Tag: DEI

As we begin the semester, I want to update you on the work of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force, appointed in the summer of 2020 and charged with guiding us toward a DEI strategic plan for WashU Olin. The task force, comprised of staff, students and faculty within the business school as well as subject matter experts from other parts of the university, concluded its work recently.

The task force focused on developing Olin’s strategic plan for diversity, equity and inclusion and the relevant audiences, high-level strategies, and measurement requirements.

In the process, the task force identified a variety of short-term goals among these high-level initiatives—goals that the task force expects to be tackled in the first year. These include:

In relation to the student population

  • Infuse our commitment to diversity in what we teach, why we develop tomorrow’s business leaders, and how we facilitate the classroom experience (i.e., putting into practice Olin’s commitment to diversity as a core value by making it tangible).
  • Engage students to provide more input on DEI and create more feedback loops to gauge/track impact from their perspective.
  • Build greater access into the school by evaluating and revising our financial/scholarship criteria; enhancing the pipeline through expanded outreach; attracting more local/domestic students; providing more support for first-generation undergraduates and graduates.
  • Establish affinity groups at the undergraduate level (similar to our graduate level offerings).

In relation to faculty

  • Review and enhance hiring processes to recruit Black, Latinx and other underrepresented faculty of color.
  • Set clear expectations and develop DEI standards, policies and practices specific to faculty.
  • Develop incentives, consequences, and mechanisms to foster accountability.
    Strengthen retention of diverse faculty.

In relation to staff

  • Review and enhance hiring processes to recruit Black, Latinx and other underrepresented staff of color.
  • Set clear expectations and develop DEI standards, policies and practices specific to staff.
  • Develop incentives, consequences and mechanisms to foster accountability among staff.
  • Create a lifecycle for DEI (from hire to exit).

In relation to alumni and the business community

  • Get alumni DEI input (e.g., establish an advisory council).
  • Develop a database (or filter) of diverse alumni.
  • Develop ongoing communication (i.e., the why, the value of DEI, etc.) to our alumni.
  • Open CEL to small businesses owned by entrepreneurs of color.
  • Open Small Business Initiative to graduate-level students.

For the school overall

  • Form the governance structure (responsibilities, funding/budget, etc.) to ensure accountability for this DEI strategic plan.
  • Conduct semi-annual climate survey of students/faculty/staff to assess impact and gather stakeholder input for annual planning.
  • Conduct ongoing DEI training and development (i.e., in diversity and inclusion, cultural competency, racial sensitivity, bias, etc.).
  • Develop a consistent and transparent communication plan.
  • Formalize annual DEI planning cycle, implementation and progress tracking.

The plan also includes several long-term initiatives and goals, which will be addressed with urgency. I have appointed champions in each goal area to develop action plans (with specific initiatives and tactics) that will move us toward fulfilling the priorities outlined by the task force. The plan champions are listed at the bottom of this note. I will continue to lead this process directly, and the work of our team begins immediately.

We intend to develop action plans by the end of the first quarter. However, I want to be clear that we are prioritizing the need for sustainable change. We want to allow time to get feedback on our plans and distill that feedback.

Finally, I also want you to know that the search process for a new associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion is underway. When I have more details, I will be certain to pass them along.

Thank you for your attention to this process. I appreciate the feedback our students, staff, faculty and alumni have shared with me. I am also deeply grateful for the work of each member of the task force. I take this process seriously, and I am determined to see it through toward a clear, tangible and actionable plan for improvement.

DEI strategic plan champions

Student initiatives

  • Ashley Macrander, associate dean and director of graduate programs student affairs
  • Paige LaRose, associate dean of undergraduate programs
  • Ohad Kadan, H. Frederick Hagemann Jr. Professor of Finance and vice dean for education and globalization
  • Jessica Hatch, associate director of doctoral admissions and student affairs

Faculty initiatives

  • Todd Milbourn, Hubert C. & Dorothy R. Moog Professor of Finance and vice dean of faculty and research 

Staff initiatives

  • Jacqueline Carter Slack, diversity and inclusion program manager
  • Jessica Roberts Martin, senior associate dean and chief of staff

Alumni/corporate relations initiatives

  • Paula Crews, associate dean and director of marketing and communications
  • Jen Whitten, associate dean and director of the Weston Career Center
  • Dorothy Kittner, associate dean and director of corporate relations

Bryanna Brown

Bryanna Brown, MBA ’22, wrote this blog post. At Olin’s Diversity and Women’s Weekend, she spoke as a fellow with the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management during the session “Infusing Your Story into the Application Process.”

