MIT has a world-renowned reputation for being an institution of highly innovative research leaders and for continuously advancing the cutting edge of technology. This brand attracts students to Sloan and LGO that share an inherently curious nature and a passion for learning. In the wake of Americans’ reckoning with racism in the US in the spring of 2020, Sloan and LGO students have also embraced a responsibility for unlearning their implicit biases and taking personal responsibility for driving the change we want to see. I am proud of Sloan and LGO students now committing to being both lifelong learners and lifelong un-learners. I’d like to share some of the initiatives Sloanies and LGOs are leading while knowing we have an incredibly long way to go.
As a white, cis-gendered, heterosexual, thin, able-bodied, university-educated, middle class female, the countless privileges afforded to me by my many dominant identities also bring blind spots. As I continue to learn and unlearn, I am amazed at how many areas of ignorance have been illuminated. I know there are many more blind spots I am not yet aware of that put me at risk of perpetrating micro-aggressions within the context of this post. While most of the initiatives I have included focus on systemic racism, I acknowledge that many forms of systemic oppressions exist and need to be addressed. I am committed to engaging in this conversation to my best ability given my current state of knowledge and awareness and I welcome any feedback readers are willing to share as a learning opportunity.
For as long as there has been organized law enforcement in the United States, there have been senseless murders of Black men and women at the hands of police brutality. Although far from the first, when the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor made national headlines this spring, America and the Sloan community had a reckoning with the presence of racism within our communities. In this moment, many students, like myself, felt paralyzed, not saying enough out of fear of saying the wrong thing. Sloan’s Black Business Student Association (BBSA) called a townhall and expressed that the silence of the community had been deafening. BBSA president and second year Sloanie, Slate Noronha, led the townhall with an overview of the history of slavery and racism in the US and opened the floor to Black community members to share their own experiences with racism in and out of Sloan. For me this felt like an incredibly generous gift from the BBSA during a time of pain for them to help educate us as their classmates, and to help lead us in navigating something incredibly complex, far-reaching, and personal. It was a direct call to action to do better, and from my perspective a turning point with Sloan students’ engagement with diversity equity and inclusion.
Second year Sloanie, Chandler Perry, who had already dedicated many hours to ensuring Sloan students graduate as leaders who can advocate for a more equitable world, leveraged the momentum of this moment to call on Sloan leadership for commitments to tangible change. She spearheaded a major effort to research, review, select, and promote business school cases that explore issues such as mass incarceration, the war on drugs, police brutality and has worked to ensure some of these cases are now included in the MBA core curriculum. Incorporating these topics into core builds a foundation where these imperative issues can be openly discussed moving forward and any class can be analyzed through this lens.
Embodying the commitment to take responsibility for her own learning, my core teammate and co-president of Sloan For Inclusion, Josie Liu, invited me to read an anti-racism book with her, and what started as an open invitation on Instagram for our friends to join us, turned into a Sloan summer anti-racism book club. We read 3 books over the summer with over 60 Sloanies and held thoughtful discussions in zoom breakout rooms where we could explore our own relationships with racism. The book club has now been incorporated into Sloan For Inclusion and plans to continue next semester.
As my classmates’ and my journeys of anti-racism progressed over the summer, there was an increasing sense of urgency to take action where we could make a difference. Fellow LGO second year, Caitlin Auffinger, and I felt the LGO community with its summer core classes and unique relationship with partner companies had many avenues for growth and that being a class of only 45 students, we could have a lot of influence. We began brainstorming some ideas of how we could make a more inclusive LGO program and leverage our partner companies to incorporate their best practices as well as challenge them to do better too. After coming up with a list of ideas, we realized both that we wouldn’t be able to execute them all on our own and that we were missing some brilliant ideas that my classmates surely had.
We reached out to our LGO class, the class that had just graduated, as well as the class that had just started their summer semester to see if people would be interested in a LGO DEI hackathon. We learned many small groups had been forming where people were brainstorming ideas for action and there was an overwhelming response of interest in a hackathon. So we set up an informal virtual hackathon one afternoon with 3 prompts. Students were shuffled into different break out rooms for each prompt and documented their ideas. After the event, I went through and parsed ideas from each break out rooms’ notes and added emphasis to ideas that were raised by multiple groups.
In parallel, first year LGO, Taylor Facen, was organizing an Active Allyship committee that she has been chair of since the summer. The committee assessed each of the action items and decided if they should be included in other LGO committees’ goals or if we needed a volunteer to own that action. She organized a meeting with the LGO program staff to present some of our highest priority initiatives and successfully got approval for an official long standing committee and got leadership buy in to support the committee’s goals.
