A Case for Diversity and Inclusion in the Wharton Classroom

Ashley Wells-web

“If I had a son, I would insist that he get a pre-nup agreement,” my Legal Aspects of Entrepreneurship professor stated last semester during a class on protecting your assets. What did this statement imply? Lacking any further context, this implied to me that: 1) If the professor had a son, presumably his wife (or partner) would make less than him, so naturally he would need a pre-nup, or 2) If he had a daughter, presumably she would make less than her husband (or partner) and therefore she would not need a pre-nup. It’s casual references like these that happen daily in our classrooms to reinforce gender stereotypes and place women and minorities in the “out” group.

Inclusion in the classroom is not accidental. It must be intentional. It requires professors educating themselves on inclusion efforts, professional training, and most of all—effort and willingness to proactively be inclusive in their classrooms.

Many professors at Wharton do this well. When Professor Mollick used a Rent the Runway case that highlighted female co-founders in my Entrepreneurship class, I actually thanked him after class (which illustrates how rarely female-focused cases are used in class). He responded that he intentionally selected a case with a female protagonist in order to highlight the diverse faces of entrepreneurs, and also to emphasize the research that diverse founding teams and people with diverse networks outperform their less diverse peers. Notably, many of Wharton’s best ranked professors – Grant, Bidwell, Low, Simmons, Massey, Friedman, among others – are known to promote inclusive practices in the classroom.

Picture1Why does inclusivity in the classroom matter? An inclusive classroom encourages each student to bring their full talents and perspectives to the classroom, and to voice them. An inclusive classroom does not perpetuate stereotypes—as a professor does each time they only reference individuals in PE as “PE guys,” “manterrupts” female guest speakers, and discusses negotiating deals at a strip club (all true stories), to give a few examples. An inclusive classroom results in empowered students transitioning into the workforce who have learned by example how to embrace diversity and lead inclusive conversations and teams.

I would argue that Wharton should hire and tenure more professors who are women and individuals from diverse backgrounds, but this is a long-term solution. I would also propose that great professors should proactively make efforts to learn how to be inclusive to students of all backgrounds, but currently there is no formal incentive for professors to do this.

For these reasons, I propose that Wharton include a question in our formal course evaluations that inquires how inclusive the professor was in the classroom, and how the professor can be more inclusive to diverse backgrounds in the future. By formally evaluating professors on this metric and giving students an opportunity to recommend improvements, Wharton will align incentives for professors to pay attention to this critical part of our classroom experience. Just as Wharton students and the administration are responsible for being keepers of a diverse, inclusive Wharton culture, Wharton professors must also be held accountable.

Our professors are progressive leaders in their fields; now it is time that they demonstrate being progressive in setting inclusive norms in their classrooms too.


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