Getting Down to Business

Business school deans talk ethics, demographics, curricula, and more

INSIGHT Into Diversity recently spoke with deans of three distinctive U.S. business schools about some of the most pressing issues affecting their institutions today. They discussed the importance of preparing socially responsible and culturally competent business leaders, efforts to update curricula to reflect the changing times, and the need to recruit more students and senior leaders from underrepresented groups.

Joyce E. A. Russell, PhD, is the
Helen and William O’Toole Dean
of the Villanova School of Business
at Villanova University, a private
research university in Pennsylvania.

Tanuja Singh, DBA, is dean
of Greehey School of Business at
St. Mary’s University, a Catholic
and Marianist liberal arts institution
in San Antonio, Texas.

Delmonize “Del” Smith, PhD,
is dean of the College of Business
and Public Affairs at Alabama
A&M University, a public HBCU
in Huntsville, Ala.



Q: More than ever, corporate executives are weighing in on social and ethical issues — from gun control and immigration to NFL protests and sexual harassment.— while others have experienced backlash for racist or sexist comments or actions by them or their employees (i.e., Starbucks and Papa Johns). How is your school addressing social issues and ensuring it develops ethical, socially responsible business leaders? 

Russell: These are top of mind for us at Villanova University and the Villanova School of Business (VSB). … At VSB, our focus is on “building business leaders for a better world,” so we talk about the importance of creating ethical business leaders and having a positive impact on society.

As we strive to cultivate globally conscious future leaders, we host regular climate conversations with our students to understand their personal experiences and to address them through our upcoming diversity and inclusion strategy. We also train our faculty, staff, and students on harassment and discrimination. In light of recent events, additional training will be scheduled, such as those focused on unconscious bias and other facets of diversity and inclusion, [to emphasize the importance of ethics in the business world].

Singh: [Greehey School of Business’] mission statement states that “we produce graduates who are skilled, ethical, professional, globally aware, and prepared for careers of meaning and purpose.” There is an intentionality about our commitment to these values, and they are reflected in our conversations, curricula, and other commitments. We are engaged in teaching and outreach related to business ethics and corporate social responsibility. 

We also provide dedicated resources to ensure that ethics conversations are prominent in our strategic focus. Our commitment includes student development combined with community thought leadership. 

In 2008, we founded the Greater San Antonio Ethics and Compliance Roundtable, which now includes approximately 25 organizations from San Antonio and Austin. Members are premier corporations and governmental agencies in the region, and representatives from these organizations are senior leaders in ethics, compliance, sustainability, and related functions. The group holds quarterly roundtables … with a well-known speaker — often a national leader — on business ethics. The speakers also connect with students and faculty to ensure that intellectual and financial resources are leveraged to provide maximum impact, enhance student understanding of critical issues in ethics, and strengthen faculty knowledge. In addition, we host thought leaders on corporate social responsibility on campus throughout the year. 

Smith: Our mission states that we are dedicated to providing a relevant business and social science education to future professionals and leaders ready to make a positive community impact. As the College of Business and Public Affairs at Alabama A&M University, we have a unique competitive advantage of having social sciences — political science, sociology, and criminal justice — integrated within our college. 

Last year, we changed our curriculum to require our business majors to take social science courses. That change was made not only to align with our mission, but also with the realization that our world today, more than ever, needs business professionals and leaders to be concerned about more than just the bottom line.  

According to a June 2018 Wall Street Journal article, many prominent business schools are struggling to fill deanships. At the same time, African Americans and Hispanics respectively hold only 2 percent and 0.5 percent of these positions, according to a 2015 report by The PhD Project. How can business schools work to recruit more underrepresented faculty, staff, and administrative leaders?

Russell: At VSB, half of all associate deans are women and one is African American. So we are working to increase representation across all levels of faculty and staff, in addition to … leadership. In seeking talent, we work with … organizations such as The PhD Project, National Black MBA Association, Forté Foundation, and Prospanica to ensure we [attract] a diverse pool of applicants.

At VSB, we believe it’s important to expose students to diverse leaders and role models, so we highlight the stories of diverse alums who are currently serving on boards to our students, host the Seed-Planting Speaker Series within the MBA program to familiarize them with board roles, and offer leadership mentoring.

In addition, we have implemented an Inclusive Hiring Initiative to increase diversity among faculty and staff. We are developing a “train the trainer” model to improve our ability to respond to the questions of diverse candidates who are considering faculty positions at VSB as well as recruiting and advertising more broadly at professional conferences and atypical organizations.

Singh: An equitable distribution of underrepresented groups in any organization does not happen organically. It has to be part of a strategy, which includes investment in specific initiatives. … It is imperative that we begin by recruiting faculty from underrepresented groups. At Greehey School of Business, we are committed to and have been successful in recruiting a diverse faculty. 

Members of all search committees are required to go through an extensive diversity and inclusion training to ensure a diverse pool of candidates. We also attempt to identify individuals with leadership potential and ambitions early on and dedicate financial and other resources for their development throughout their academic journey. [This effort] should include mentorship to help faculty understand the structure, processes, and pathways to leadership opportunities. 

I firmly believe that mentoring needs to begin early — perhaps even at the master’s degree level, when the decision to pursue a doctorate often [is made]. I personally mentor faculty members who have expressed an interest in pursuing leadership opportunities.

