18 Dec 2020

Harvard Business School Racial Equity Plan Highlights for December 2020


The following is an update on progress made on various action items in the Racial Equity Plan announced by the School on September 23, 2020.

Establish the enduring structures required for the journey ahead.

New Leadership

The job description for the School’s first Chief Diversity Equity and Inclusion Officer (CDEIO) is being finalized. Search firm Isaacson, Miller—utilized in Harvard University’s recent CDEIO search—reports many inbound nominations. The Isaacson, Miller team is seeking broad input from faculty, staff, students, and alumni about the qualities and characteristics important in a candidate, the aspirations for the role, and how the School will define success. The team is currently on an extensive listening tour, with the expectation that a formal job description will be finalized by the end of the year and a strong candidate pool identified in early 2021.

A New Dean’s Initiative

Discussions are underway with a small working group to configure a new Racial Equity Initiative within the existing structures of the Initiatives, our research-fueled “communities of engagement.”

The steering group propelling these two efforts forward is composed of Dobbin Bookman (Executive Education program director), Ron Chandler (chief information officer), Jean Cunningham (associate dean for academic and faculty affairs), Jen Eliason (associate director of diversity, inclusion, and belonging), Jan Hammond (associate dean for culture and community), Brian Kenny (chief marketing and communications officer), Kathleen McGinn (senior associate dean for faculty strategy and recruiting), and Jan Rivkin (senior associate dean and chair of the MBA Program), with Jill Fadule (director of joint degree programs, MBA Student and Academic Services) serving as project manager.

Attract additional Black talent to all parts of the HBS community.


Building on years-long efforts to grow and diversify faculty at all levels, all faculty units are identifying potential barriers and biases—such as a too-narrow pool of schools and disciplines—towards achieving those goals. The Racial Equity Plan has helped to explicitly prioritize and mandate efforts towards increasing diversity. Under the leadership of Kathleen McGinn, senior associate dean for faculty strategy and recruiting, the team is examining every single aspect of, and step in, the School’s recruiting and hiring and development processes to see what biases may be present and to work within each unit, and collectively, to eliminate them.


During September and October, Human Resources conducted a series of focus groups with minority staff members to find out more about their work life experience, and to ask for ideas on three areas of focus: talent acquisition, development, and engagement. Roughly 70 staff attended the sessions, providing candid feedback and sharing ideas for improvement that led to several initiatives, including:

  • HBS managers now have two new mandatory trainings on behavioral interviewing and managing diversity. Certificates of completion are required before an open position may be filled.
  • LinkedIn upgrades will increase HR’s ability to identify and engage diverse candidates.
  • Planning with hiring managers will now include a focused discussion on minority sourcing, including a minimum of two minority applicants in the finalist pool, and tailoring job descriptions to focus on skills and experience.
  • A new staff affinity group for Black and African American staff members will be announced in the new year, with plans underway for Latinx staff affinity group soon after. Guide sheets have been created for volunteer affinity group leaders that include tips on structure and resources.
  • A new internal quarterly newsletter focused on diversity topics has been added to HR’s monthly staff communications.
  • Mentor programs for minority staff are being researched and developed.
  • Developmental activities and resources to support a diverse work culture are being explored.

Students/Admissions/Financial Aid

The MBA and Doctoral Program will hire a director of diversity and inclusion to focus on the student experience, complementing the work being done in Student and Academic Services. Reporting to Jana Kierstead, executive director of the MBA and Doctoral Programs, the director will serve on the Programs’ leadership team and be an integral part of the broader diversity and inclusion efforts at the School.

HBS financial aid, which has always been need-based, now considers socioeconomic background as well as individual financial circumstances for a more holistic assessment of need. The team that designed the new approach and formula prioritized an equitable process for all applicants, with input from students, faculty, staff, and financial aid experts. Mindful of the potential for burdensome requirements that might discourage or prevent eligible students from applying, the new section of the application takes no more than 10-15 minutes to complete and requires no input or data from parents. This new approach will benefit all students of lower socio-economic backgrounds.

Develop and disseminate research and course material on advancing racial equity in business.

A major focus of this action item is centered on increasing the diversity of case protagonists and enhancing their impact, which requires four inter-related efforts:

  • making space for new cases in the curriculum;
  • finding appropriate case leads;
  • coordinating outreach and case development efforts; and
  • properly describing protagonists.

