Vowing To Do The Hard Work Of DEI, Stanford Unveils New Plan

Stanford GSB has released its third major DEI report

Since the shocking events of the spring and summer of 2020, when the murder of George Floyd catalyzed the Black Lives Matter movement and spurred new and furious levels of protest and activism nationwide, Stanford Graduate School of Business has undertaken a high-profile mission to respond to public sentiment by diversifying its community. Seeking to lead by example, the GSB published its first DEI Report in 2019 and launched its Action Plan for Racial Equity in 2020. These efforts included a series of goals that include creating an inclusive classroom and learning experience, cultivating a welcoming campus, and empowering under-represented communities.

Today (March 29), Stanford’s business school released its third DEI Report, a major and important document of the challenges and struggles of the last year, including the disproportionate effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on minorities in the Stanford community and beyond.

But while the report focuses on the impacts of the school’s continued commitment to shaping a better future both on and off campus, it was almost overshadowed by a racist incident in a school residence hall in the weeks leading up to the report’s release — an incident that brought into sharp relief the challenges that remain in achieving a truly equitable and diverse campus.

‘WE ALL HAVE A LOT MORE WORK TO DO’

Stanford’s Sarah Soule: ‘Change in this space can be slow, but we’re committed to doing the work to make it happen’

“Our students and alums take our motto seriously about changing lives, changing organizations, and changing the world,” says Sarah Soule, Stanford GSB senior associate dean for academic affairs. “The whole purpose of releasing a DEI Report each year is to make sure that we can measure what we’re doing. Change in this space can be slow, but we’re committed to doing the work to make it happen.”

Stanford’s DEI efforts have not been in vain. Students of color now account for 48% of the U.S. citizens and permanent residents enrolled in the MBA class of 2023, up from 39% just two cohorts ago. In the last two years, the admissions team has increased the number of under-represented students in GSB’s cohorts by 20%. But progress is not measured only in statistics. As Soule says, the biggest gains Stanford has made since its inaugural 2019 DEI report are in showing transparent class demographics, including students’ socioeconomic status, educational background, and first-generation status.

Kirsten Moss, assistant dean of MBA admissions and financial aid, says the GSB is growing the pipeline, and inspiring applicants around the country and the world who five years ago might not have believed they had a chance to come to Stanford.

“We’re working at expanding our funnel so that anyone in the world, no matter their socioeconomic status, nationality, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or culture believes that they could be a great leader and come to Stanford,” Moss says.

A HATEFUL ACT & A NEED TO DOUBLE DOWN ON DEI

While the school has celebrated some wins, they were drowned out — at least in the short-term — by an ugly incident on February 22, 2022 that shook the community — and brought to light the importance of continued, consistent efforts in combating racism and inequity. Someone wrote a racial slur on the message boards of two students in Jack McDonald Hall, leading to a student walkout. The perpetrator hasn’t been found.

Sarah Soule believes the shock of the event — racism coming literally to the doorsteps of Stanford students — showed the need to double down on DEI efforts, at GSB and beyond.

“There’s absolutely nothing positive about the hateful act that happened on our campus,” she says, “but it’s reminded us of the work that needs to be done to fix our broken system. And we all have a lot more work to do.”

The incident was so much on everyone’s minds as the DEI plan was being finalized, Soule wrote about it in the plan’s forward, writing that it “underscores why we need the energy, attention, and deep resolve of our entire community to change our culture. Reflecting on the past year, backlash, burnout, and backsliding all have potential to undermine what we are trying to achieve and erode our accomplishments, thus we must all fight against these forces.”

THE SIXTH DEI GOAL: INTEGRATING THE ACTION PLAN FOR RACIAL EQUITY

The residence hall incident called for the GSB to level up its DEI efforts. One of the ways it did so was to focus on the commitments of the Action Plan for Racial Equity (APRE) – one of the DEI report’s main goals. Originally created as a standalone plan in the summer 2020, the APRE was built as an attempt to put another stake in the ground and show what the GSB stands for, cares about, and is helping to change. The school had already decided to integrate the APRE into the latest report as a way to elevate its importance, consolidate its DEI efforts, and show the school’s continued commitment to tackling racial inequality.

“We wanted to bring more attention to the APRE as being deeply connected to everything else that we’re trying to do,” says Soule.

Adds Wil Torres, MBA admissions director of outreach: “Inequity is such an encompassing societal challenge, and we see that reflected in all business schools – not just GSB. The way that it shows up can be different year to year. We want to make sure that we’re able to be responsive, proactive, and take responsibility for when we don’t do things right by making amends and making sure that we’re learning for the future.”

LEVELING THE PLAYING FIELD

A number of the GSB’s actions have contributed to increased student representation, such as three events that the school hosted: IDDEAS@Stanford, which is a two-day immersion program for undergraduate students from diverse backgrounds interested in research and academia, the Building Momentum Conference, which brings aspiring entrepreneurs from underrepresented backgrounds to share inspiration, skills, and networking opportunities, and the inaugural MBA Application Week, an eight-workshop event meant to close the information gap for underrepresented communities that exists in admissions.

These events were created as a means to finding high potential leaders from all different backgrounds. “We wanted to help people to not only see themselves at the GSB,” says Torres, “but to also be able to put their best foot forward.”

Nearly 5,000 students showed up for MBA Application Week, and since then over 25,000 have downloaded the event’s YouTube videos. Torres explains that the workshops at MBA Application Week break down different questions students might be asked in their application and help them better prepare. “If you don’t have somebody in your network that went through business school, applying can be an intimidating process,” he says.

“MBA Application Week tried to level the playing field,” adds Moss. “A third of MBA applicants pay for coaching. That’s an expensive prospect if you’re coming from a lower socioeconomic background.”

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