The team of eight began raising funds towards their $50,000 goal by creating a social media campaign. The conversation began to reach circles of Black activists, scholars, and even Montell Jordan — the R&B artist best known for his 1995 single This Is How We Do It — who gave the initiative a shoutout. “Jordan was really enthusiastic about supporting the Black students in this program,” says Habib.
Once the initiative caught media attention on outlets such as CBC News and The Toronto Star, they began to build credibility inside and outside of Rotman. This helped them to receive an increasing amount of donations.
Rotman School of Management Dean Susan Christoffersen says that the school’s professors, faculty members, alumni, and current students were eager to donate to the scholarship fund. “There’s been several people who are already regular donors to the school who have designated their annual giving this year specifically to the scholarship,” she says. “It’s amazing to see students do something good for the community. It aligns with the values we want to instill in our students while they’re here, and it demonstrates leadership.”
ROTMAN’S PROMISE OF CHANGE
When asked why there are so few Black students in the MBA program, Christoffersen explained that one of the main reasons is that it’s a pipeline issue. “People may not have thought of an MBA at Rotman as an option,” she says. “Students also may not have had the right financial support or the right network. We’re taking this into account during the recruitment process.”
Christoffersen says the school is aware of the dire need for more representation and is taking steps towards change. “When the events of last spring came to a head, there was a lot of anger at Rotman. Students were frustrated at the lack of representation. This is why we’ve created concrete goals in 2020 that we stand behind,” she says.
“Our success is collective,” adds Ashraf. “If we’re failing our Black students, we’re failing all of our students.”
Rotman has divided their DEI plan into five categories with the hopes that they can measure their efforts and create tangible results: increasing representation within the students body, staff, and faculty; increasing pathways; data tracking; creating a culture of inclusion; and improving curriculum in programs. So far, the plan is making steps in the right direction; there’s been a 50% increase in the number of countries represented in the program. Plus, in the last five years, they’ve also increased gender representation; the MBA program is now made up of 45% women.
ROTMAN’S DEI STEPS
Aside from the scholarship created by Panchalingam, Habib, and the rest of the team, the school also added six new Black student leadership awards and two new Indigenous student leadership awards. In total, they’ll be offering $1.5M to admitted BIPOC students for incoming MBA classes. “The scholarships are amazing, but they’re only impacting one of our goals: increasing representation. We really want to think holistically about our approach and meet the other goals, too,” she says.
To address the pipeline issue, Rotman has appointed two new postdoc researchers funded by a new Postdoc Opportunity Program for Black and Indigenous Postdocs. The school is also ensuring that current and prospective students see a reflection of themselves in the student culture. “There’s a difference between diversity by default and inclusion by design,” says Ashraf. “And there’s a difference between being passive recipients of culture versus contributors to culture. At Rotman, we’re actively working towards building a more warm, welcoming, and inclusive culture.”
“It’s not enough to only represent marginalized groups at Rotman,” adds Christoffersen. “It’s about increasing pathways for people to get to Rotman.”
The school also plans on hiring a new senior Black or Indigenous faculty member and hosting ongoing DEI training for current and new staff, as well as all Rotman community members. Plus, Rotman’s created a new research program for BIPOC undergraduate students led by Professor Sonia Kang to prepare students for graduate school. There’s also a new outreach event for prospective MBA students called the Black Future Business Leaders Conference. This conference ran in February 2021 with over 400 student registrants and participation by major employers including CIBC, RBC, Scotiabank, IBM, Amazon, KPMG, Bain, BCG, and Deloitte.
The school’s also working to improve the curriculum by having diverse protagonists in case studies and within the teachings. Plus, the school added two new MBA elective courses, such as Black Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Project and Black North Initiative, as well as eight new global consulting projects focused on Africa and the Caribbean. “It’s not only about seeing representation at the front of the classroom; it’s about seeing representation in the curriculum,” says Christoffersen.
Ashraf’s vision for DEI at Rotman is to have representation in every class in terms of what’s been taught and who’s teaching. “Many faculty are intentional about who they bring in as guest speakers and what case studies they offer. I’d like to see that as a norm, not an exception.”
CREATING DIVERSE LEADERS
Christoffersen says that Rotman’s MBA program is different from other programs in a few ways. This MBA emphasizes leadership and interpersonal skills training through the self-development and leadership development labs, such as the Creative Destruction Lab (CDL), a program that Rotman started ten years ago. This lab invites entrepreneurs and thought leaders from all over the world, providing students with global connections. “There is so much support for students’ innovative ideas here. Often when students leave Rotman, they’re connected with a huge network that helps them get jobs down the road.”
Christoffersen hope is that by creating more equal opportunity through meeting their five DEI goals, they’ll be able to help many more students — of all backgrounds — take advantage of Rotman’s offerings. “Students are going to become the new business leaders. It’s our responsibility as educators to emphasize the importance of diversity of students moving forward,” she explains.
“I would like our DEI efforts to be so strong that just as other institutions come to us for insight in finance, operations, and marketing, they come to us for insight on diversity, equity, and inclusion,” adds Ashraf.
To qualify for the scholarship, students have to meet Rotman’s criteria for the MBA program, identify as being Black, and apply for the scholarship. Then, the internal Rotman departments review their application and decide whether or not they’ll be its recipient.
“Meritocracy has its limits,” adds Habib. “We have to create luck for people who have to work twice as hard for the same opportunities. It’s not just about reaping the benefits and rewards of being at Rotman once we’re here. It’s about creating opportunities for people who could be here but aren’t for reasons that have nothing to do with their capabilities or efforts.”
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