When Thomas Harwell assumed the newly created role of director of student diversity and inclusion initiatives for Boston University’s Questrom School of Business, he turned to the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business International’s (AACSB) resources for program development guidance.
[Above: Questrom Ascend fellows and mentors in Boston University’s Questrom School of Business prepare for a rope course activity at Thompson Island.]
Although the business school had diversity efforts in place, Harwell was charged with creating a program that tied all of that work together. AACSB’s articles, best practice documents, and network of diversity directors at business schools gave him the information he needed to fully develop his school’s program.
“It’s important to have a community that provides benchmarks as we build our program,” explains Harwell. “I’ve reached out to others to ask questions and share information.” Additionally, he says two initiatives resulted from his networking with AACSB peers.
The first, Questrom Ascend, is a one-week fellowship program for incoming freshmen from underserved minorities — African American, Latino, Native American, Pacific Islander, and first-generation students — that precedes their first semester and includes an introduction to business concepts, leadership skills, team building, campus resources, and student leaders. Participants also meet with faculty and staff and have opportunities to explore Boston. “Throughout the program, we emphasize acceptance and respect for diverse people and opinions,” explains Harwell.
“For our graduate students, we have the Women in Leadership program, which includes a speakers’ series, women’s summit, and a diversity and inclusion conference,” he adds. Harwell and his colleagues promote the initiative via brochures and events that feature noted alumni to demonstrate the school’s longstanding commitment to women in business.
Providing resources and access to a diverse and inclusive community that focuses on business education is just one way AACSB is promoting inclusion in business schools, says Juliane Iannarelli, the diversity and inclusion advocate and chief knowledge officer for the organization.
Iannarelli assumed the role of diversity and inclusion advocate in addition to her role as chief knowledge officer when AACSB’s inaugural diversity and inclusion advocate Christine Clements retired. Clements served as an advocate in addition to her responsibilities as vice president of membership. When asked if AACSB plans to create a position dedicated solely to diversity and inclusion efforts, Iannarelli responded in an email, “At this time we have not outlined a plan to do so, but neither have we excluded that as a future possibility.”
“[AACSB] dedicates resources across all staff and services to provide leadership, support, and visibility to the many individuals among our member network who are leading important discussions of critical importance,” she added, “including the cultivation of diverse and inclusive learning environments around the globe.”
This focus on diverse learning environments is also noted in the organization’s most recent update to its accreditation standards. Published in June 2017 for business schools undergoing accreditation surveys beginning in January 2018, the new standards include information in their guidance that emphasizes the importance of diversity and inclusion.
“[This] is not a single standard that appears one time in our accreditation requirements,” explains Iannarelli. “It has been part of the overall standards for many years, but the new guidance clarifies the intent and better reflects the importance of diversity and inclusion today.”
Although there is not a specific requirement that focuses entirely on diversity, Iannarelli says that all members must align with the full set of standards, including diversity and inclusion guidance, through AACSB’s Initial Accreditation and Continuous Improvement Review processes. “In instances where a peer-review team conducting a Continuous Improvement Review at an accredited school [cites] specific concerns regarding alignment with AACSB accreditation standards, these may be brought to the attention of the school to address in the 12-month period immediately following the review,” she explains. “When concerns have not been adequately addressed within that time frame, the team may recommend an additional focused review period of up to two years, culminating in a decision to extend or revoke accreditation.”
Iannarelli points out that AACSB’s standards are not prescriptive and are based on each individual institution’s mission and academic outcomes. “We don’t define diversity for each school because [it] is different in each country or region,” she says. “U.S. institutions most often focus on race, ethnicity, and gender, but schools in other countries don’t always track these factors; instead, they may focus on religious or socioeconomic backgrounds.”
In addition to enhancing the breadth of resources available to business school deans and diversity officers via its website, AACSB plans to host for the first time this November a one-day conference called the Diversity and Inclusion Summit: From Awareness to Action. The agenda includes interactive workshops to review AACSB data on diversity, discussions regarding strategies for defining a school’s inclusion program, and best practices to move diversity programs forward. “The summit is designed to help those who are champions within their schools lead the effort to develop their programs,” Iannarelli says.
The inclusion of a data-based session to initiate discussion fits with Iannarelli’s goal to ensure that AACSB’s diversity and inclusion strategies are based on insights from data. “We collect [information] from our members, but we are also planning to develop relationships with other organizations that will further expand our knowledge,” she says. AACSB currently works with partners and initiatives such as The PhD Project, the Women Administrators in Management Education Affinity Group, the PhD Pipeline program, and the Collective Vision for Business Education.
Data collected from AACSB members, however, is not available to the public. “A primary benefit of membership in AACSB is access to data for benchmarking purposes,” Iannarelli explains. “This includes the ability to generate custom data reports on specified numbers of schools, including [information] related to race and ethnicity where available.”
Additionally, AACSB promotes the sharing of innovative ideas between member schools. It does this via an awards program created in 2016 called Innovations that Inspire. While the first year of the award included an outreach and engagement component, the 2017 program featured a category called Engaging a Diverse Community that more clearly focused on diversity and inclusion initiatives.
One of the 2017 Innovations that Inspire winners was the Richard J. Wehle School of Business at Canisius College in Buffalo, N.Y. The school was recognized for its Enactus Program, which partners with migrant and inner-city populations through several student-led programs.
More than 10 years old, Enactus is composed of three initiatives that allow business students to teach underprivileged youth how to start and run their own businesses, as well as help local refugees adjust to life in America by providing them with the tools to fulfill their entrepreneurial dreams. Another component of the program teaches Bhutanese refugees, who are mostly women, to earn income by sewing and creating bags and other products.
“It is important to share ideas that may not yet be proven to be successful but are inspirational,” says Iannarelli. “We encourage members to be innovative and try new approaches without being hampered by the sense that [their] accreditation is at risk.”
AACSB publicizes the list of award recipients and their projects and allows members to access all submissions from both years to search for ideas that may fit with their institution’s mission and goals.
Some of these ideas might lead to an enhanced pipeline of minority students, says Patricia A. Hutton, PhD, professor of economics at Canisius. While the college’s Enactus Program exposes students to individuals of diverse backgrounds with whom they may not have previously interacted, Hutton points to the need for additional outreach by business schools and AACSB to create a more diverse pipeline — undergraduate and graduate students as well as faculty members.
“Achieving diversity, particularly among faculty, is challenging. Although AACSB has been at the forefront of assisting African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Native Americans with attaining a business [degree], minorities continue to be underrepresented [in business schools],” says Hutton. “In my opinion, more work needs to be done … to promote community outreach in K-12 to create a ‘college-achieving’ culture, implement recruitment strategies, and enhance enrollment and retention in undergraduate majors that provide the proper academic preparation for graduate business studies.”●
Sheryl S. Jackson is a contributing writer for INSIGHT Into Diversity.