Diversity Workshop Review

In this section, we take a small sampling of current 1Y MBA students’ personal views in reaction to this year’s Diversity Workshop. All of us in the Wharton community are here in part to learn from one another, and we recognize that perspectives may change over time. Our intent is for these pieces to launch ongoing, open, and productive conversations and even contribute to future Diversity and Inclusion programming.

Eric Lu WG’18

I grew up in a predominantly Caucasian community where I was one of the only Asians in town. In elementary and middle school, some classmates would walk by me slanting their eyes with their fingers. In high school, after I had been admitted to Harvard, a few students told me I had gotten in just because I was Asian. These events, while vivid in my mind, thankfully occurred infrequently, and they strongly contrasted with how most others treated me. Many of my classmates embraced my ethnic differences, eagerly trying my mom’s Chinese food and learning snippets of Chinese. They also found similarities with me, sharing their everyday interests in sports and video games. In this environment I grew up a true Asian-American, melding values and interests from both my Asian and American experiences.

These experiences highlight two different sides of diversity that we began discussing at the diversity and equity training. At its worst, diversity can lead to quick judgments that ostracize, belittle, or limit those who don’t fit in. More broadly, these systemic biases drive why many African Americans live in fear of officers who are supposed to protect them, why the LGBT community faced high resistance in their fight for marriage equality, and why women hit glass ceilings in male-dominated boardrooms.

At its best, however, diversity opens us up to new people and experiences. It gives us the opportunity to embrace differences and find similarities with one another, and it breaks the preexisting biases we hold. During Cluster 3’s training, one Bee passionately challenged us all to understand issues of systemic racism in the US, while another pledged never to utter offensive comments. This type of engagement has opened the door for additional conversations and reflection. For example, I talked with some international students who were surprised by how seriously diversity and equity were taken and were eager to learn more about these issues.

For me, the training was a chance to discuss what diversity means in our new Wharton community. Wharton may be our best opportunity to interact extensively with people from all walks of life. All of us here value diversity in our own way – not just diversity of ethnicity or sexual orientation or gender, but also of skills, networks, clubs, and jobs. After all, we are here to pursue “stretch experiences” that will help us expand our horizons. I hope that these conversations will continue over the next two years as yet another type of stretch experience.

Robin (RJ) Standifer, Jr WG’18

We learned in MGMT 610 that diverse teams and companies are better performing. I applaud Wharton for making the effort to put together the diversity & inclusion training and seeing the importance of making it mandatory for all incoming students. I hope that Wharton can take it a step further by making a course on diversity & inclusion a part of our core curriculum.

Sitting in that auditorium in Huntsman for the diversity training, it was very clear to me that there are people who are really passionate about this matter, and there are those who just did not care to be there or take anything away from the session. The faculty and administration has used the core curriculum as a tool to influence what they want all newly minted Wharton MBAs to learn while in the program. If they can mandate that we all leave knowing how to write an effective email (WHCP 620), then they can (and should) mandate that we all leave armed with tools to overcome our implicit biases.

To be truly effective in making sure Wharton MBAs are properly equipped to use learnings on diversity & inclusion to be better business leaders, this course must have all the same traits as other courses we are forced to take including: graded assignments and class participation, and an exam (maybe another 10 option multiple choice portion?) that forces you to show up prepared on test day. Students will be incentivized to learn the material and to perform well to avoid accumulating an LT before even starting a quantitative course.

Wharton has an opportunity here. Prospective students, who are looking for a program where they will feel included, are watching. Other top MBA programs that look to Wharton as thought leaders are watching. Companies both well established and emerging are watching. As a member of the Wharton community, I really hope that we can continue our tradition of thought leadership in business education by leading the charge on this effort to make diversity & inclusion a critical business matter. If we decide not to, I hope that faculty and administration at any of the other top MBA programs pushes this forward and forces us to act in kind. It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s good for business.

Jessie Spellman WG’18

Generally, I have been blown away by the thoughtfulness, humility and diversity of my Wharton classmates. The way that Wharton students, across races, ethnicities, nationalities, genders, and more came together last week to stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement was not only powerful, but it defined what diversity and inclusion is all about.

While my classmates have inspired me, I have also been encouraged by the administration’s efforts to foster an inclusive community and was excited to see the Diversity Workshop on my pre-term calendar. I hoped a conversation grounded in the importance of diversity and inclusion would dig deep into how racism, sexism and other –isms impact our work and educational experiences.