Under Taylor’s leadership and with incredible support and interest from the LGO program staff, the Active Allyship committee has made big steps even in just one semester. Within the incoming class of LGO 2022s, there will be 3 fellowships available to students who demonstrate a commitment to DEI. DEI efforts often fall on the shoulders of students from racial and gender minorities who volunteer much of their time towards these initiatives at the benefit of their university without being compensated. These fellowships are important because they emphasize that LGO values DEI initiatives and is willing to pay to retain students who are passionate about driving these changes.
Another joint initiative led by the committee and the LGO staff has been an analysis of admissions statistics at each stage between pre-application events to matriculation. This analysis has helped us understand our weak points in recruiting and make a more targeted effort at ensuring students from racial and gender minorities feel supported and welcomed at those steps of the process. For example, this semester, all applicants that were invited to interview were given a list of current students who had volunteered to be a point of contact for different non-dominant identities. In our committee meetings, we learned that when we were interviewing, most of us had contacted a current student, whether it was a friend or a cold outreach on LinkedIn, to help prepare for the interview process. We wanted to make sure this type of interview prep information was equitably accessible to all interviewees regardless if they knew someone in the program or successfully reached someone on LinkedIn. As we have started our own full time recruiting, we have seen organizations give applicants the option to be contacted by Employee Resource Groups for more information and for interview prep. Learning from this process, during the next admissions cycle, candidates invited to interview will be able to opt in to be actively contacted by a current student that represents their non-dominant identity.
In collaboration with the LGO operating committee (composed of LGO partner company representatives, LGO alumni, LGO staff, and current LGO students), there is another on-going initiative to share best DEI practices among partner companies. Led by second year LGO, Julia Chen, and LGO program staff, 16 current students volunteered to reach out to the LGO partner companies and to request an interview with a company representative about their current best practices. We have been conducting these interviews over the course of the semester and those leading the initiative are now compiling this information to be shared with the operating committee. We also collected as much data as was available around racial and gender representation at each company (with the option to contribute the information anonymously and only be shared in aggregate) to establish a current baseline, challenge partner companies to continue to improve this baseline, and track progress over time. Throughout the course of these interviews, dialogues have been initiated about possible future collaboration between partner companies and students. Some of these ideas include DEI implementation best practices panels and Q&As within the operating committee, as well as a program for current students to shadow the work of partner company Employee Resource Groups.
Inspired by Chandler Perry’s work to update the Sloan core curriculum, the committee has been evaluating the LGO summer core curriculum. Led by first year LGO, Paige Wyler, students have been collaborating with the summer core professors to find (and in some situations write) cases that include more diverse protagonists and broader themes while still teaching the operations lessons essential to the existing case work. These students have also been collaborating with LGO staff to incorporate a DEI workshop in LGO orientation.
Beyond summer curriculum, the Active Allyship committee has also been collaborating with the LGO seminar committee, who organize weekly guest speakers to share their experiences with LGO students. Historically this weekly LGO leadership seminar speakers have been primarily program alumni who speak about their career journeys, run through difficult problems from their own work experience, and share advice they would have given themselves when they were students. This semester, the seminar committee made a very concerted effort to make sure our speakers were a diverse representation of leaders regardless of alumni status and that topics from operations, to police brutality, to climate change were open for discussion. We had a workshop led by Sloan professor Jason Jay on how to break through gridlock in difficult conversations with someone who may have conflicting views or values. We had a lecture and discussion on leading through difficulty with a Chief of Police who offered his resignation this spring (which wasn’t accepted) when an unarmed Latinx man died in police custody. We discussed integrity with a CEO who dealt with employees being sexually harassed by clients and other employees within her company. We still had many traditional lectures on leadership lessons, hard problems, and career advice, but the committee made sure the speakers were more representative including military veterans, women of color, and immigrants with various experiences and backgrounds.
Outside of LGO, the broader Sloan community is also working on many DEI initiatives. Communications professor, Kara Blackburn, leveraged the heightened awareness and interest in analyzing allyship over summer to introduce a new class this fall, Crucial Conversations About and Across Difference. I had the privilege of taking this class with roughly 30 other Sloanies who were eager to learn from one another how to be better allies and how to create and lead an inclusive organization. It was incredible to have a formal structure with learning materials and gently guided discussion for 90 minutes twice a week with classmates that were equally passionate about equity and belonging in the workplace.
Sloan For Inclusion has continued to provide excellent resources to Sloanies who are passionate about DEI. In October, they introduced a bi-weekly newsletter to keep the community updated on relevant topics. They advertise events they are hosting, such as the anti-racism book club and a “Putting Principles to Action” panel with managers at Microsoft who have successfully implemented real-world DEI initiatives. Additionally, they advertise DEI events hosted by separate on-campus organizations as well as virtual events at other universities. They share relevant news articles like LGBTQ communities fighting voter ID laws that restricted up to 42% of eligible transgender voters, an analysis of what S&P 100 companies pledged in DEI initiatives and how they have acted, or a study on the state of DEI topics in business school cases. In each newsletter, they also share a small, actionable challenge to encourage readers to reflect, learn, and grow their understanding of DE&I. Some of these challenges have included picking a novel to read by an author of a different identity than the you, asking some questions (from a provided list) on DEI policies and practices at your target company in your next coffee chat, and learning more about the indigenous people that lived on the land you currently live on with provided resources to do so.