We also recognize that unless there is significant growth in the number of faculty of color receiving doctorates, our task will remain challenging. That is why we need to create a better environment for attracting minority candidates to our doctoral programs.

Smith: Your reference to the report by The PhD Project is also where you will likely find the answer to the question of how business schools can focus their efforts to recruit more leaders from underrepresented groups. The PhD Project was founded upon the premise that advancements in workplace diversity can best be achieved by increasing the diversity of business school faculty. The organization’s accomplishment of helping quadruple the number of minority faculty since its inception is pretty remarkable. 

At Alabama A&M University, we have learned that our diverse and inclusive faculty allows us to more easily recruit and retain diverse faculty. … They also ensure that students are guaranteed to have multiple opportunities to be taught by those who look like them or who come from similar backgrounds.  

What strategies is your school using to recruit, retain, and graduate culturally competent students from underrepresented groups? What effects are these efforts having on corporate recruitment at your school?

Russell: This has definitely become a very high priority at VSB under my deanship. During the last two years, our team has begun engaging in a number of key initiatives to recruit and retain a diverse student body. Through recruitment, sponsorship, mentoring, outreach, and more, faculty members work to offer students from a wide range of backgrounds and ethnicities access to a world-class business education.

VSB participates in multiple recruitment fairs and events pertaining to underrepresented groups, including women, military members, and students of color. We have become a member of local chapters of organizations that work with underrepresented groups and [have] sponsored the National Black MBA conference as well as the PA Women’s Conference. 

In addition, we partner with many diverse undergraduate student organizations on campus, leverage relationships across the university, … and mine the resources available to the VSB community to explore potential partnership opportunities. We also support an Inclusive Classroom initiative for faculty and students and a student ambassador program to [further] our diversity and inclusion strategy.

Employers are expressing concerns about how to best connect with diverse candidate pools. We are addressing these by holding events throughout campus that expose potential employers to a broader pool of candidates, including the implementation of Inclusive Hiring Meetups in tandem with biannual career fairs. 

Singh: As a designated Hispanic-Serving Institution, we are naturally attractive to not only Hispanic students but also those from other underrepresented groups. Indeed, the university specifically recruits in targeted markets that reflect our priorities. San Antonio is diverse, … which helps with recruiting a diverse student body. 

Our grounding in the liberal arts tradition also has a distinct advantage because conversations and professional development around cultural competence are central to our DNA and happen throughout curricular and co-curricular activities. 

The strategic plan of Greehey School of Business requires that we invest human and financial resources toward these priorities; thus, our commitment to these areas is very tangible and measurable.

Diversity and inclusion are priorities at all the companies that recruit at our school. Indeed, many have created specific initiatives to recruit and retain candidates from underserved populations. The investment in and success of programs such as SEO (Sponsors for Educational Opportunities) and ALPFA (Association of Latino Professionals for America) are proof that companies are strategically investing in creating a more diverse group of talent. 

Smith: By virtue of being an HBCU, Alabama A&M University is fortunate to have a unique, competitive advantage when it comes to recruiting and retaining students from underrepresented groups. But yes, cultural competency has become a priority in recent years, and this trend is likely to continue.

The first significant exposure our students have with cultural competency from a global perspective happens when they interact with our faculty. I have often said that our faculty resemble a mini United Nations, with origins in the U.S., Asia, Latin America, India, and Africa, to name a few. And they are encouraged to bring their authentic selves to the classroom so that our students experience part of their rich culture.  

We are finding that companies and organizations are increasingly realizing that HBCUs represent a rich source for recruiting diverse candidates. These same companies are also beginning to expand their diversity, equity, and inclusion scope beyond issues of race to include respecting and valuing differences based on economic diversity, sexual orientation, and gender identity. It is imperative for business schools to ensure their graduates are ready to positively contribute to this changing environment. 

What is your school doing to update the curriculum to incorporate diversity, equity, and inclusion and issues affecting underrepresented and marginalized groups? 

Russell: VSB [hosts] speakers from underrepresented groups … and is developing tips as well as auditing in-class materials to train faculty on creating inclusive classrooms and increasing belongingness among our diverse student population. In addition, through the CEO@VSB speaker series, we are asking c-suite leaders to discuss the importance of diversity and inclusion in their organizations.

Singh: Questions surrounding diversity, inclusion, and equity are embedded throughout the curriculum at St. Mary’s. Students explore these topics first through the core curriculum, where topics regarding the question of self-identity and of the self in relationship to wider social structures … are explored in considerable depth. The business school also engages in these inquiries through lectures, invited talks, and case analyses. An annual conference on Justice and Social Concerns brings thought leaders to campus who are deeply engaged in these discussions. 

Smith: To date, we have not made any specific curriculum modifications to focus [on these] issues. Undoubtedly, there is an assumption that our majority African American students are from society’s underrepresented and marginalized group, so there is less of a need to make such a modification. This is likely an incorrect assumption as there are numerous diversity, equity, and inclusion issues not related to race (e.g., gender, age, sexual orientation). 

Rather than modify our curriculum, our college recently sponsored and co-led a diversity and inclusion symposium designed to create a culture of diversity and inclusion among the business, government, and nonprofit communities of the region. Many of our students took part and received valuable learning from the experience.

Alexandra Vollman is the editor-in-chief of INSIGHT Into Diversity. This article ran in our October 2018 issue.