The Case Research & Writing Group (CRG) teamed up with student and alumni groups as well as colleagues in External Relations and Executive Education to source and vet case leads. The CRG also partnered with Baker Library and the Global Initiative to set up a diversity case tracker that enables faculty to submit case wishes and access case leads as well as obtain information about cases in progress and completed cases that feature underrepresented/unrecognized minority (URM) protagonists (including women). A related effort now enables case protagonists to self-describe along race/ethnicity and gender dimensions.

The CRG team also engaged in diversity and inclusion and implicit bias training and supported Professors Mayo and Feldberg’s note to provide guidance on how to describe protagonists.

A new gift from the Bower Family Fund supports the writing of cases related to racial equity.

Equip our students to become leaders for racial equity.

Preparing Faculty for sensitive conversations in the classroom

Building on several years of faculty training on difficult and sensitive topics in the classroom, Senior Associate Dean for Culture and Community Jan Hammond has engaged Dr. Stephanie Creary from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, an expert on race and race relationships. Creary has met with two Required Curriculum (RC) teaching groups (with three more planned) to provide a general framework about race and to help plan for cases with race-related content. The goal is to begin building a common understanding and language around these issues, leading to a deeper understanding and better discussions—more comfort, confidence, and competence around issues of race. The plan is to scale the training to make it available to every faculty member.

New offerings for students

Matt Weinzierl, chair of the RC curriculum, is working on a curricular roadmap for better representation on issues of diversity and equity, with the possibility of creating a new course on race and identity. Scaling Minority Businesses, a new course offered this fall with Professors Archie Jones, Henry McGee, and Jeff Bussgang, partnered MBA students with local Black-owned businesses. The class featured an in-progress case that traces the journey of Tyler Simpson (MBA 2020) and Kimberly Foster (MBA 2020) as they launched the first Black Tech Masters Series at HBS. Also this past term, Professors Robin Ely and Kathleen McGinn offered a new seminar on readings on race and gender.

The Managing Diversity speaker series, which brings together leading scholars and business leaders in a series of conversations on the impact of systemic racism in business and in society, launched with four conversations featuring retired faculty member Jim Cash, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Isabel Wilkerson, TIAA CEO Roger Ferguson, and co-CEO and president of Ariel Investments Mellody Hobson.

Rethinking policies and the physical environment

The School’s formal diversity policy statements are being assessed by a new working group that includes three RC section senators (Carlton Burrell, Ryan Calhoun, and Tosin Sonuyi), Jean Cunningham, Leadership Initiative Associate Director Letty Garcia, Professor Robin Greenwood, Director of Community Standards and Administration Dana Pratt, Jan Rivkin, and Professor Andy Zelleke.

On September 29 of this year, HBS honored Jim Cash—for the racial barriers he has transcended and for the work he has done to advance racial equity in the US—by renaming a building in his honor. The Cash House name was unveiled in a virtual town hall attended by faculty, staff, and students, and represents the aspiration that members of the community see themselves in campus spaces and take pride in those whose names define the School's physical landscape.

Improved data collection and analysis

The MBA Program collects substantial data in its admissions process, and efforts are underway to mirror that collection in Executive Education, Doctoral, and HBS Online. Questions about race, ethnicity, and gender—all measures of personal identification—are self-reported, change over time, and are defined differently by different countries. Further complicating the matter, not all schools follow the same guidelines (HBS adheres to the GMAC federal standards). Jan Hammond is leading the effort to understand what questions are asked, how they are asked, and how much data the School has. The goal is to make all aspects of race, ethnicity, and gender measurable to help chart progress. The School will also look at program satisfaction by gender and race to establish benchmarks and experiment with approaches to see what works. Hammond says that a data-driven analysis of HBS’s strengths and weaknesses can be used to drive change.

Engage with the broader business community to promote racial equity.

Strategic Alliance

HBS has announced a collaboration with the Executive Leadership Council, a national organization comprising current and former Black CEOs and senior executives that aims to open channels of opportunity for the development of Black executives to positively impact businesses and communities. The collaboration will focus on three areas: building the pipeline of Black business leaders for the future, cultivating high-potential executive leaders, and infusing diversity into the MBA curriculum.


This past summer’s racial awakening occurred in the midst of a revitalization of the HBS African-American Alumni Association (HBSAAA) that had been underway since the 2018 AASU50 celebration. With a new governance and organizing structure, HBSAA leaders dove into building a framework for affecting lasting change for their community and constituencies. The result is a three-pillared approach to addressing the persistent barriers to growing wealth in the Black community.