For a prospective MBA candidate, interacting with the faculty, staff and students can be a pivotal opportunity when deciding if an MBA program is the right fit. In November 2019, I was a prospective student at Olin’s Diversity and Women’s Weekend, seeing the culture of Olin up close and personal. This experience truly gave me a window into what life at Olin would be like as an MBA candidate. 

In 2020, Olin was tasked with producing the same window for prospective students through a virtual experience. Where missteps could have been made, the Olin admissions staff went above and beyond to ensure each interaction, session and detail was rooted in excellence.

From sending personalized boxes to participants, to choosing a virtual conference platform that allowed for unique tags, to even starting the day with yoga, the Diversity and Women’s Weekend committee prioritized details that were specific to the tailored experience a prospective student would receive at Olin. 

As I reflect back on how it felt to be a part of Olin’s first virtual Diversity and Women’s Weekend in December, I recognized four key takeaways. It was apparent throughout the weekend that Olin does the following: 

Prepares MBAs for a truly global career.

The weekend started with second-year MBAs students Tyler Edwards, Kendra Kelly and Ellen Kenzora speaking to being a part of the first entire cohort to experience the Global Immersion in the “Globally Minded and Culturally Fluent in 39 Days” session. The session reiterated Olin’s commitment to global education. 

Champions intentional identity work.

The “Understanding Bias + How It Can Influence Your Perspective” session led by Tabari Coleman, director of professional development at the Anti-Defamation League, highlighted the nature of inherent bias and how to continuously use self-reflection as a point of growth professionally and personally.   

Supports prospective students holistically.

The “Infusing Your Story into the Application Process” session provided insight into how admission and membership decisions are made. Prospective students heard from a wide range of student representatives from Olin’s partnership organizations, like the Consortium at Olin and Olin Reaching Out MBA, who described first-hand experiences and gave helpful hints to craft the strongest story in an application.

Centers community at every stage of your MBA journey.

The strong Olin alumni voice from Brenna Humphries, Molly Goldstein, Cambrie Nelson, Gheremey Edwards and Oscar Vasco in “Stories from the Past that Inform Our Future” solidified that students at Olin are proud, active participants during and after their two years in the MBA program. 

Dr. Danielle McPherson

Danielle McPherson, who describes herself as “a whole nerd,” earned her doctor of business administration degree on December 19, achieving a personal milestone and, at the same time, breaking an institutional barrier at WashU Olin: She became the first African American at the school to earn the DBA and the first to earn a doctoral degree in finance.

Students interested in applying their terminal business degree to work in industry—as opposed to academia—typically pursue the DBA rather than a PhD. And African Americans tend to be extremely underrepresented among doctoral students in general. In 2018, for example, 5.5% of doctoral recipients in the United States were Black or African American, according to a December 2019 survey by the National Science Foundation. By contrast, 52% were white.

Dr. McPherson is director of managed care contracting and payer relations at Mercy Health and focused her dissertation on a related topic, “Social Determinants of Health: Impact on Health Outcomes and Hospital Profitability,” which she discusses in the Q&A below.

Were you aware when you began your doctorate that you were treading new ground for WashU Olin?

I had no idea. It was not in the forefront of my mind. However, I did understand that I was now part of a small group of people pursuing a doctoral degree and if I finished, that group would be a lot smaller. I was just excited about starting a new journey in finance (I am literally a whole nerd).

Why did you decide to get your doctorate at Olin? How do you intend to apply it?

I knew I wanted a doctoral degree because it would allow me to take my passion for research, finance and problem solving and apply it professionally in the field that I am in. I also knew how important it was to obtain that level of a degree from a well-respected, nationally ranked, reputable institution. And I needed to be able to go to school and work. That literally narrowed my choice down to one school … Washington University in St. Louis’s Olin Business School.

