15 Jun 2020

Anti-racism action plan


Dear members of the HBS community,

Last weekend, I pledged that Harvard Business School would make more urgent progress toward being actively anti-racist. With input from our community, including leaders of our African American Student Union (AASU), I identified areas of activities we would pursue—including research and education, supporting the Black community within and beyond HBS, and engaging the broader business community on racial justice. I committed the School to immediately undertake a planning process that would yield a thoughtful action plan by the beginning of the fall term.

This past week has made clear how urgently we need to move this work forward. The panelists in last Thursday's Community Conversation on Race described experiences, including on our campus, that no one should have to endure. And, in an article in Poets and Quants, former faculty member Steve Rogers outlined important concerns about the School. Though it's not appropriate for me to speak publicly on confidential personnel matters, please know that I and other leaders at the School have carefully reflected on Steve's words. We believe there are inaccuracies in the piece and are working to share data related to race more transparently. But we cannot dispute Steve's lived experience at HBS—it pains us deeply and we must learn from it.

The responses we heard to the Community Conversation varied widely. Many reached out to say that the panelists' comments deepened their learning and galvanized them to act against racism. At the other end of the spectrum, we heard from attendees who were deeply disappointed. "Why are we having the same conversation again?" they asked, and "Where is your action plan?"

We must indeed hasten to take action. It is a time when all of us—champions, advocates, allies, critics, and bystanders—must come together: for personal reflection; to review how our own practices, whether as individuals or as part of institutions, have resulted in the outcomes we see today; to chart a new path forward that might identify and eliminate the barriers that have limited progress in the past; and to enact real change on specified timelines. We also need to do so thoughtfully, because the issues we have to tackle are systemic and severe. We are committed to developing a plan by the fall that, simultaneously, begins to dismantle the structures that reproduce racially-biased outcomes and spurs the rise of anti-racism. We will begin implemention this summer wherever we can.

Based on the input we have received, aspects of our action plan are already becoming apparent. We will want to stand up an enduring entity to anchor our anti-racism research, education, and outreach activities, much as other Projects and Initiatives at the School have ensured sustained focus. The entity will need to be funded and supported for impact and reach. It will need to include a roadmap for actionable work and desired outcomes for the coming year, three years, and five years and beyond. It will require a leadership team that reflects the voices and perspectives of students, alumni, staff, and faculty, Black and non-Black alike. It will need to tap outside experts, knowledgeable in the study of race.

The action plan taking shape this summer will have external- and internal-facing aspects. External efforts might focus on developing frameworks to guide management practice, writing cases to be taught not just at HBS but at business schools around the world, conducting research to share with other scholars, convening leaders to accelerate change, and leveraging the scale, creativity, and impact of our alumni. Internal efforts will make sure that we are actively anti-racist in our classrooms, in our workplace, and in all our people-related practices. We will also need a set of metrics and a system of accountability to ensure we are making progress. We will prepare and share the first such report on race at the School before the end of the summer.

Near the end of Thursday's Community Conversation, my colleague Jan Rivkin suggested that we do not yet do enough to prepare our students—in their ensuing careers—to ensure the organizations they work in elevate Black talent equally, to serve Black customers fairly, and to create opportunity justly. To teach our students to do these things well, we need to do them well at Harvard Business School itself.

I look forward to engaging faculty, staff, students, and alumni in the short planning process that lies ahead. You can expect an update in August on the action plan that emerges.

I will resist the urge to ask HBS's Black community for patience and trust. People who have waited for centuries to receive what others get at birth should not be asked for patience, and trust must be earned. I will ask, instead, for the commitment of the entire HBS community to this work.

Best regards,

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