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Harvard Business School Plans New Position Focused on Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging

Harvard Business School.
Harvard Business School. By Jason K. Thong
By Sam E. Sharfstein, Crimson Staff Writer

Amid ongoing efforts to increase minority representation in its case studies, the Harvard Business School is planning to hire its first-ever Associate Director for Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging, according to Ellen Mahoney, chief human resources officer at HBS.

The new director, who will take on a position that has been developed over the past 18 months, will coordinate between students, faculty, and staff to improve the environment surrounding equity and inclusion at the school, said Mahoney, who helped lead the development of the position. The Business School is also working to address issues of diversity by increasing the number of case studies that feature black protagonists.

“What we were looking for is a way to take what we were already doing and to help accelerate that momentum,” Mahoney said.

Mahoney said that a crucial aspect of the new position will be creating new metrics that capture students’ experience at the school to understand diversity and belonging, instead of solely relying on demographic numbers .

“When you look at inclusion and belonging, we all have our sense for what that means. Part of what we are trying to figure out is what that means for the various communities that come here,” she said.

The selection process for the director will involve assistance from the school’s Student Association. A panel of 12 students will interview the finalists for the position, according to Mahoney.

The new position will allow the administration to engage with the existing diversity and inclusion student organizations, such as the Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity Council and the Women’s Student Association, according to Student Association Co-President Triston J. Francis, co-president of the Student Association.

“We have all of these students who are focusing on this, but they don’t have an actual counterpart on the administration side, so that is the initial gap that this is looking to fill,” he said.

As the school searches for the new director, Steven Rogers, a senior lecturer at the Business School, has led efforts to increase the diversity of protagonists in business school cases. His course, “Black Business Leaders and Entrepreneurship,” includes 14 case studies with black protagonists. Rogers, however, said that he thinks the recent increase in cases featuring black protagonists has been insufficient and that he is "not happy with where we are today."

“I believe there are eight or ten cases versus two, which in my opinion, for a place like Harvard Business School, which has the ability to do whatever it wants to do as quickly as it wants to do because it has the resources and the means, I believe that that is glacial change,” Rogers said.

“There has been improvement, but the improvement has been glacial and I am a little disappointed. Because we are HBS, we are Harvard, we can do whatever we want to do,” he added.

Business School spokesperson Brian Kenny said addressing issues of diversity was a priority of the school under Business School Dean Nitin Nohria.

“These things take a long time, but under Nitin’s leadership, it has been one of his priorities. And you can see the steady progress and, frankly, the change in terms of attitude that we need to address this and we need to get better at it. And Nitin has made that a priority for the school,” Kenny said.

The school has begun to take concrete steps to include more case studies featuring black protagonists, according to Business School professor Jan W. Rivkin. One of these steps is determining the number of these cases currently taught.

“At a recent faculty meeting, we made those numbers clear and transparent to our faculty and had a group discussion about why it was important to move those numbers,” Rivkin said. “We committed to showing those numbers every year and having social accountability, if you will.”

Rivkin stressed that increasing diversity in the case studies would be valuable for all business school students, not only those from minority backgrounds, as it prepares them for work in the world outside the Business School.

“The protagonist diversity, I think, is helpful for students who come from underrepresented groups. As one of my former students said to me, how can I be it if I can’t see it. But it is also crucially important to every single one of our students, no matter what their background is,” he said. “We need them to be able to see the full range of humanity as a source of talent and opportunity.”

—Staff writer Sam E. Sharfstein can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @SamSharfstein.

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