Can you tell us a little about your dissertation? What drew you to the topic and what did you conclude?

I was drawn to this topic because I have always been fascinated with how social determinants can influence a person’s well-being.

I am also equally as fascinated with our healthcare system and how it is supported financially. I have a unique perspective on this topic because I have been a patient—I’m a 10-year Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma survivor—and had to rely on the healthcare system. It worked for me because I had insurance and was financially secure, but others who were not in my financial situation with the same illness were not as fortunate.

I have worked for a large healthcare insurer and understand how difficult it is to maneuver through trying to provide services and access to members at low cost, but also having a responsibility to stakeholders and shareholders to be profitable.

I work for a large healthcare system (Mercy) and it is constantly faced with balancing both ends of the healthcare spectrum. My research explores the extent to which social determinants of health directly impact health outcomes and whether improvements in those social determinants would yield improvements in hospital profitability.

I conclude that hospital profitability improves if social determinants of health are addressed.

What does it say that you’re the first African American to earn a doctorate in finance here—and the first to earn a doctorate in business administration?

It says that Olin and the higher education system has come a long way, and has a long way to go. All disciplines in academia and in corporate America should understand the importance of representation and how much it matters.

Diversity is the backbone of this country and it must be reflected in every classroom and every boardroom. I am happy to be part of herstory (that’s not a typo 😊). I will be happier when our elite education institutions no longer have “firsts.”

How did you land in your role at Mercy Health? Where do you see yourself going?

I was drawn to my current job as director of managed care contracting and payer relations at Mercy Health because it is a perfect mix of finance, operations and game theory. I absolutely love problem-solving and quantifying solutions. In the future, I hope to continue working in a capacity that will allow me the opportunity to solve complex business or policy issues in the area of corporate strategy, finance and healthcare.

Pictured above: Students and workshop panelists Amber Grace, Kesha Kent, LaShana Lewis and Crystal Ross-Smith participate in the November 20, 2020, workshop, "Incorporating DEI Practices into your Organization."

Engage white managers from the outset. Separate the human resources function from corporate diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. Build relationships. These key takeaways and more headlined “Incorporating DEI Practices into your Organization,” a recent workshop for WashU Olin MBA students featuring four DEI professionals who have been engaged in the work for years.

The workshop, organized by Olin’s Weston Career Center and moderated by Lori Whitherspoon, MBA ’21, provided insights from Amber Grace, advisor for diversity and recruiting partnerships for Raymond James; Kesha Kent, CEO and founder of MrsKeshSpeaks and national diversity and inclusion, community engagement talent specialist for Ascension; LaShana Lewis, of the St. Louis Equity in Entrepreneurship Collective; and Crystal Ross-Smith, MHRM ’17, director for diversity, equity and inclusion at Ameren (see their full bios here).

Here are a selection of the takeways from their session on November 20.

Create relationships

“We want to know what we can do to make everyone at Ameren be successful and bring their authentic selves to work,” Smith said. Kent added: “It was always my goal to make sure that individuals who had amazing experience could get in front of those hiring managers. It was about creating relationships with those hiring managers.”

Focus on entry-level positions

“Cultivate that talent,” said Grace. “We work on making sure our internship and entry level programs are highly, highly diverse. Then, making sure we have mentorship opportunities, exposure to executive-level leadership.”

Make sure the interview panel is diverse, while at the same time making sure the group of prospective hires is representative as well. “Allyship and ambassadors are very very important,” Lewis said. “Seeing that the interviewees were looking through my shoes made me feel like I would be welcome.”

Separate DEI from HR

Said Smith: “We are separate from HR. Our VP for diversity reports directly to our CEO and she is a peer of the VP of HR. That really works. It creates checks and balances. When we sat down to create the diversity of the hiring pipeline, HR showed us what we were doing. We were able to independently challenge what they were doing.”

