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Americans faced historic challenges over the last two years: the pandemic, work and school life conducted on screens, troubling social divisions. These tough experiences have forged a new urgency for creating work cultures that are diverse, equitable and inclusive.
Rice Business is facing this challenge head-on. Most visibly, it expanded the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), including new dean-level leadership from Constance Elise Porter, Senior Associate Dean of DEI and Associate Clinical Professor of Marketing. But it falls to the whole school community – not just the DEI office – to build what Porter calls “positive, productive collaboration among all members of a diverse Rice Business community: students, faculty, staff, alumni and other stakeholders” and to make sure that each of these stakeholders feels welcomed, valued and respected.
“When we talk about culture and belonging and respect for each other, it sounds simple, but it isn’t,” Dean Peter Rodriguez says. “Advancing on the DEI journey requires the involvement of our entire community, starting with opening our hearts and minds, making a commitment to institutional introspection and communicating constantly.”
A Practical As Well As An Ethical Matter
The first step is to convey exactly what Rice Business means by DEI. Diversity, Porter explains, means the variety of backgrounds, values and perspectives that spring from different cultures and circumstances. Equity means fair access to resources and opportunities. And inclusion means a sense of belonging. At Rice Business, pursuing these goals is a practical as well as an ethical matter. That’s because Rice Business equips its students – all students – for success in a modern and diverse professional world. For this post, we’ve asked the school’s leadership to outline some of the objectives and measures they believe will:
- Foster a diverse school population
- Convey why diversity is valuable to all school stakeholders
- Infuse DEI skills and values throughout the MBA curriculum and school culture.
Stepping Up For DEI At Rice
After the May 2020 murder of George Floyd and a tide of other high-profile attacks against Black Americans, Rice Business formed a task force on racial equity and social justice. The charge: determine what the school should do in response and how to graduate business leaders who will promote racial equity and social justice in their careers.
The research bears out that the best business decisions are informed by a multitude of perspectives. Being proactive in addressing race and diversity issues is not only good for business. It's the right thing to do."
Lina Y. Bell
Executive Director for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Made up of faculty, staff, students and alumni, the task force called for 33 measures in five categories, including curriculum, school culture, student life, faculty and staff development. In response, Rice Business expanded the original DEI office founded six years ago by Lina Y. Bell, Executive Director for DEI, adding dean-level leadership by Porter and hiring a new employee.
“My view is this is not a moment. It’s a movement that’s not going to go away,” Porter says. While the DEI office’s expansion was prompted by the national reckoning after the Floyd murder, Porter stresses that the office’s mission is to “support all members of the Rice Business community: not just Black, Latinx and Indigenous Students – and not just students but faculty, staff and alumni.” That means diversity in its broadest sense, including LGBT+, historically underrepresented minorities, women, veterans and students with physical challenges.
“The research bears out that the best business decisions are informed by a multitude of perspectives,” Bell says. Being proactive in addressing race and diversity issues, she adds, “is not only good for business. It’s the right thing to do.”
Admissions – The Starting Gate
This work is especially urgent now, as the U.S. workforce quickly grows far more diverse. Rice Business has long nurtured diversity: last year it ranked #1 in the top 25 business schools for Full-Time MBA programs with the highest percentage of minority students.
One of the first steps to schoolwide DEI competence is further enriching Rice Business’ longtime care in admissions, says Janice Kennedy, Executive Director of Recruiting and Admissions. “Success goes well beyond representation,” she says. “We need to strategically drive diversity in each class cohort and set our students up for a successful experience, with first-rate guidance, connections and expectation-setting from the start.”
Critical to this project: working closely with respected national nonprofits focused on increasing the representation of marginalized groups in business schools and the corporate world. As just one example, joining the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management has influenced Rice Business dramatically, says George Andrews, Associate Dean of Degree Programs.
We need to show people we are serious. If we don't have that, it's window dressing."
Associate Dean of Degree Programs
Founded to increase the presence of underrepresented minority groups in business, the Consortium offers professional and academic resources to support strong student applications and successful academic experiences. It’s also a powerful career tool. In recent years, company recruiters have begun recruiting Consortium students even before they start their MBA programs.
