The deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and others shook the world in 2020, sparking demonstrations across the United States and cultural reverberations globally. In a chaotic and calamitous year, their deaths — at the hands of police or met, initially, by the indifference of officials — reinforced the urgent need for racial justice and underscored the persistent evil of systemic racism.
It’s an evil that has touched every sector of society, including graduate business education. Some business schools, pressed to act by students and faculty, were less prepared when the issue exploded in 2020; but as usual, among a handful of elite schools, Stanford’s Graduate School of Business was ahead of the curve. In 2019, the GSB released a massive, detailed diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) report that was the first of its kind among business schools in America: a highly detailed report that laid bare the school’s statistics as well as a slate of formidable aspirations. “It wasn’t perfect, but that’s part of what I’ve learned in this role,” says Sarah Soule, GSB senior associate dean. “If we hold off until it’s perfect, we’re holding off too long.”
Now, in the waning days of this momentous year, Stanford has put the final touches on a sequel. On Tuesday (December 8), in what it hopes is a demonstration of the school’s continued commitment to addressing the pernicious and pervasive evil of racism in business and academia, the GSB published their second annual DEI report, including for the first time an Action Plan for Racial Equity. Created with the input of faculty, administrators, students, and alumni, the report and action plan outline the school’s plan to achieve five main goals: increase the diversity of the Stanford GSB community, create an inclusive classroom and learning experience, cultivate a welcoming campus, empower under-represented communities, and support new research efforts.
“If we don’t think about the positive change that can come out of this, then the deaths will have been in vain,” Soule tells Poets&Quants. “There is a civic mindedness amongst our students and also our alumni who want to contribute to the school,” says Soule. “The conversations we had with students and alumni were difficult; they told us stories about things that are not what we aspire to be in terms of the culture at the GSB. We learned a lot.”
But while the GSB has demonstrated considerable progress, students like second-year MBA candidate Jenna Louie say there is much more work to be done. “There’s effort with DEI, but it’s not sufficient yet,” Louie tells P&Q. “It’s important to consider how to actually make a diverse community feel inclusive and foster belonging.”
KEY PART OF THE MISSION: GETTING ALUMNI INVOLVED
On May 25, the day George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis — his death under the knee of a policeman captured on video and shared with horror around the world — Simone Hill knew she needed to act.
A 2014 GSB grad, Hill had completed a joint degree with Stanford’s School of Education. Her focus was on access barriers for under-represented minorities and marginalized students in higher education. After graduation, she worked on the GSB’s MBA admissions team, helping to build a more diverse class, before being recruited at Omidyar Network, a philanthropic investment firm, where she currently runs DEI programming.
“I grew up as an African-American in a low-income, single-parent household,” Hill tells P&Q. “I oftentimes found myself as either the only black person or at least the only black woman in classes. Even at a young age, I felt extremely isolated and like I didn’t belong. I ended up second-guessing my abilities a lot because of it, and it impacted my self-esteem.”
After Floyd’s murder, Hill began reaching out to her 2014 MBA classmates about taking action. Many jumped at the chance. Inspired to create change on campus, Hill began tirelessly working with the GSB’s External Relations Department on the second DEI report and the first Action Plan for Racial Equity, or APRE.
While supporting the development of both documents, Hill did more, helping to create an alumni racial equity task force that is focused on having a positive and lasting impact beyond the Stanford campus. She was also part of the alumni consulting team’s effort to help Stanford grads around the world volunteer their time and skills to non-profit organizations working on social issues for the APRE, and she has helped to train the school’s external relations department on anti-racism “to ensure that they’re fully equipped to work towards their incredible goals.”
“This year has been especially difficult when it comes to issues of equity and justice in the United States, whether it’s seeing the disproportionate impacts of Covid-19 on black and brown communities or the devastating killings of black people,” Hill says. “Over the next five years, the goal of the consulting team is to dedicate 50 projects towards organizations that are trying to solve issues related to racial equity and inclusion.”
MAKING AN IMPACT
Through Hill’s efforts with the DEI, she’s seen impacts firsthand with GSB staff.
“One of the biggest things that I’ve seen change is people’s willingness and comfort with being able to have conversations about race,” she says. “People are feeling much more knowledgeable about what it actually mean to be anti-racist, and what racial equity looks like. There’s been a huge level of engagement with the staff.”
When asked what she hopes to see in the future from the GSB in terms of diversity, equity, and inclusion, Hill answered: “At the GSB, the DEI has always been grassroots-focused. It’s involved students galvanizing together and getting support from each other to make things happen. In the future, I’d love to see these efforts not only be made from the student body, but rather something that is fully felt and integrated in every every part of the learning experience.”
While the execution may not be perfect yet, the school has made progress toward their DEI goals this year: They’ve increased gender diversity of their tenure-line faculty, hiring seven women and seven men; held the first annual virtual Diversity In Leadership conference, which resulted in over 1,500 attendees participating in 23 events hosted by faculty, students, and the MBA Admissions Office; launched Stanford Rebuild, a free innovation sprint that had 6,000 registrants from 125 countries, with 43% of participants identifying as women; hosted a three-session “Brave Spaces” listening tour with alumni that created safe spaces for conversations about anti-racism; and put together a research guide that includes resources for studying diversity in organizations and the workplace.
“One of our goals for 2020 was to make progress in representation and inclusivity where everybody feels like they belong,” Soule says.
The GSB also launched the BOLD Fellowship (Building Opportunities for Leadership Diversity), a foundation aiming to help close intergenerational wealth gaps among admits often experienced by Black and other minority groups. Plus, they’ve hired a Director of Diverse Alumni Communities, Allison Rouse, to increase and deepen engagement with a diverse alumni community.
To hold themselves accountable, they’ve created a DEI Council that will play a critical role in advancing their work to empower the school to be more inclusive, set to begin meeting January 2021.