Involve and engage white men

“Be intentional. Be honest and say that white males are the ones who feel most attacked, but you need white males to be involved in this,” Grace said. “Be intentional about constructing the conversations. You’re bringing the decision-makers into the space of allyship. Explain that this is the problem and make them feel part of the solution. That is a skill I had to learn. If I’m trying to make change, I want it to be solution-oriented. It’s not about me. I want this to be a safe space for everyone. Understand what your resources are, who your allies are, so you’re not internalizing these issues.”

Be creative about problem-solving

Lewis knows some organizations aren’t large enough to provide a full-time person dedicated to initiatives around diversity, equity and inclusion. “A lot of us consultants have come together and came up with the idea of a ‘fractional’ chief diversity officer,” she said. That’s a professional who provides a share of her time to a variety of organizations each month. “Employees are supposed to be doing their jobs, not doing the volunteer service of being a DEI officer.”

See video of the workshop

Pictured at top: Students and workshop panelists Amber Grace, Kesha Kent, LaShana Lewis and Crystal Ross-Smith participate in the November 20, 2020, workshop “Incorporating DEI Practices into your Organization.”

It’s a familiar tune by now: We can’t host this annual event in person, so what do we do? Can we even have it virtually? What are we going to do?

Those were all questions Jackie Carter, Diversity & Inclusion Programs Manager, and WashU Olin’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee asked as they began to prepare for the sixth annual Diversity & Inclusion Expo. Typically held during the dean’s welcome back event, the expo brings together groups from Olin and throughout the university to showcase resources and ways students, faculty members or staff members can get involved with multicultural, justice and equity efforts.

Carter and her team’s decision ultimately came down to the importance of such an event for the WashU Olin community: “Diversity, equity inclusion work is not one-person work, and it’s not about just having affinity groups,” she said. And this experience was an opportunity to showcase the depth and the value of diversity and inclusion at Olin.

Over the course of 90 minutes, 18 groups opened Zoom meeting spaces as faculty, staff and students visited and learned about the resources and clubs they can get involved with.

For Carter, the annual expo is an important space for students, faculty and staff to bring their beginning-of-the-year energy and enthusiasm to get involved and learn about opportunities and resources they might not know about.

And for those who attended, that’s exactly what they got. Staff and students reflected on the experience:

“ I learned that the creation of space for faculty and staff voices to be heard came from years of them being silenced and not being heard. Finally, the administration realized that faculty and staff needed to be brought to the table, especially concerning HR issues and issues that are inherently unique to that population. It was good to know that faculty and staff are being thought about. In my previous position, that didn’t exist. Without a diverse workplace, diverse ideas and thoughts can’t emerge.”

Leia Burroughs, event specialist, graduate programs

“I had the chance to talk to undergraduate students who wanted to know how to engage with the Latin American community in St. Louis. It was refreshing to see people who wanted to connect, share interests and keep a positive attitude.”

Gabriel Samanez, MBA ’21, president, Latin American Business Association

“The Diversity and Inclusion Expo was a great opportunity to connect with students and faculty to share our plans for D&I work this year, and learn about what others are doing as well. We’re looking forward to partnering with other groups on campus to host events throughout the year that champion diversity and inclusion efforts.”

Alex Halfpap, MBA ’21, president, Olin Women in Business

“In times like these, Olin Black is a space for dialogue and action. We were excited to meet students and staff who are just as passionate about Olin Black’s mission as much as we are. In an hour and 30 minutes we were able to converse with admission personnel, recruiting coaches, and students who want to create a meaningful inclusive and diverse Olin.”

Fanta Kaba and Déjá Miles, officers, Olin Black MBA Association

“We showed our determination to continue the tradition of diversity at the Greater China Club.”

Lin Cheng, MBA ’21, vice president, Greater China Club

“I think this event was valuable because we are surrounded by diversity in our community and it’s our responsibility to keep pushing the needle in ensuring we are living equitable lives. The D&I expo helped to bring us together and showed that students in the community are committed to growing into well-rounded leaders who would acknowledge the diverse perspectives around them while creating an environment for equity and justice to thrive.”

