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Advancing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion as an MBA student

Ziana Kotadia (MBA ’22) reports on the first DEI summit which brought together six business schools from across the country On April 7 over 1,000 students from 20 countries assembled to help answer the question “as an MBA student, how can I help advance diversity, equity, and inclusion—in my life and at my future organization?” The conference, organised and led by students from HBS, Wharton, Tuck, Kellogg, Darden and Michigan Ross, was inspired by movements around racial injustices. Ananya Zutshi (MS/MBA ’21) and Rebecca Cink (MBA ’21) were the two HBS students who founded the summit. Zutshi notes, “After witnessing the events of 2020, we asked ourselves, ‘how can we make a difference?’ We felt that MBA programs need to be doing more to promote change and that too many companies treat DEI as a checkbox initiative and fall short of meaningful progress. We wanted this conference to be different. We strove to create a summit where students could learn from business leaders and experts, develop a toolkit of best practices, and emerge from the session with a list of concrete actions they would take.”  The conference consisted of three sections, Learn, Equip and Act. Joyce Chang, Global Head of Research at JP Morgan and one of the Top 25 most powerful women in finance, opened the summit. Chang is spending her 32nd year on Wall Street and highlighted that while DEI in finance has evolved since she first joined, there is still much room for improvement. For Chang, Diversity is about casting a broad net, Equity is about making sure that it is fair and Inclusion is about making sure these voices are heard.  One of the conference highlights was a panel discussion moderated by Dia Draper, Tuck Assistant Dean for DEI. Draper was joined by Jessica Pugh (Central Strategy and Operations Manager, Google), Natalie Edwards (Former DEI Director, Estee Lauder; Current CDO, National Grid), Jerry Won (Founder and CEO, Just Like Media) and Kwasi Mitchell (Principal and Chief Purpose Officer, Deloitte). The most recent Black Lives Matter movement, and tragic hate crimes towards the Asian community, set the backdrop for the discussion. Won noted, “being heard in the shadows of tragedy is not fun, after the Asian American hate crimes, I’ve now become a popular man in my organization, but DEI should not be reactive, it should be proactive.” Mitchell echoed this sentiment and stated, “I was black before George Flloyd was killed, and I’m going to be black tomorrow.”  For Edwards, she was the only person in her class that went into a DEI related career. From her experience in the beauty industry she talked about how it is easy to put a model that has a darker skin tone on an ad, but it takes more effort and investment to recruit people that look like that same model, and that is often overlooked. In industry, people tend to focus so much on external customers, and suppliers, that they forget the people they work with, and sit next to. And so, we continuously need to push ourselves to think ‘what else;’ as soon as we think we’ve finished on Equity, we probably still have very far to go. The panel highlighted that often we are scared to engage in DEI conversations, fearing that it is not our place, or that we are not educated enough to speak out. But we were encouraged to show up, even if we are imperfect and still learning, because giving space to a topic demonstrates you care. Pugh commented on the vast amounts of information out there to educate ourselves on DEI related matters. Pugh emphasised, “It is ok to show up imperfect, it is ok to say, ‘I don’t know what to say,’ but when you’re silent, it raises doubt.” The panel concluded by noting, “if other people start standing in solidarity, then it’s unstoppable.”  While Zutshi and Cink are graduating this year, they are hopeful this effort will continue. Cink explains, “We have to unite because DEI is bigger than any one of us individually, it’s everyone’s business. Over this process we learned a lot, met incredible people and were consistently amazed by the support from the business community. We are immensely grateful to everyone who led, sponsored and attended this year’s conference and we are eager to see this effort continue. It’s only the beginning.”

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