“Joining Consortium in 2017 has been huge for Rice Business,” Andrews says, noting that the group rarely admits new business schools. Looking ahead, Andrews adds, raising the school’s profile within Consortium and similar external partnerships is a major goal. “I think we need to do an even better job attracting and supporting the best talent,” he says.
For Nalani Ortiz, Full-Time MBA ’21, the Consortium amplifies the benefits of Rice Business. “Being part of the Rice Consortium chapter means that I get the individualized attention that's unique to the Jones School and the network afforded to me through the Consortium,” she says.
Both Kennedy and Andrews both add that they want to rigorously measure Rice Business DEI outcomes. One way to do this schoolwide, Andrews says, would be to identify three to five DEI pillars, or objectives, whose success could be quantified, from admissions to the student experience and hiring. “We need to show people we are serious,” he says. “If we don’t have that, it’s window dressing.”
Partnerships For Career-Long Support
In addition to partnering with Consortium, Rice Business works closely with the Forte Foundation, which raises the representation of women in business schools and offers resources, including scholarship opportunities, throughout their professional and personal lives. Another Rice Business partner, Prospanica, has advocated for Hispanic business professionals for 30 years, granting $8 million in graduate scholarships, hosting professional development conferences and linking Hispanic business professionals to programs, experts and colleagues.
We continually work to make Rice Business an academic home where every student feels valued, known and cared for. As the organizational home of student-led and student-directed groups, we have a special role in fostering that environment of inclusion and belonging.”
Executive Director of the Student Program Office
Rice Business also works closely with Reaching Out, the international association for LGBT+ MBA students and alumni. Its annual ROMBA conference convenes LGBT+ business school students and is the largest gathering of its kind in the world.
“Rice Business partnerships with these groups are critical,” says Jessica Krom, Associate Director of Recruiting and Admissions. “I like to say that these groups open the door for historically marginalized populations. It’s the responsibility of Rice Business – with its training and curriculum – to make sure the door is leading somewhere.”
Krom, a veteran DEI leader in academic settings, also notes that much of Rice Business’ investment with its partners occurs through quiet relationship building. “That’s the hard part of DEI,” she says. “Much of the important work that leads to sustainable change is behind the scenes. The work is being done in large part because of folks like Lina Bell who were committed to it before it was considered the standard. I am more excited now than I have been ever before because the narrative is loud, and the resources are in place to possibly do what we haven’t been able to do before: shift the standard and enact sustainable change that celebrates difference.”
At the individual level, meanwhile, the Student Program Office (SPO) supports an impressive set of affinity clubs – all of which are open to student allies from any background.
A sampling of the school’s clubs and identity-focused student organizations includes the Asian Business Student Association, Black Business Student Association, Latin Business Student Association, Out & Allied, Rice Business Women's Organization, Men as Allies, Rice Business Indo-American Association and Veterans in Business Association.
“We continually work to make Rice Business an academic home where every student feels valued, known and cared for,” says Adam Herman, Executive Director of the Student Program Office. “As the organizational home of student-led and student-directed groups, we have a special role in fostering that environment of inclusion and belonging.”
Career Building Blocks
Ultimately, of course, Rice Business is about advancing careers and providing training and networks that allow graduates to chart their own courses over their lifetimes. The school is committed to offering these skills to students regardless of background, says Phil Heavilin, Executive Director of the Career Development Office. To that end, the CDO offers a packed calendar of activities tailored for a diverse student body. Among these is the annual CDO Diversity Networking Event, which kicks off fall recruiting. The 2021 event was the largest yet, hosting 25 companies (virtually) including the following:
The CDO also partners with companies interested in showcasing their commitment to welcoming, inclusive environments. Recent events include Inclusion and Diversity at Fortive, L.E.K and Veterans and Deloitte's Diversity, Equity & Inclusion: Bring your Authentic Self to Work. The office also works with the DEI office to provide financial support for students attending conferences and career expos at National Black MBA, Reaching Out MBA (LGBT+ community), MBA Veterans, and Prospanica (Latinx) – where Rice Business recently won a second Brillante award for educational excellence. In addition, the CDO team provides individual coaching and programming for students, including live, on-demand coaching support during the expo days.
