At Wharton, Building A New Coalition For Equity & Opportunity

Huntsman Hall at The Wharton School. Courtesy photo


What will the Coalition for Equity & Opportunity (CEO) do?

A lot of what the Wharton CEO will provide are the data-driven pieces of information business may need to make decisions in the space. Over 100 faculty members have some type of research in the space already: Things like the effectiveness of online diversity training, or work that ties into student loan forgiveness and who does that help or not? All these sorts of things that have the rigor of the work that Wharton faculty do. We’ll also identify other areas that we need to look at further.

One of the great alums that we spoke with as we were putting this together – and it’s still in construction – said one of the best things that we can do is find ways for people who can’t touch Wharton in a traditional way to get some of those insights and to move their lives or their communities forward. So that’s a lot of what dean James has charged me to figure out how to do.

I understand the coalition is still under construction, so to speak. Do you have a rough timeline for milestones moving forward?

The hope is that, by this spring, we’re able to really more fully invite people to join the coalition and to announce some of the formal things that we have underway. A major part is to translate work that’s been done here already, and then to figure out the best ways to disseminate it. Those kinds of things are already underway.

We were intentional in naming it the Coalition for Equity & Opportunity (Wharton CEO). There are three aspects of the name that are important: The ‘coalition’ part is to really set it apart from a traditional center or institute. We really do want to work with whoever wants to work on this issue, whether it’s corporate partners or other schools that may have similar initiatives. It’s to be a coalition in the broadest sense.

Second, the idea of equity in terms of the bottom-line case for doing these things, but also in terms of fairness.

And third, the acronym CEO overall. We are talking with CEOs, alums, and partners about how this fits into the corporate space.

Can you expand on the kinds of partners you hope to bring on board?

We’re still in conversation around this, but I think there’s three primary categories that we anticipate: First, obviously, the corporate partners both in the traditional partnership kind of way, but also, what other avenues should we be exploring?

Second, one of the things that business schools need to be conscious of is the access that they have to communities. How do you get from Wharton to, you know, South Central or wherever it might be? Do we have the connections to do that? We’re having conversations with a lot of foundations and people that actually work there: Is there a way that we should partner with them?

And finally, corporate foundations, individuals, policy entities, and other academic institutions who might be interested in this kind of work.

Wharton students walk along Locust Walk at the University of Pennsylvania. Courtesy photo

How does the coalition fit into Wharton’s research system? Will you be directing research, centralizing work in this space? What will that look like?

Part of this assessment phase is to figure out what research has been done and in what amount. We also want to have a hub for continued research, which will certainly utilize faculty but also be a space for predocs, postdocs, undergrads, and doctoral students to do this work.

To some extent, part of what we’re thinking is, as you know, the traditional kind of business school research turnaround would be a couple of years on a project. Is there a way to do this in a shorter amount of time, for purposeful answers to simpler questions: Like, say, how many women billionaires are there in a certain country and why can’t there be more?

The other thing that we hope, with the broader reach of Wharton CEO, is to attract scholars who say, ‘Wharton is a place that is doing this kind of work, perhaps it’s a place that I would like to be.’ We’re all trying to figure out the difficult puzzle of how to attract more scholars of color to your institution, and how to attract scholars interested in this space.

Is this a unique approach for business schools?

We did do a little assessment of who’s doing this work, and I guess the first answer is we’ll see: Who has the enterprise that will be sustained and focused on this? Our version, in the best case, is that when you think of Wharton five years from now, you’ll think of finance, real estate entrepreneurship, and equity and opportunity. Maybe not a formal department, but at least that kind of work is done at Wharton.

Part of the coalition’s aim is that this isn’t a fleeting initiative, but something that is sustained. The best case outcome is if all business schools do something similar to create a broader impact, because one school can only do so much.

How is this distinguished from other DEI and similar initiatives at Wharton?

There are certainly initiatives around making our school more inclusive and more diverse. This is really about, how do we use the power of the business school to more broadly impact business and society on these equity and opportunity issues. What do we do best as a business school? We do research. Then, how do we take this data-driven information and have impact?

Say, for example, I lead a company and I want to know if online diversity training works. Where is some data-driven information to help me make this kind of determination? We’re trying to figure out if we should support or not this idea of student loan forgiveness, let’s see the data.
We know, there’s so much information at these institutions that it’s just not out there broadly enough. So that’s what I think is different.

Anybody else yet on your team that you’d like to talk about?

We just made a pretty exciting hire to be the managing director. Her name is Fareeda Griffith, and she’s currently a sociology and anthropology professor at Denison University. She did her doctorate work on housing segregation in South Africa, which plays to the global aspect of the coalition.

We also have one MBA, one doctoral student and one undergrad working in the research assessment already. They’re all Wharton students.

Anything else you’d like to add?

This is definitely not just me. I’m an old faculty colleague, and I’m trying to get around to the faculty and make sure we find out what’s of interest to them: What kind of engagement they want to have. Listening phase is kind of an understatement of what’s going at this stage, not just with faculty but with external people as well.


Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.