CDOs Positively Influence Business School Diversity Efforts

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It is not uncommon for a college or university to have a chief diversity officer (CDO) overseeing institution-wide efforts to create an inclusive campus environment. More and more business schools are also beginning to see the value in creating such positions within their divisions. But what role should these diversity leaders play within the school itself, as well as in the university at large?

This is a question that many business schools are asking themselves, says Juliane Iannarelli, senior vice president, chief knowledge officer, and diversity and inclusion advocate for AACSB International. 

[Above: The START committee, which organizes the START Conference at Penn State Smeal College of Business, with Dean Charles Whiteman]

Juliane Iannarelli
Juliane Iannarelli

“I hear more questions about how to develop a diversity and inclusion strategic plan and how to develop the right staff and resources to implement [it],” she says. “Business schools realize that a diversity and inclusion plan should not only be related to transactional outcomes, such as increasing the number of underrepresented students, but should be focused on the overall goal of embedding inclusion in all parts of business education to produce graduates who have meaningful, productive careers.”

For the business schools that have created CDO positions, diversity and inclusion have become a more prominent focus via programming and the curriculum — inadvertently resulting in more diverse student populations as well as better outcomes and opportunities for these individuals. 

The University of Georgia

The Terry College of Business at the University of Georgia created its CDO position 15 years ago, with a faculty member serving part time in the role; 10 years ago, the college made the position full-time.

The expansion of this diversity leadership role within the business school reflects the changing business culture, says Randy Groomes, director of diversity relations for Terry College. “We want people in our school to feel included and represented, but we also want to create an open mindset that will prepare students to succeed in business after graduation.” 

Randy Groomes
Randy Groomes

To address the business community’s increased focus on diversity, the school offers a Workforce Diversity Certificate that consists of online coursework and a group project. Topics covered include leadership in a diverse organization, conflict resolution, cultural competence, and workforce development strategies. “We’ve received feedback [from participants] that having this certificate on their résumé has resulted in interviews with more companies,” Groomes says. 

Because creation of a diverse and inclusive culture requires the support of everyone in the school, his staff also offers the Terry Diversity Café, a series of lunch-and-learn educational sessions for faculty, staff, and students. Topics covered have included “Speaking Out on Social Issues: Ethics and Implications for Business Leaders” and “A Discussion on the Executive Immigration Order.” The café gives faculty members an opportunity to share their expertise with those who want to learn more. “This has been a successful effort,” Groomes says, “and I often have faculty members approach me with topics for the next session.”

He says his efforts to develop and facilitate diversity programs, coursework, and the specialized certificate have helped Terry College attract not only a diverse student population but also more “high-value” employers who seek out business school students for internships and full-time jobs. “Ten years ago, we reached out to let companies know what we were doing to prepare our students, and we now have all three big consulting firms, as well as a higher caliber of employers overall, actively recruiting [at our school].”

Rice University

In 2016, the Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University underwent a reorganization with the appointment of Peter Rodriguez, PhD, as dean. Part of the restructure included naming Lina Bell director of diversity and inclusion. 

Rodriguez’s previous experience as CDO of the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia brought a new, more strategic approach to diversity and inclusion to the school, says Bell. “We have long-standing relationships with organizations like the National Black MBA Association and Prospanica, but we knew we could do more to make sure our student population reflected the diverse population of Houston,” she says. “We joined The Consortium [for Graduate Study in Management], which is an alliance of top-tier MBA programs and corporations focused on increasing the number of underrepresented students in graduate business programs, as one way to reach a more diverse group of prospective students.”

Past and present Rice University students at a welcome reception for the Black Student Association (photo by Ceola Curley)
Past and present Rice University students at a welcome reception for the Black Student Association (photo by Ceola Curley)

In addition to increasing outreach to corporate partners — outside of those that are a part of The Consortium — Bell works with the business school’s career development and student services offices to offer guidance and advice to students as they prepare for interviews as well as to advise employee affinity groups. 

Diversity and inclusion is not a one-person job in the Jones School of Business, Bell points out. “We are a small school — only 120 students — and we have a small staff,” she says. “Collaboration among all faculty and staff is necessary to demonstrate that we are committed to inclusion.” 

She says the school’s strategic approach to diversity and inclusion has also helped diversify enrollment. “We have increased the percentage of underrepresented students to 15,” explains Bell. She largely attributes the school’s growth over the past two years to participation in The Consortium, which raises its visibility to students who might not have otherwise considered Rice University. “We’ve had 20 students come to us through that association,” she says, “and many of them have already [completed] internships, which increases their value to employers when they graduate.”

The Pennsylvania State University

Jamie Campbell, assistant dean of diversity enhancement at Penn State Smeal College of Business, contends that having a business-school-specific diversity and inclusion program helps with the recruitment of students. “The program, however, has to speak to the students and address their needs and engage them,” he says. “It can’t just be a statement on a paper or website.”

One example of such engagement is the college’s Striving Toward Awareness and Respect for Tomorrow (START) Conference, an annual event that focuses on business initiatives in diversity. “Students, along with corporate, academic, and community representatives, come together to discuss issues regarding diversity and to network,” Campbell explains. “We have also added affinity groups that include a multicultural women’s [organization], a business group for the LGBTQ+ community, and a group that helps students transition from other Penn State campuses, which may be very different from ours.”

Similar to other business schools that have CDOs, Campbell says increasing the visibility of Smeal College’s commitment to diversity and inclusion has affected student recruitment. “We’ve seen an uptick in applications from Latino and multiracial groups,” he says. 

While participation in and support of university-wide diversity efforts is important, Campbell believes that it’s critical for business schools to have their own strong diversity leadership to ensure this work is prioritized and that all students are able to reach their full potential. 

“Although the business school culture must be supportive of diversity and inclusion, designating one person to bridge the gap between students, faculty, and corporate partners is important,” he explains. “Students know they can ask me questions about anything, and faculty members reach out to me when they have concerns that a student is struggling. Knowing who they can go to with issues leads to better support of our students as they prepare to enter business.”

Sheryl S. Jackson is a contributing writer for INSIGHT Into Diversity. This article ran in our October 2018 issue.