Finally, Rice Business highly values its international students, Heavilin notes. Partnering with the Communication faculty, the CDO offers individual, virtual English Language coaching through B-Speak! as well as Interstride, an online career development and recruiting platform for international students.
It’s important for our students to see themselves reflected at the front of the classroom. And it’s important for our students to learn the frameworks for understanding DEI in the workplace – understanding the benefits and understanding the challenges."
Barbara Bennett Ostdiek
Senior Associate Dean of Degree Programs, Professor of Finance and Statistics
Faculty And Curriculum: The Heart Of Business School
In the long-term, one of the most consequential measures will be a more diverse faculty and richer curriculum, says Senior Associate Dean Barbara Bennett Ostdiek. Building a more diverse faculty has been prioritized by Rice Provost Reginald DesRoches – a signal of its importance to the university overall. At the business school, measures range from analyzing current faculty recruiting techniques to reviewing job descriptions, interview questions and other processes that may inadvertently exclude certain populations.
“It’s important for our students to see themselves reflected at the front of the classroom,” she says. “And it’s important for our students to learn the frameworks for understanding DEI in the workplace – understanding the benefits and understanding the challenges."
She notes that Rice Business is launching a working group to map a DEI curriculum that could lead to a specialization focusing on DEI in business from the firm’s perspective, the leadership’s perspective and the individual employee’s perspective.
To foster DEI outside the classroom, Bennett Ostdiek notes, the school is emphasizing initiatives that bring together students, faculty, alumni and potential employers. One of the most promising initiatives is a DEI lab course planned for spring 2022. This experiential course will allow students to apply DEI frameworks and skills learned in the classroom to challenges and opportunities in the workplace, working as DEI consultants to client companies and guided by expert DEI mentors.
For Victoria Hills, Full-Time MBA ‘22 and the president of the Black Business Student Association, these instructional changes are key. Adding a dean-level leader to the DEI office is a good first step, as is prioritizing hiring more diverse faculty, Hills says. “Having someone who looks like you, understands what your experiences are like and can speak to those issues is essential,” says Hills, an engineer who chose Rice Business to build on her expertise bringing sophisticated DEI measures to corporations. “Based on Connie’s track record, things will happen.”
I wholeheartedly believe Rice Business has a major opportunity to establish itself as a leader in DEI among top business schools around the country."
Director of Education for the Kinder Foundation, Rice Business MBA '11
Business Schools: A Pivotal Force
Transparency and equal opportunity also need to be part of the DEI plan at Rice Business, Hills adds. “It’s one of the biggest mysteries: what does it take to get into a top school? If you’re a minority, it’s hard to figure out how you fit – am I a number filling a seat?” For Black business students throughout the country, Hills and others say, it is common to be insulted by other students, challenged about why they were admitted or asked how their schooling is funded.
To address these issues proactively, Rice Business hosts the Diversity Preview Weekend, its flagship recruiting event. It includes the widely attended Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Conference, as well as alumni panels, workshops, sessions with the Career Development Office and Recruiting and Admissions teams and social events with current students, staff, faculty and alumni. Participants who apply for this year’s Full-Time MBA program are guaranteed an interview invitation.
The chance to be an incubator for social justice in the workplace puts Rice Business in a powerful position, says alumna and task force member Patra Brannon-Isaac. “I wholeheartedly believe Rice Business has a major opportunity to establish itself as a leader in DEI among top business schools around the country,” says Brannon-Isaac, who is director of education and community projects for the Kinder Foundation and a 2011 graduate of the Full-Time MBA program.
“Being located in one of the most diverse cities in the country positions Rice Business to be a pioneer in this space. Imagine encountering a Rice Business student or alum and recognizing their “on-brand” thought leadership around deeper concepts in not only diversity but also equity and inclusion? That would make me really proud as a Rice Business alum.”
Rice Business has been increasingly bold at stepping up to this challenge, Hills says. “In our DEI class with Professor Mikki Hebl, we talk about some very touchy topics,” she says. “But this is where you are creating your new CEOs and CFOs. Business schools are where change is made.”
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