  • The Capital Access Hub will create two databases to match vetted enterprises in need of capital with investors within the HBSAAA network of alumni and allies.
  • The Opportunity & Performance Network will bolster those matched enterprises, and lead meaningful growth, through connections that can offer expertise in such areas as expanding a customer base, new vendor relations, or securing contracts.
  • High Impact Giving will focus on leveraging HBSAAA’s shared skills and expertise towards charities that help extend or strengthen the pipeline of potential future business leaders and MBA students.

“With these three areas, we believe we can have a tremendous impact on the trajectory of black business, building black wealth, and creating a pipeline so that the program regenerates and continues,” said Lewis Long (MBA 1991), HBSAAA executive vice-president.

Further, HBSAA is seizing this moment to motivate Black alumni to reengage with the School with activities such as webinars, newsletters, board preparedness seminars, networking circles, and a town hall with the Black mayors of Chicago, San Francisco, and Washington, DC. In the past seven months, the team has led 13 webinars with more than 570 attendees, and has gained or renewed 112 new members. A new marketplace, which is in the beta stage of development, connects members and alumni with new opportunities for careers, board memberships, and HBS case protagonists. Over the summer, members worked with CRG to help identify more than 45 potential Black protagonists.

“HBSAAA is engaged as a key partner in these efforts towards racial equity, and we look forward to working with the School to help drive the actionability, accountability, and measurement of the Racial Equity Plan,” said Beverly Anderson (MBA 1997), co-president of HSAAA. “Our alums are all over the country and world, and are in roles to advance—and cheerlead—every aspect of the plan,” concurred Long.

Service Providers

The HBS Financial Office has pulled current data on vendor demographics and has initiated conversations on increasing diversity within the vendor pool. HBS Marketing & Communications has launched a research effort to identify minority-owned firms, and Harvard Business Publishing is conducting a survey of vendors and partners to understand their diversity and inclusion policies.

Community Collaboration

A new strategic collaboration between HBS and the Executive Leadership Council will work to develop programs for underrepresented minorities and advise the School’s efforts towards advancing racial equity. Members of the ELC, many of whom are HBS alumni, may also serve as inspiration—and protagonists—for future HBS cases. Specific initiatives include a customized Executive Education course, direct support for MBA students via a speaker series and community events, and the creation of a sponsored scholar program.

Executive Education

Executive Education is creating two new programs: a customized multi-year program to develop URM leaders and a program to advance women of color (in partnership with the Leadership Initiative).

A new fellowship program has been created for mid- to early-career URMs, a career segment that has and continues to be poorly represented in HBS Executive Education offerings. In this sponsorship model program, individuals go through a six-month leadership training program, emerging with a cohort community and affinity group with access to HBS resources and networks. Executives within the sponsoring organization engage in parallel programming focused on how to build and sustain a supportive work environment.

The premise, said Director Dobbin Bookman, is built on the concept of management progression as a four-level building in which the first floor is entry level and the fourth is for C-suite executives. URMs are plentiful at the first and second levels, he explained, but rarely advance further. “When you get to the second floor it takes strategy, sponsorship, self-awareness, strategic thinking, and political savvy to get yourself to the third floor,” said Bookman. “Once you get to three, you're in the Executive Education pipeline with various programs to choose from. This fellowship, and a lot of these initiatives, are about getting people from the second floor to the third floor and building organizational ecosystems from those sponsors who are committed to building a nurturing environment that allows for growth.”

Bookman also explained that much of the team’s focus is on growing the pipeline to HBS by reaching candidates in the organizational band, as well as underrepresented minorities in high school and college who might be thinking about business. The goal is to nurture their careers and give them access to the School’s resources.

Hold ourselves accountable to meaningful, measurable progress.

Each element of the plan has an underpinning of action commitments, individuals, timelines, and a steering group. Two new organizations will serve to ensure progress and accountability, both helmed by Jim Cash. Consistent with the aspiration of holding the School accountable to measurable, meaningful progress, a Racial Equity Advisory Board (REAB) has been formed and will comprise Ken Chenault (General Catalyst), Ken Frazier (Merck), Doug McMillon (Walmart), Brian Moynihan (Bank of America), and Lisa Skeete Tatum (Landit), with Jim Cash—an emeritus faculty member who currently leads the Cash Catalyst and has served on the board of directors of many leading US companies—serving as chair.

A larger group, tentatively titled the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Advisory Council, is in the process of being formed, and will serve to both advise the dean and to participate more directly in diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts across the school.

Public reporting will also be an important way of holding the School accountable for making meaningful progress. In addition to building a robust website that drills down into each aspect of the action plan, the School will provide updates on a regular basis that could take the form of articles, live forums, or reports, keeping this topic front and center.

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