Cassidy Wald (MBA 2023) has been named the recipient of the School’s Dean’s Award. This award celebrates the extraordinary achievements of a graduating student who, during their time in their program, has made a positive impact on Harvard, Harvard Business School, and/or broader communities through exceptional acts of leadership. Nominations come from across the HBS community.

“This year’s Dean’s Award recipient exemplifies the School’s mission and values,” said Dean Datar. “Cassidy has expanded our community’s understanding of disability and accessibility. She worked tirelessly to improve and enhance Harvard Business School’s programs and processes—from admissions through career and professional development—to ensure that every student can thrive, and that our community is stronger and more empathetic. Because of her efforts, future leaders will have a better understanding of how disabilities affect the lives and work of their coworkers and teams, and steps they can take to make their organizations more inclusive. I am deeply grateful for her contributions.”

Wald was formally recognized during graduation week.

As a child, Wald hid her inability to read by memorizing the books she heard read aloud. Years later, in high school, she finally had an answer to why she struggled with things that came so easily to others: dyslexia and dysgraphia.

Resolving to live freely and publicly with her learning differences, in college Wald led her school’s local chapter of Eye to Eye, a national nonprofit focused on improving the educational experiences and outcomes of neurodiverse youth, and later helped to found a disability affinity group at Bain Consulting. At HBS, she again saw opportunities for cultural and academic change.

“When I was younger, I was embarrassed to take exams in the ‘extra time room.’ As I came to better understand my learning differences, I started to take pride in them and recognize how they allowed me to connect with people who I might not have otherwise met,” said Wald. “Knowing that so many people live with disabilities, many more serious than mine, I wanted to speak with those around me to better understand their experiences. At HBS, I have been working to figure out how we can improve the support provided to individuals with disabilities and their caretakers.”

Over the past two years, Wald helped to lay the groundwork for greater awareness of visible and invisible disabilities throughout the HBS community of students, faculty, and staff. She and Landon Hollingsworth (MBA 2024) co-founded the Disability Affinity and Advocacy Group (DAAG) to destigmatize disabilities, support and empower the HBS disabled community, and advocate for greater representation in the initiatives prioritized across all HBS departments.

DAAG worked with MBA Admissions & Financial Aid to host webinars for prospective students and held in-person disability-awareness events for newly admitted students. They also lobbied for changes to student polls and event signup forms to include questions about accommodations to make events more accessible.

With Career and Professional Development, DAAG is now connecting alumni with disabilities with current students. They are working on a resource guide for students and recruiters on how to effectively disclose and discuss disabilities, and for employers on how to support and empower their disabled staff. Plans for fireside chats with subject experts—alumni who have navigated their own disabilities in the workplace or are now in positions with hiring responsibilities—are underway for next fall.

As the co-president of the Future of Work Club, Wald combined her passion for empowering diverse workforces with her interest in rapidly evolving workforce technology and employee cultures—matters upon which she will continue to focus throughout her career.

“As a society we don't always know how to support and accommodate people with disabilities in ways that are really meaningful. My passion is creating structures and cultures in which people with disabilities—visible and invisible, temporary and permanent—can thrive in their personal and professional lives. Everyone deserves the same set of opportunities, and in my experience, organizations are super excited to provide those opportunities once they have been made aware of the constraints that currently exist,” said Wald.

Reflecting on her time at HBS, Wald is eager to see how her efforts to raise awareness evolve in the community, and hopes that the expansion of understanding and support becomes fully integrated into the themes of leadership, workforce development, and creating meaningful change.

“All of us will work with people whose lives are touched by disabilities—someone who is dealing with depression, someone who has just torn an Achilles tendon, someone who is the caretaker for someone with a developmental disability,” said Wald. “The question I always ask myself is: How can I improve the workplace experience for these colleagues? We’ll all be better leaders if we can help to implement effective policies for recruiting, training, and promoting people with disabilities.”

HBS recognized Wald for her exceptional efforts in building a foundation for disability awareness and education, which position HBS to be the leading business school in this area in the years to come.

This article was originally published on the HBS Newsroom page.