Diversity and inclusion in organizations enhances various kinds of performance, from creativity to profitability. A growing body of research tells us this. So they are not just the right things to do; there is both an economic and social argument for them.

We are reminded of this in a time of police violence against Black citizens and resulting Black Lives Matter marches and protests. It prompted Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria to send an email (which quickly became public knowledge) to faculty, staff, and others associated with the School on June 15 in which he characterized the School’s efforts to recruit Black students as “painfully insufficient.” He also cited the same inadequate results for recruiting Black faculty and staff. He might as well have been talking about most major business schools; the problem is not unique to Harvard.

The email brought to mind an effort in which Dean John Macarthur and several of us (including our first faculty, Profs. David Bell, James Cash, Marie-Therese Flaherty, John Kao, and myself) engaged in creating a Summer Venture in Management program at the School in the summer of 1983. The thesis behind the effort was that many potential students from minority backgrounds did not apply to HBS because of intimidation, poor counseling, or other notions that they didn’t qualify. The idea was to bring undergraduate students of minority backgrounds between their junior and senior years in college to campus for an intensive week (three case studies per day, challenging discussion, etc.) of typical business school study.

We were confident that if we deployed our outstanding recruiters to Black and other college campuses across the United States, we would be flooded with students eager to spend a week of classroom work and socializing activities at Harvard at no expense. Once having been introduced to MBA-style teaching, they would be more confident and likely to apply for business school education, with some of them applying to HBS after their senior years. That would increase our talent pool and eventually the proportion of minority students in MBA programs.

It didn’t work out that way. Our recruiting team returned from the field with a fraction of the potential students we needed to field a program. Clearly, we had misjudged something. Then two members of our administrative team (Tim Armour, now President and CEO of the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund, and John Lynch, later Governor of New Hampshire) had a bright idea. Our friends in large business firms seemed to know how to recruit minority summer interns with the potential for longer-term employment. Why not sell them on the idea of including in their summer internships a week at HBS at no cost? It would make their offering more attractive and get us some great talent with no recruiting effort.

It was not a hard sell. After just a few phone calls, we lacked enough seats for all the companies that wanted to send interns. And as I look now at a booklet commemorating that first “class,” I recognize some who later came to HBS. More probably ended up in other MBA programs. And others probably concluded that business wasn’t for them. To this day the program still thrives.

So here we are, 37 years later, with an HBS class comprising roughly the same 5 percent of Black students that the School has been able to attract for the last several years as well as insufficient (in the Dean’s judgment) numbers of Black faculty and staff. Are there ways that businesses could help as part of efforts on everybody’s part to increase diversity in business school ranks?

How about some form of co-op program for potential MBA students? How about greater sharing of teaching or administrative talent, similar to what IBM and other organizations have done in the past—in this case, sabbaticals with the potential of career change? Only a select few might be able to meet the demanding standards of an academic career, but a few is better than the current number.

Or are these the kinds of ideas that just leave us with frustration and the same degree of diversity we have experienced for years? In fact, is the problem inclusion, not diversity? Once attracted to business school campuses, are we sufficiently sensitive to including Black students in the exchange of ideas basic to academic performance at HBS and other schools?

Is a joint industry-business school effort needed to attract minority talent to campuses? What do you think?

Patrick Thomas, “A Decade-Long Stall for Black Enrollment in M.B.A. Programs,” The Wall Street Journal, June 17, 2020, wsj.com, accessed June 17, 2020.

This post was originally published on HBS Working Knowledge.