Itohan Enadeghe, co-president, Olin Africa Business Club

Though this year’s event looked and felt different than previous years,  Carter is pleased with the results—though she knows this event is just the beginning each year of developing relationships with students, faculty and staff who are determined to embrace diversity and inclusion.

“My hope for WashU Olin is that we can be a place of true inclusion and belonging. That regardless of my race, my background, my gender, I’ll feel a part of it,” she said.

“And that we can all understand that equality isn’t something being taken away from someone else. If I make something better for someone else, it makes the whole better.”  

“Sixty-five years after Emmett Till’s death, we’re in the middle of this long summer of Black death. How did we get here?”

Vice Provost Adrienne Davis

On a Zoom webinar attended by more than 200 individuals, moderator Adrienne Davis, vice provost and director of the Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity & Equity at Washington University, set the tone for an evening of frank and honest discussion on race. Davis reminded attendees of the upcoming 65-year anniversary of the murder of Emmett Till at the hands of white supremacists.

Moments earlier, Dean Mark Taylor had introduced the evening with a nod to Jacob Blake, a Black man shot several times by police officers in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and who lay in a hospital as the panelists spoke—one of countless recent victims of state-sanctioned racial violence.

So began the WashU at Brookings-hosted event, “From Ferguson to Minneapolis: Where do we go from here?” a conversation on race, values and equity in light of current events. Moderated by Davis, the event featured Missouri State Sen. Brian Williams and Brookings Institution fellow Andre Perry.

Williams represents Missouri district 14, part of St. Louis County. He is a member of multiple committees and serves as a board director for People’s Health Center, where he helped develop a behavioral healthcare center for children in underserved communities.

Perry is a fellow in the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings. A nationally known commentator on race, structural inequality and education, he is the author of “Know Your Price: Valuing Black Lives and Property in America’s Black Cities.” Perry is a regular contributor to MSNBC and has been published by The New York TimesThe NationThe Washington Post, TheRoot.com and CNN.com.

‘It’s personal to me’

The conversation was far from theoretical; Perry and Williams both shared their own experiences with racial profiling. “If I take off this pin,” Williams said, gesturing to the lapel pin indicating his status as a state senator, “I’m no different than George Floyd, or Michael Brown.”

Perry agreed, sharing, “This is an ongoing conversation I have with my child, with myself. This is something that’s become a 400-year long epidemic, plaguing our communities.”

The theme of an epidemic echoed throughout the evening; Williams asserted that “racism, like COVID-19, is a virus that has yet to eradicate itself.”

Rooted in data

In addition to sharing historical information that contextualized the state of racial tension in the United States, Perry and Williams looked to concrete examples of the present-day roots of racism, and how those roots expand beyond racist attitudes or policing.

“This issue is bigger than police,” said Perry. “There’s nothing that says a Black person doesn’t belong in the economy more than a police officer snuffing his life out. That’s a values statement—and I’m glad we’re having this conversation in a business school. You can’t separate social and economic issues of racism: these attitudes are shared throughout all of society. They just look different.”

Perry cited statistics from his new book—including a study that controlled for education, crime and walkability—and found that homes in Black neighborhoods are undervalued by about 23% in the United States.

Looking to the future

When Davis asked what disparities each panelist would solve if they were given a magic wand, their answers were immediate. For Perry, it would be economic justice—which includes reparations, “not just because of the wealth it would create, but because it’s morally the right thing to do. We’re owed that money.”

Williams focused on education: “I would fully invest our public education system to ensure that everyone has a fair opportunity for a quality education.”

Though the topic was tough, the evening inspired hope for a brighter future. “I’m feeling hope in a way I haven’t before,” said Perry. “What’s new right now, is I’m seeing young people of different races and people from around the world demanding change.”

William shared his plans for a comprehensive police reform bill, introduced as Senate bill 16 in the Missouri legislature—and reminded viewers of their civic duty. “It’s time to turn that energy into action—and we do that at the ballot box. This isn’t about you or me. It’s about the future we want for our families and communities.”

Perry encouraged participants to get involved with an organization focused on racial justice—and make realistic steps toward making a difference. “Being remarkable isn’t about you—it’s about joining a remarkable movement.”