- “I interviewed an exceptional candidate who was openly gay. My colleague responded, ‘He’s not the type of athlete we’re looking for.’”
- “At my investment bank, colleagues questioned a Sikh candidate’s background. A coworker said, ‘We need to be careful about our image in front of clients.’ He didn’t get an interview.”
- “I grabbed a drink with a team member. I mentioned I was nervous about receiving a full-time offer. He said, ‘You’ll be fine. You’re a diversity hire!”
These stories are real. They are conversations our Wharton classmates have experienced in some of the largest, most sophisticated organizations. They raise questions we have all struggled with: Should I respond? How? Will I be labeled if I speak up?
These are hard questions involving difficult conversations, but with far-reaching implications. Studies continue to confirm that racially diverse groups outperform homogeneous groups, from valuing stocks 58% more accurately to inclusive leadership fostering more innovation. The underlying driver points to empathy as the foundation for effective leadership.
At Wharton, we use data to craft tight arguments. We discuss the ladder of inference and lurking variables. We study Influence and Negotiations to learn that effective leaders understand people’s motivations, avoiding assumption. But classes alone can’t teach us why or how someone became the person they are. In that absence, are we at risk of making fundamental assumptions about others and their motivations?
We launched ROE to bring these questions to life. In the midst of a polarizing political climate in the US, dialogue is filled with assumption-heavy language. Instead of talking with one another, people talk past each other. At the core of ROE, we believe future captains of industry and government should foster environments conscious of and empathetic towards difference.
We came to Wharton for stretch experiences. From Dance Studio to leadership ventures, confronting our fears makes us better versions of ourselves, and so will this. The language may be new, with terms like “unconscious bias” and “privilege.” The topics may leave us feeling uncomfortable or vulnerable, or worried about alienating others with our perspective. But this discomfort has always been core to forward thinkers and leaders, in any industry setting.
From learning teams to clubs and treks, our most meaningful conversations come from embracing and understanding how we all became who we are. ROE has continued this type of dialogue. Whether at large events like An Evening with Dean Garrett or informal small group dinners, we have seen the power of sharing raw, honest stories and the overwhelming peer support that follows. These experiences tell us that, at Wharton, we are strong enough to have these conversations. We may not always get it right, but our community is willing to go that extra mile to understand where our colleagues are coming from. We should celebrate that.
ROE was born from this vibrancy and our culture of student engagement at Wharton. We hope this week provides the opportunity for meaningful conversations and reflection on lived experiences different from our own. There may be uncomfortable or difficult moments, but there is no safer place to begin practicing empathetic leadership.
 NYT: Diversity Makes You Brighter (2015)
 Catalyst: Inclusion Matters (2014)
 HBR: What Makes a Leader (1998)