As a 2013 Penn Graduate School of Education (GSE) alumna, I was thrilled to see the GSE’s Dr. Shaun Harper and Dr. Charles H. F. Davis III facilitate the workshop. I appreciated their candor that we would not leave the workshop feeling that we’d fully resolved any diversity and inclusion issues.

I was aligned with the direction of the workshop to provide an overview of what diversity and inclusion means and why it is important, but I felt the facilitators could have done two things better to communicate to their global, data-driven MBA student audience: 1) present the audience with some basic context on how diversity is being defined and why it is important, and 2) ground their positions in the wealth of demonstrable data.

The Workshop defined diversity as all the ways we differ as people, and defined inclusion as how to ensure those differences are vocalized in a group. Although these definitions were meaningful, we received little context on why the definitions mattered at all. If you grew up in the U.S., you may have some understanding of the various “diversity” (i.e., race, gender, sexual orientation, ability, religion and more) issues American society faces. But at least a third of our class grew up outside of America. So why do we (or should we) care about this?

Let’s think about the WG’18 class. At least 19% of WG’18 is reportedly interested in management consulting. In 2015, McKinsey published the report, “Why diversity matters.” Wouldn’t it have been compelling to know why diversity matters to one of our prospective employers?

McKinsey examined workplace diversity across multiple industries in Canada, Latin America, the UK and the U.S., and found significant relationships between diversity and financial performance. Here are a few of their findings:

  • Companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.
  • In the U.S., there is a linear relationship between racial and ethnic diversity and better financial performance: for every 10% increase in racial and ethnic diversity on the senior-executive team, EBIT rises 0.8%.
  • In the UK, greater gender diversity on the senior-executive team corresponded to the highest performance uplift in McKinsey’s data: for every 10% increase in gender diversity, EBIT rose by 3.5%

As an example of why diversity is still a relevant topic, we were shown a 2010 Anderson Cooper video suggesting that race issues are still relevant in American schools, but the data tells you. Black students, on average, attend schools in the 37th percentile nationwide, while white and Asian American (this racial distinction on the census is itself problematic as it lumps many different “Asian” groups into one, but that’s for another time) students, on average, attend schools in the 60th percentile. Black students are three times as likely as white students to be suspended and expelled for similar behavior issues, and significantly less likely to attend schools offering advanced courses.

It would have also been powerful for Dr. Harper to reference some of his own research. In 2015, Dr. Harper published a widely cited paper on the disproportionate impact of K-12 school suspension and expulsion on black students. Dr. Harper is one of many folks researching diversity issues at Penn; Wharton Associate Professor Katherine Milkman’s research shows evidence of racial and gender biases in faculty mentoring at universities. When confronted with concrete evidence of why diversity issues are still salient, people tend to be more willing to reflect and share their experiences, which is the first step towards deepening understanding and fostering a community of inclusion.  

As a white person, the most compelling data I have been confronted with regarding issues of diversity and inclusion is my own. When I was 19 I was directed to Harvard’s “Project Implicit”, a non-profit organization that researches implicit social cognition – the thoughts and feelings that we exhibit outside of conscious awareness and control.

What does this mean? Well it means you should really take any of five minute Implicit Association Tests (https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html) because they will likely shock you.

Let me tell you more practically what implicit social cognition means for me.

It means that I am a vocal advocate for race and social justice (you may know me as the woman who bombarded everyone’s GroupMe, Facebook, Instagram and SnapChat last week, encouraging folks to wear black and meet outside the MBA cafe).

It means that I was raised in a home that taught and practiced the importance of tolerance and inclusion.

It means that despite growing up in that house, I was 4 years old when I earnestly asked my mother, aloud and in public, if the black man with the do-rag who just walked into the pizza store we were eating at was going to rob us.

My parents had taught me explicitly to treat all people equally, but because I grew up in a mostly white place and watched television and listened to the radio and simply been alive in America, all of the implicit messages inherent in my environment had already influenced how I was behaving as a pre-kindergartener.

The Diversity Workshop’s agenda and intent were powerful. The messages in the main group discussion and the scenarios prepared for the small groups were incredible. But, the messages lacked the weight of unequivocal data in front of an MBA audience and the small group sessions were not long enough to fully explore the nuanced, honest and very realistic prompts we were given.

I’m thrilled to see diversity and inclusion as a part of the agenda of the Wharton administration, and grateful that I have been granted a space here where I can provide my humble opinion on how to continue to make the Diversity Workshop even better for future Wharton MBAs.