22 Sep 2021

Racial Equity Plan Anniversary: Staff Efforts Across Campus


by Shona Simkin

One of the priorities of the HBS Plan for Racial Equity is centering efforts across the School, making it an institution that rejects racism as “fundamentally inconsistent with our mission and values,” one that is “an organization in which all members of our community recognize, identify, and actively dismantle the barriers that hold back Black members of our community.” The past year has seen a constellation of activities towards those efforts in the staff community—from trainings and workshops to new partnerships and affinity groups—to begin, bolster, and engage more deeply.

Jen Eliason, associate director of diversity, inclusion, and belonging, says that among the many opportunities created by the Plan is the recognition of HBS as an institution with a vast array of organizational contributors. “In many ways, staff are our constant,” said Eliason. “What are the resources that we can make available to them so that working at HBS can be an enriching experience? So that they feel like this is a place where they can be heard and they can have development opportunities around diversity and equity and be part of the conversation?”

Staff affinity groups, says Eliason, have been a meaningful addition. While there are long standing employee resource groups at Harvard University, their creation at HBS allows for a closer sense of community and connection. Black and Latinx staff affinity groups meet regularly, and an Asian group formation is underway. The LGBTQ+ lunch group, which was established decades ago, is open to staff, faculty, and students.

“In 2020, after an unprecedented deployment of HBS staff to home offices, and the social unrest following the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, there was a reignited interest for Black staff across HBS to safely convene,” said Jennifer Little, Ethiopiah Al-Mahdi, and Mel Martin, co-chairs of the Black affinity group. “Over the last nine months, members have shared feelings of affirmation and a sense of belonging through our in-person and virtual gatherings. As we look ahead, we plan to engage our membership to explore ways of fostering community, building connections across the Boston community, advancing professional goals, and making a lasting impact among Black staff at HBS.”

Eliason has developed a series of freestanding training sessions that examine many issues around diversity, equity, and inclusion such as whiteness and white privilege, allyship, and race and racial identity formation, aimed at breaking stereotypes and building the skillsets that help to engage in these conversations. Newer, more in-depth sessions require a half day commitment, and focus on such topics as implicit bias—its science and evolution and how it might affect one’s day-to-day work. These sessions are available to any staff groups on campus, says Eliason, noting that many departments have undertaken their own training initiatives or grown those already in progress.

In the MBA and Doctoral Programs, the events over the summer of 2020 brought a sense of greater urgency, and diversification, to work that had been underway for nearly five years. A smaller task force grew into a diversity, inclusion, and belonging committee that is now broadly engaged in connecting and communicating smaller team-based efforts throughout the department—including regular topic-based meetings, sessions with rotating hosts, book clubs, video screenings and discussions, and workshops and training sessions. A departmental Microsoft Teams chat is dedicated to sharing topical articles, podcasts, books, and other media.

“This is a journey and ongoing work,” said Dana Pratt, the MBA Program’s director of community standards and administration. “It helps us as a group to better understand each other and create a more inclusive environment for our team members—it’s critical to our functioning as a broader team. It’s also critical in our role of supporting the students, whose diversity is not always reflected in our staff. Staff diversity is a key topic and goal, but we have to make sure that the staff we have are prepared to best serve our students. We’re constantly trying to create a broader lens to understand our work and better facilitate the student experience.”

In July of 2020, the HBS Initiatives began a series of racial equity workstream meetings. They collectively established a statement of purpose, a framework to identify short- and long-term activities, and topic-specific work groups to remove bias from their application and fellowship processes, to assess and develop learning and growth objectives, and to design more diverse programming and events.

This past spring, they completed their first session of InclusionBoston, a 12-18 month diversity, equity, and inclusion training program offered by YW Boston. The five-week “Dialogue Series'' focused on individual knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors.

The Initiative’s focus on racial equity, explained Initiatives Managing Director Laura Moon, is deeply intertwined with and connected to their core purpose. “Our work frequently addresses topics that historically have been deemed to be on the margin of business education. Our work seeks to migrate them into the mainstream as part of an evolving understanding of what it means to educate leaders who make a difference in the world.”

For Jen Eliason, these and the many other efforts throughout the School are a meaningful reinforcement of the need for personal change and growth to occur alongside institutional change. “There's a place to have institutional conversations about changing policies, structures, and organizational behaviors, and there are also places to have conversations about individual responsibilities within this organization—we can each do our part to learn more about being a better academic citizen to our colleagues and ourselves,” said Eliason. “We all have a responsibility to grow and learn. No one is a perfect human—we’re all on a trajectory together, learning about ourselves and others and how our own identity lens has impacted how we see work and the world.”

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