experience.”
CREATING INCLUSIVE LEADERSHIP
Along with the hope of transitioning the Arc of Learning to administration, Kannan and Louie have a goal to increase the impact and breadth of their programming to create an even bigger impact in the future.
“The Arc of Learning has come to a place where it shouldn’t be in the hands of students,” says Louie. “I think the greatest impact that our class will have on diversity, equity, and inclusion of the GSB is to have pushed the envelope with the deans to instil that it is a critical competency for leaders.”
Drawing on Kannan’s experience as the only woman on her investment team in Silicon Valley, she believes that DEI is crucial in leadership. “I care a lot about being an inclusive leader. I would never want anyone I worked with or managed to feel like I did several years ago.”
“Diversity alone is not enough,” echoes Louie. “That’s just the first step.”