18 Dec 2020

Harvard Business School Racial Equity Plan: Full Updates on Selected Areas


In September, the Dean’s Anti-Racism Task Force—launched by Dean Nitin Nohria in June and co-chaired by Ron Chandler, Jan Hammond, and Jan Rivkin—released its action plan to advance racial equity on the HBS campus and in the world. The plan laid out seven key areas of focus:

  1. Make clear where we stand and where we aim to go.
  2. Establish the enduring structures.
  3. Attract additional Black talent to all parts of the HBS community.
  4. Develop and disseminate research.
  5. Equip our students to become leaders for racial equity.
  6. Engage with the broader business community.
  7. Hold ourselves accountable to meaningful, measurable progress.

Over the past three months, ambition has turned into action. While the majority of Task Force members have finished their initial assignments, Chandler, Hammond, and Rivkin continue to move the work forward, joined by Dobbin Bookman, Jean Cunningham, Jen Eliason, Brian Kenny, and Kathleen McGinn to comprise a steering committee that will coordinate and impel efforts until a Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer (CDIO) is hired (see below). Additionally, Jill Fadule has been brought on as an interim project manager, ensuring coordination across the many areas of activity and working with others to advance progress on strategic priorities.

Below are some highlights of the work that has been unfolding in selected areas. (See here for a comprehensive account of the progress that HBS has made on its Racial Equity Plan)

The search for new leadership

Hiring a Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, notes Chief Human Resources Officer Ellen Mahoney, will be a crucial step in guiding racial equity efforts across the School. Toward that end, HBS has engaged search firm Isaacson, Miller—the organization that last year successfully recruited Sherri Ann Charleston to serve as Harvard University’s CDIO—to lead the search for Harvard Business School.

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. It 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. “Discovery is an essential part of the hiring process,” said Mahoney. “To get the very best candidate, we need to have a thorough understanding of the expectations of the community.”

From there, the pool will be narrowed to a few promising individuals who will meet with a range of HBS community members—including leadership among the faculty, staff, and student clubs and the Student Association. "We're a consensus-driven organization," notes Mahoney, "and so we tend to invest heavily in the interview phase as a means of ensuring we've identified someone with a deep understanding of and excitement about the role." The goal is to have the position filled in the spring, with onboarding beginning before the end of the semester.

Reassessing the approach to financial aid in the MBA Program

Beginning with the 2021-2022 academic year, MBA students will benefit from a new approach to evaluating and awarding need-based scholarships. In addition to individual income and assets, a student’s socioeconomic background—including their family’s income and assets—will also be considered in determining aid. Though the new approach focuses on socioeconomic background and not race, it is likely to have an outsized effect on Black students because past and current policies and practices in America have deterred Black families from accumulating wealth over generations.

“We are working hard to attract and support students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds—some of whom face significant financial obligations and may self-select out of HBS as a result,” said Chad Losee, managing director of MBA Admissions and Financial Aid. “This change is intended to help us better account for intergenerational wealth differences, hopefully removing this barrier for outstanding candidates considering the MBA degree.”

The new section of the financial aid application, required of all applicants, takes no more than 15 minutes to complete and requires no input or documentation from parents. “We don't want the application itself to be so onerous that it becomes a barrier,” said Susan Gilbert, director of MBA Financial Aid. “We have seen over time how promising applicants who may be supporting their families look at the debt that may be accrued in pursing an MBA as insurmountable. We believe this shift will encourage more of them to apply.”

Preparing faculty to address sensitive topics in the classroom

Jan Hammond, senior associate dean for culture and community, is working to ensure that faculty can address sensitive topics in the classroom. Some cases, she explained, explicitly focus on identity topics such as race, gender, sexuality, and ethnicity, while others may elicit expected or unexpected conversations about socioeconomic inclusion, cultural identity, and stereotypes. “It takes practice and repetition to get comfortable with teaching materials that touch on identity issues,” said Hammond. “It’s important to be adept at how to introduce a difficult discussion, how to effectively lead dialog during the discussion, and how to close or wrap up the discussion.”

This semester, Hammond has engaged Dr. Stephanie Creary, an expert on race and race relationships from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, to work with HBS faculty members on issues of race in the classroom. Creary is partnering with MBA Required Curriculum teaching groups on training sessions that include frameworks and best practices for engaging in discussions of race, as well as practicing more specific situations around current cases with Black and other diverse protagonists. To date, she has met with two faculty teaching groups; several other two-hour sessions are planned in the coming semester.

Additionally, Creary has worked individually with faculty members developing cases that feature Black protagonists, reviewing case drafts to offer insights on potential areas and issues that might arise during class and suggestions for how to approach a teaching plan.

“My hope is that we will start building a common understanding and language around these issues so that we can have deeper understanding and better discussions—more comfort, confidence, and competence discussing racial issues,” said Hammond. “I'd like every faculty member to have the training. These conversations can be challenging at times, with very strong and emotional feelings, so it's not going to be easy. But I am committed, and the School is committed, to significantly raising the level of expertise and comfort creating and teaching these materials.”

Accelerating the development of high-potential executives

Executive Education is preparing to launch a new program: a customized multi-year program to develop underrepresented/unrecognized minority (URMs) leaders.

The new fellowship program has been created for mid- to early-career URMs, a career segment that has been 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, becoming a cohort and affinity group with access to a broader range of HBS resources and networks. Other executives within the sponsoring organizations 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: imagine the first floor as entry level and the fourth 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 HBS 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.”

Creating the Racial Equity Advisory Board

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 emeriti faculty member who currently leads the Cash Catalyst and has served on the board of directors of many leading US companies—serving as chair.

The REAB will meet twice annually to provide feedback on the School's efforts, serve as a sounding board, and share best practices. Notes Cash, "We thought carefully about how to make this group a win-win. For HBS, we'll gain the perspective and expertise of leaders who are transforming their organizations to advance racial equity on a global scale. We hope to bring to the board the benefit of faculty scholarship, and perhaps even of student engagement and passion. The bar is high on both sides—as it should be to effect meaningful change."

Also in the works is a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Advisory Council—a group that likely will be larger, engage members of the community, and meet more frequently. "While the REAB will focus strategically on issues of race," notes Fadule, "the DEI Advisory Council will look at broader issues of diversity and inclusion.”

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