23 Sep 2022

Two-Year Action Plan Update: Q+A with CDIO Terrill Drake


September 23 marks the two-year anniversary of the release of the Harvard Business School’s Advancing Racial Equity action plan. We talked with Terrill Drake, chief diversity and inclusion officer, to check in on where we are, where we’ve been, and where we still need to go.

You’ve been in this role, and at HBS, for just over a year now. Can you reflect a bit on what you’ve been hearing and learning?
It was insightful and exciting to spend time with many different parts of the community. I spent time with the staff, student, and alumni communities. And while I haven’t spent as much time with our faculty, we know that the work we have to do there is really important, and we’ll be ramping that up throughout the coming year.

The past year was an opportunity to build the foundation, the DEI team, and get a pulse on what was happening and how people were feeling about the institution. I came in with a plan to listen. The community needs to see themselves in the work we’re trying to do. That helps to create buy-in so that people want to support this work, which takes our collective effort. We want to be the catalyzing force that empowers folks to work on their own behalf, for their colleagues or the constituents they serve, and the institution.

There continues to be much interest and excitement about the work that our office is doing. I’ve had the opportunity to speak directly with many members of the community to gather a range of perspectives on DEI. It’s apparent that people are yearning for more understanding of what needs to be done to move this effort forward. That enthusiasm will help for this next phase where we ask the community to dive into the work with us.

Has there been a favorite moment?
I’d say the Cash House dedication. That entire day, and the few days leading up to it, were really special. It was my first in-person event as a member of our community. I was able to spend time with Jim and his family, and with portrait artist Gale Fulton Ross. The event and luncheon were so moving, and they showed me how much this community cares for Jim, who was doing diversity, equity, and inclusion work before it was a thing. It made me feel empowered and excited to build upon Jim’s legacy. Cash House has ignited our team’s passion and really has become part of our identity. Jim’s history of overcoming obstacles inspires us to power through the challenges that come with doing this work. We have a job to do, and we want to make sure we’re carrying on the work that Jim and other folks have done.

How has your team been coming together?
The team is coming together quite nicely. When I came on board, Jen Eliason, our associate director of diversity, inclusion and belonging, was the only person in the School with a formal DEI role. Soon after I started, she and I launched a search for a coordinator to help us think about all the details—the physical space, our web presence, email, and logistics. We were lucky enough to hire coordinator Andy Martinez, who uses they/them pronouns, from the Harvard Chaplains Office. And Brook Dennard Rosser, who had previously worked on our admissions team with diversity candidates, joined our team as the associate director of strategic initiatives. Alicia Thomas, who is on our team as well as the MBA and Doctoral programs team, is the director of diversity and inclusion for the MBA and Doctoral programs and is the direct link to the student experience.

Our core team now has Jen’s expertise in learning and development and policy review, Andy’s expertise in operations and event planning, Brook’s expertise in strategic planning and recruitment, and Alicia’s expertise in student affairs and change management.

We currently have a director of operations and administration position that we are close to filling, which will be critical to how we think about processes, workflow, and our presence across HBS and Harvard. Our next steps will be to identify future needs as well as liaisons who will champion the work across units, administrative departments, affinity groups, etc.

What has been your team’s focus this year?
We spent a lot of time over the last few months thinking about our mission statement, vision statement, and guiding principles, and how all those things align with the current community values and HBS mission. We’ve also spent time on the foundational elements of our work, wanting to ensure that we have the right balance between process and progress. Doing this has helped our team gel and get to know our individual strengths and weaknesses and what issues are important to each of us.

We’re excited to share our mission, vision, and guiding principles with the community along with an overview of the services, which will give everyone more concrete information and clarity about what we do and where to go for resources. With these foundational pieces in place, people will have clarity about who we are, what we do, how we work with various stakeholders, and the intended impact for the community.

The University has a new CDIO—how do your roles interact?
Sherri Charleston and I are very aligned. We meet monthly individually and with the DIB Leadership Council, which is comprised of leaders in roles similar to mine in the professional schools and the college. We are tightly connected with that group. The University office is an excellent resource across a range of issues and they are working on professional development opportunities for staff across the schools and creating alignment with the University’s priorities—such as the reports on the legacy of slavery and human remains. If I have an issue, question, or problem, I can pick up the phone and call Sherri at any moment. We’ve consulted on several topics, which has been extremely helpful. It’s important that we share our plans and I welcome her opinion and guidance. At times this work can get complicated. As we work to shift the culture, we will want the support of our allies across the University. We’re all part of the same ecosystem.

Looking back on this year, what are your thoughts on our progress? Are we ahead or behind schedule, or right where we should be?
The action plan provided excellent initial framing for the work that we thought we should be doing to move things forward. We have certainly made some progress and adjustments along the way. In the spring we took stock of the 38 commitments embedded within the seven pillars of the plan and assigned each a status: unknown, not started, begun, in progress, significant progress, or completed. Quantifying the commitments in this way made them more tangible and helped us to see where there was meaningful progress and where we had fallen off.

Work dealing with culture and community can feel intangible. It’s easy to focus on an increase in diversity numbers, but the work within equity and inclusion can be less structured, and makes us all a little uncomfortable. Often, people just want to be given direction, but DEI doesn’t tend to be that easy. Getting to where we are today has been progress and we should feel encouraged by that.

We’re now clearer on what this process looks like, and it’s helping us think through what we’ve done and the next steps. We’re also starting to identify pivots—for example we didn’t have the Institute for the Study of Business in Global Society (BiGS) when the plan was created, and now we have the BiGS Racial Equity Fellows, which were originally going to be part of a new Initiative. Now we’re thinking about the role that BiGS and the fellows play in helping to amplify and disseminate information about DEI—and what role our office plays in learning from the fellows, implementing things internally, and helping them do their work.

