04 Feb 2022

RISE Fellow: Xonana Scrubb (MBA 2022)


by Shona Simkin

This fall, as part of the Harvard Business School (HBS) Action Plan for Advancing Racial Equity, 20 MBA students were selected as the inaugural recipients of the Recognizing Individuals Seeking Equity (RISE) Fellowship. The fellows were chosen for their demonstrated commitment to serving Black/African American, Hispanic/Latinx, and other marginalized communities of color within the US prior to enrolling at HBS.

The 2021 RISE fellows are MBA Class of 2023’s Adan Acevedo, Jerome Fulton Jr, Amari Griffin, Tarebi John, Zoe Matthew, Alejandro Molina, Ted Obi, Chidalu Onyenso, Lanita Patton, Nashae Roundtree, David Velasquez, Mireille Verdonk; and MBA Class of 2022’s Siham Adous, Aaron Hancock, Brian Hollins, Diego Salas, Devon Sandford, Lucas Santos, Xonana Scrubb, and Tracey Thompson.

Xonana Scrubb (MBA 2022)

Xonana Scrubb’s (MBA 2022) modus operandi, creating a legacy of serving the Black community, has guided her through a career in human resources, community development, to HBS, and will prompt wherever she goes next.

After graduating college, Scrubb worked on the diversity and inclusion team in a major investment bank’s human resources department, curious to learn how such an institution could create change in the communities most affected by the Great Recession. She also managed a scholarship for Black, Latinx, and Native American students and diversity recruiting programs at four universities. Through advocacy, mentoring, and many cold emails, Scrubb helped to increase the firm’s diversity hires.

After two years, she became interested in seeing what her organization was achieving towards greater societal change. Shortly after Scrubb graduated from college, she and her mother experienced their own housing crisis when their landlord decided to sell their home in their rapidly gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhood. Deeply affected by that experience, Scrubb explored the firm’s community development arm and secured a position on the team financing affordable housing. Before long, she was managing a billion-dollar affordable housing portfolio. As she navigated the field, learning more about the private and public players working to benefit communities of color, she was struck by the lack of diversity at the upper levels of management.

“It was shocking to see that a lot of the leaders in an industry that disproportionately affects people of color were not people of color themselves,” said Scrubb. “I was nervous about raising it as a problem at first, but it hit me that we were going to lose diverse talent if we didn’t start to make sure that the people at the top look like the people they’re serving.”

She started an affinity group, Black and Latinx Leaders in Community Development, for up-and-coming leaders across housing, government, finance, and nonprofits who were working in the field. The group grew to more than 100 members before being put on pause by the pandemic. Scrubb shifted gears and prepared for business school.

In her first semester at HBS, Scrubb dove into extracurricular activities and clubs, including the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council and the Cross-Harvard Study Group on the Future of Work. Now, Scrubb aims to focus with greater intention on her next role to empower and serve the Black community.

“As a first-generation college graduate, MBA candidate, and representative in corporate America, I am proud of my success, but want to be more intentional in my next role,” said Scrubb. “I’m interested in exploring the intersection between fashion and social impact–growing and scaling Black owned fashion brands with the intention of doing it myself at some point.”

Read the profiles of all eight RISE fellows.

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