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The Business School Role in Improving Racial Equity

In our efforts to prepare tomorrow’s leaders, we have a responsibility to address the realities of discrimination and promote a culture of inclusion.

Diversity and inclusion are priorities at most institutions of higher learning, and they should be. We strive to eliminate prejudice and racism, and our efforts are evident in our classrooms and throughout our faculty. But the scenes from our news streams over the past few weeks show us a larger story of racial injustice and discrimination, and I have to wonder: Is there more we can do?

It is true that recent events have provided a snapshot of what it’s like for Black Americans, as just one example of a marginalized community, who feel they have not been included in many of society’s dominant narratives and that they are treated differently at the hands of police, in job opportunities, and even at the university level. It has been a wake-up call to the academic community as a whole. Are we really doing enough to bridge this gap that may be wider than we had imagined?

Colleges of business play a major role in promoting inclusion and fighting stigma and prejudice in the workplace. It is an obligation we owe to our students and business partners. We all have a common goal: success in the classroom and beyond. As academic leaders we must be mindful of biases that exist from the classroom to the boardroom and equip students with the tools they need so that everyone has an equal chance of success.

Business Schools Must Step Up

It is our duty as educators of future business leaders to include mandatory content in our core business curriculum that addresses awareness and training of students in matters dealing with prejudice, stigma, and racism. Some business schools have entire programs devoted to institutionalized discrimination and how it manifests in the workplace, and the rest should look to these leaders to formulate their own similarly designed programs. Additionally, regular audits should be held to systematically examine efforts in place at colleges of business and to suggest new ones where needed. We must train our faculty and staff in all business schools to make them aware of the systemic racism and stigma that exist in our society today. This has to be continuous and made mandatory, if necessary.

At the Muma College of Business at the University of South Florida, we are building such programs. One area we are focused on is admissions. We must also go the extra mile to be more inclusive in recruiting students who are traditionally excluded from higher education opportunities because of a history of embedded discrimination, leading to unfavorable socioeconomic situations and diminished self-confidence. We must also review our hiring processes for faculty and staff to attract more faculty and staff of color so that they accurately mirror the underrepresented students in our colleges.

Quite simply, we must actively seek out more Black scholars, more Latinx scholars, more women, and more members of our LGBTQ community. We must encourage recent minority graduates to consider a career in academia, and we must find ways to support them should they choose to pursue a PhD.

The research conducted at business schools must now go beyond marketing, accounting, and finance and include work that examines prejudice in the workplace. The Muma College of Business is also launching a request for proposals aimed at incentivizing research on understanding and fighting racism, stigma, and prejudice in the business community. A number of our researchers are already involved in projects that delve into the causes and effects of racism.

Colleges of business are in the unique position of training future generations of leaders, and this is a job that falls heavily on the faculty. We should always make sure that our faculty members are involved in continuing professional development training that deals with issues of prejudice and racism. They must be equipped to inform their students on these matters in a way that will promote inclusion and acceptance now and forever. When their students graduate, they will enter the workforce with these values ingrained in their business DNA.

Most colleges of business have entrepreneurship centers or programs, and we need to enlist their assistance in lifting minority communities though startups and other avenues of counsel. Financially strained areas and blighted urban cores often are the homes of minorities. We must lift up these communities by sharing our expertise and encouraging Black and other underrepresented students and alumni as they start new businesses. These areas are ripe for students and faculty to enter and partner with businesses or other supporters and philanthropists to create entrepreneurial systems to help build new businesses and offer opportunities for advancement not only for young entrepreneurs of color but also the communities they inhabit.

The Old Adage Is True: Education Is Key

Now is the time to renew efforts and take a fresh look at what we perceive to be our inclusive culture, not solely because of recent events but rather because it is the right thing to do. Every so often culture shifts and draws new attention to inequities preventing societal progress, and we must keep up with the demands for change, or be left behind. If we, as colleges of business, are not doing enough, then we must look within ourselves to find ways to do more.

In March, most of us sent our students home to continue their courses online in quarantine. Most have their own laptops, and we believed there would be few issues. But, a recent survey by the Tampa Bay Partnership, one of our many analytics collaborators, found disparities that may contribute to an achievement gap. The survey found that “digital learning is especially challenging for communities of color. Nationally, broadband adoption rates in Black households lag behind white households by 6.8 percent; and when Black households do have in-home broadband, they’re more likely than white households to rely only on mobile connections.”

So what can business schools do in these difficult times to fight racism, prejudice, and stigma? We must present real and impactful narratives within our curriculum. All of us have biases, but we are called upon now more than ever to be mindful of them in order to stop the scourge of racism. And we must review our practices regularly to ensure we are doing all that we can when it comes to diversity and inclusion efforts—not just adhering to best practices for avoiding discrimination but actively countering discriminatory beliefs and behaviors.

Corporate Partners Stepping Up

Corporate America has a reputation of not changing direction quickly to keep pace with cultural change. But over the past few months, many corporations have switched course quickly and effectively. The course change began with the pandemic, and now it is adjusting to the movement calling for racial justice and equity.

Many large corporations—some of which are partners and supporters of colleges of business across the nation and even globally—have voiced support for the movement over the past few weeks. They have recognized that the roots of systemic racism go far beyond responding to the brutal death of one Black man in Minneapolis.

This solidarity from corporations reflects a growing awareness of social injustice among the broader public. That our graduates will one day be leaders in these entities is encouraging.

Tackling this heinous attitude not just in America but around the world begins at home with our children, but it is supported by the education system, and as business educators we must instill in future business leaders an appreciation of—and thirst for—diversity, equity, and inclusion.

It is necessary for colleges of business to change—and to foster change—to improve the lives of everyone in society. We cannot afford to sit back and watch social injustice happening before our eyes. Business schools should step up and assume the role of fighting the malignancy of racism, prejudice, and stigma. We should be educating and graduating a new generation of business professionals who will be ready to meet this scourge head-on and make the changes necessary to create a more inclusive, compassionate world.


headshot of Moez Limayem, dean of USF Muma College of BusinessMoez Limayem is dean of the Muma College of Business at the University of South Florida in Tampa and a member of the 2020–21 AACSB board of directors.