25 Jun 2021

HBS Partners with OneTen Initiative


By: Shona Simkin

As part of Harvard Business School’s ongoing efforts towards advancing racial equity and diversity, the School has signed on as the first academic partner to the OneTen Initiative, a coalition of leading executives and organizations committed to hiring one million Black individuals over the next 10 years into jobs with family-sustaining wages and opportunities for advancement.

The collaboration will bring together the resources of HBS with OneTen’s growing network of American companies committed to making a lasting, systemic impact on racial and economic justice.

The OneTen Initiative launched in December 2020 with initial commitments from 37 major corporations. It was founded by Ken Frazier, chairman and CEO of Merck; Ken Chenault, chairman and managing director of General Catalyst and former chairman and CEO of American Express; Charles Phillips, managing partner of Recognize, chairman of the Black Economic Alliance and former CEO of Infor; Ginni Rometty, executive chairman and former CEO of IBM; and Kevin Sharer, former chairman and CEO of Amgen and former HBS faculty member.

In a recent webinar, Frazier noted that the average Black American family’s net worth is $4,000, while the average white family’s is $140,000. Much of that, he explained, is owing to employment disparities, which themselves are rooted in an unequal education system.

“Lots of companies have a requirement of a four-year college degree for the most basic, entry level positions in the company. Many people see the four-year degree as a proxy for the hard and soft skills that are necessary to be successful in the workplace—and if you have those requirements, you are unintentionally excluding 78% of African Americans who don’t have a four-year degree,” said Frazier. “We know that the style and way that people acquire skills in our society are very different than the way they used to be. What we’re trying to do is shift the paradigm about aptitude from one that is based on four-year degrees, or credentials, to one that’s actually based on skills, to give those people a meaningful pathway into an opportunity to have earned success.”

When Professor Emeritus James Cash heard about this burgeoning initiative, he immediately noted its alignment with HBS’s goals and mission. “It became very clear that the solution OneTen was proposing relied on a number of large-scale businesses providing opportunities for this target community, and that they were facing all of the challenges that exist in a business—recruiting, managing, and retaining an effective workforce,” said Cash. “These are things that we at HBS obviously spend a lot of time thinking about. It's going to be a great fit and provide a dramatically effective platform: both for the faculty to have field research opportunities and, more importantly, for us as a school to support and impact the practice of management in an area where many of us are still trying to learn how to be more effective.”

Dean Srikant Datar enthusiastically embraced the concept of a partnership. He asked Professors Boris Groysberg, Robin Ely, and Linda Hill to serve as faculty co-chairs, and the School has outlined a number of potential areas for engagement:

  • Research—Develop cases, articles, and other output, including those with immediate, practical application. A case on OneTen is underway.
  • Educational Programs—Offer HBS Online and Harvard Business Publishing content for asynchronous learning; leverage Executive Education programs to develop leaders and managers.
  • Convening and Dissemination—Launch on-campus and virtual gatherings for representatives from OneTen, partner companies, and faculty to share best practices and interim learnings; use channels like Harvard Business Publishing and Working Knowledge to reach wide audiences.
  • Other HBS Resources— Leverage opportunities such as MBA Program Independent Projects and FIELD immersions or courses, the Leadership Fellows Program, and longitudinal data collection.
  • Strengthen Connections—Engage and work with HBCU leaders and faculty.

"The OneTen Initiative builds on each of the engines and aspirations we have defined as strategic priorities for Harvard Business School,” said Datar. “As one example, we see powerful opportunities to spur research in action—including developing case studies, data gathering, convening, and the dissemination of best practices. Similarly, we can imagine digital transformation supporting the creation of a data lake that might be used by scholars at HBS, at HBCUs, and around the world. I'm incredibly excited by what the partnership will enable for us, for OneTen, and ultimately for society."

For Colleen Ammerman, director of the Gender Initiative (GI), the partnership is an exciting continuation—and expansion—of the research that the GI has focused on since its founding. “A lot of this research will push beyond the more traditional work that comes out of HBS and other business schools, which tends to focus on knowledge workers and people in higher income professions,” she said. “This is broader than that, and is a way for us to support the School's deepening prioritization and commitment to its role as a leader in advancing racial justice in the economy broadly and building on the foundation that we've established.”

Ely, chair of the GI, sees it as an opportunity to share, learn, and commit to sustainably promoting the Black labor force. “My hope is that employers will work with us and other scholars to experiment with different approaches and to develop metrics for assessing the impact of what they are doing, and most importantly, that they will be open to sharing data with us and each other about how it’s all going,” said Ely. “I also hope that through this initiative, HBS will become a hub for scholars and educators, both inside and outside the School—particularly scholars and educators from HBCUs—who will work together to generate knowledge in the form of both course materials and conventional research and that we will use HBS’s incredible convening and disseminating power to share it with the world.”

Groysberg concurs, noting that while this work is long overdue, he is heartened by the outpouring of support that he sees both within the School and in the world at large. “As someone who looks at diversity and inclusiveness, I have never seen more people asking questions or suggesting research ideas on this topic. Faculty from many different units are excited about this initiative, and students and alumni are raising their hands to help,” he said. “Three different groups are pushing for progress—governments saying this is not fair, organizations saying this is not right, and individuals saying things have to change. Three forces moving in the same direction gives me more confidence than I've ever had. There's urgency here—people point to 2020 as a catalyst, and I agree, but this inequality was present in the past, it's present now, and we have to ensure that the future is much, much better.”

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