What are the areas that you think we’ve done well?
We did some benchmarking work earlier this year of the top 30 MBA schools. We looked at strategies, organizational structure, and communication. We learned that there’s no one school doing this exceptionally well, and that we have some real opportunities. One is how we’re organized. My team is focused on the entire community, while other schools tend to focus on one part of the community, such as students. I think our more comprehensive approach lessens uneven progress across the community. We found that most schools are severely understaffed in this department—there might be one associate or assistant dean of DEI and maybe a committee, but they share those responsibilities with teaching or other administrative roles. We feel well poised to do this in a comprehensive way and build the team’s capacity to lead and empower the School and community to do what we need to do—to learn on our own, to come together to do this work, and to push ourselves when we think about our policies, procedures, and how every single person in our community is experiencing HBS.

Where do we need more focus?
We need to jumpstart our learning and development work. We’ve been working on a set of learning objectives for stakeholders—faculty, staff, and students—with competencies associated with each learning goal as well as what each stakeholder group will be asked to learn. From there we’re working on a set of trainings, reading materials, and dialogues. We’ll share that with the community, starting small and building the program out over time. We’re also going to release our shared language and glossary, which will give the community a shared lexicon. These coordinated efforts will lay the foundation for our learning and development work for the foreseeable future, not just the next half-year. As a community we need to understand what we need to know in order to prompt the behavioral change that is necessary for inclusive excellence. That’s where we need to focus more.

I also think we need to be more transparent and proactive in our communication back to the community. The work we’ve been doing to build the team and infrastructure is low visibility but vitally important. So, I understand why people might wonder what we’ve been up to. We’re navigating the processes for things that we now have control or oversight over, and creating relationships so that we can understand when and where we should assist, be full owners, or give that ownership to someone else and offer counsel and advice.

In our one-year action plan update, we asked about how to ensure we sustain our momentum and not slip into business as usual. Have we done that?
To an extent. We’re still working on our community engagement strategy, which will be key to regaining lost momentum. Part of what we will do in our messaging work is talk about who we are, the individuals on the team, but also who we want to be as a community—explaining that everybody has a responsibility in this notion of inclusive excellence. This work is very vulnerable, and sometimes we don’t want to do it around other people. We want to give people the space to do it on their own and to come together in small groups, which is where we all believe you make the most difference. Our community engagement efforts are going to be critical to our ability to succeed. We’re also continuing to partner with staff affinity groups and student affinity clubs, and we’re going to plug in with faculty in ways that they’re already functioning, through units and teaching groups. We’ll continue to support existing task forces in different departments, and opening up communication between leaders and creating a mechanism for feedback. One of the best ways to keep the momentum going is to allow the work that has been happening to happen, just with more direction, guidance, and a North Star of where we’re trying to go as a school.

In that interview you mentioned that it was important to communicate our progress, commitment, and missteps to our stakeholders. Have we held ourselves accountable? How?
Somewhat. We’ve been communicating throughout the year about progress in the Advancing Racial Equity action plan, our demographic progress, and other initiatives. And there have been a number of public articles that focus on other activities relating to the plan. We are continually trying to figure out how best to tell those stories in ways that people find compelling. That could mean articles and reports or it could be videos and podcasts. The challenge is not to jump the gun on any of it and not be able to sustain it.

Throughout the last year we gave over 30 presentations to various groups across the School, reporting on the commitments, what has happened, and what might happen next. Last spring, we conducted an inventory of DEI data from departments across the School, to better understand who was doing what, if there were successes we could build off of, or if there were any gaps in current initiatives. We were surprised to learn that approximately 75 percent of our administrative departments had engaged in some time of learning and development activity. Those activities ranged from formal trainings, facilitated discussions, or bringing groups of people together to discuss current real-world issues. This fall we intend to do the same exercise with faculty. We’ve streamlined demographic data collection—previously several different offices would ask separately, and now we collect and disseminate the data. We’re also in the process of collecting status updates from the racial equity commitment owners in the action plan.

How do you feel now about where we are today as an institution? You were optimistic last year, are you still?
I am, but the sense of urgency to begin the tangible work has increased now that we have the foundation in place. Folks want to see and feel that we are beginning to work towards inclusive excellence. We’ve received feedback through stakeholder surveys that people think they know what we were doing and are glad we’re here, but that they want to feel it. There is also the risk is that if something major happens in the world that is related to DEI—more than those that happen every day—that there will be real pressure to crank up the applied nature of the work so that people can really dig in and figure out what they need to do. Folks want to be better allies, we want our underrepresented minorities to speak out about their needs and experiences, and we’ll need to work to facilitate those conversations. We’ll want to equip the community with the tools needed to have these conversations in a variety of settings. Getting to that, and getting to that quickly, will be key in the coming months. I think we’re on track to do that.

What’s coming up that you’re particularly excited by?
I want to set the stage for how we will begin the strategic planning process for the School. We’re planning a climate assessment—collecting community-wide data on how people are experiencing HBS, as a baseline for thinking about prioritizing and creating strategies and tactics to move us forward. Then we can begin to direct ourselves as an institution with a holistic overarching strategy and department, unit, or group operating plans. We’re aiming to do that this fall, partnering with a data company that will collect data anonymously. We’ll have value statements—it should be clear why we want to do this for the institution, but also why folks should want to participate for themselves. We’ll discuss what we’re doing with this data and provide regular updates. It will be a three-year cycle that builds off of a baseline and shows us how we’re improving and enhancing our community.

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