Sloan For Inclusion has also been busy planning a virtual edition of their flagship event, Hack For Inclusion, February 19-21. Hack For Inclusion is a weekend long event that brings together students and working professionals to brainstorm solutions for problems related to bias, diversity, and inclusion. Sponsor companies present real DEI challenges they face such as increasing inclusion and improving retention of people of color working as frontline manufacturing workers, improving support and programs for female entrepreneurs to help them scale their ventures, or reducing the stigma around mental illness to increase utilization of employer-supplied mental health resources. Individual participants are assigned to random teams to invent and pitch a potential solution to a problem over the course of the weekend. This year’s virtual platform and asynchronous model will allow for even greater participation from individuals who cannot travel to Cambridge.
Second year Sloanies, Joe Haddad and Jose Ramos, have been working to create a ten-year social justice pledge. The pledge is designed to support and encourage individuals to attach quantifiable and measurable actions to their public statements, and to hold themselves accountable as we collectively drive sustainable, positive change. The pledge allows participants to donate a self-determined percentage of their annual salary to an inclusion fund that will be used to help cover expenses for racial and gender minorities while attending Sloan. Moreover, the pledge includes other declarations around proactively addressing identity-based harassment and many other commitments to drive change across a breadth of workplaces. While the pledges themselves are confidential, participants will receive automatically generated email reminders over the ten-year period to support accountability after graduation.
Sloan is known for its “Sloanies helping Sloanies” inclusive culture. Continuing to build inclusive communities, three second year Sloanies, Olga Timirgalieva, Nhat Nguyen, and Riana Shah, founded the First-Generation Low Income (FLI) Club this semester. The club has organized awesome events from a workshop on how to be a better networker to an Ask Me Anything event with the entire Sloan community to a panel of alumni speakers of similar backgrounds now at tech companies. The community shares resources on affordable academic and social events and aims to provide mentorship and empower FLI students.
The Sloan Student Senate is leading a host of initiatives aiming to build a continuously more inclusive Sloan community. Each initiative has dedicated leaders who provide updates to the broader Senate. Some of these initiatives include DEI training for student club leadership and specific club funding for DEI events, an international students’ inclusion working group (which is especially important this year while many of our international students are remote), mental health and virtual community building, admission support, procurement from diverse suppliers for Sloan needs, and increasing representation of women and racial minority students on club leadership and in Senate.
These are only some of the initiatives going on within Sloan that I have been involved with or exposed to. Based on conversations with classmates, I know students are taking large and small steps in many channels to unlearn a lifetime of socialization in a culture that disproportionately values dominant identities and to learn how to lead inclusive initiatives and organizations. While LGO, Sloan, and academia have a long way to go to create a fully inclusive and representative community that prepares students to be leaders that can bring these values and culture into the world, I am inspired by the passion I see in my classmates to build a better community one step at a time.
I will end with some actionable suggestions for readers that may be interested in taking another step in their journey toward equity and inclusivity:
- Check out Sloan’s DEI page which includes links to educational resources and events https://mitsloan.mit.edu/diversity/standing-together
- Sign up to participate in Sloan’s Hack For Inclusion which proudly welcomes anyone who is interested in joining http://hackforinclusion.com/
- If you have the means, set up a recurring donation to an organization that is doing DEI work. There are many organizations working to provide resources to underrepresented communities and to advocate for more equitable legal reform, such as Black Lives Matter, or the Equal Justice Initiative. Many of these services make it easy to set up recurring donations with no minimum dollar amount required. Donations help support that organization but it also serves as a trigger to reflect on what action you have taken in the last month to continue your education and to support the mission of the organization.
- Diversify your feed. Like many millennials, I spend far too much time on social media. I have been shocked at how much anti-racism education and inclusive content is available for free on Instagram when I started looking. Here are some (far from an exhaustive list) that I have found useful for incorporating many perspectives into my everyday:
- Political – Following news organizations and representatives with opposing political leaning supports productive conversations across differing opinions and it has helped me increasingly identify sensationalism in reporting on both sides.
- Anti-racism educators – @antiracismdaily, Rachel Cargle, Ijeoma Oluo, Blair Imani, Ibram X. Kendi, The Conscious Kid, Brittany Packnett Cunningham, Layla F. Saad, Ericka Hart, Rachel Ricketts, @nowhitesaviors, Austin Channing Brown, DeRay Mckesson, @privtoprog, @soyouwanttotalkabout
- Feminism educators – @feminist, @i_weigh, @femalecollective, @jameelajamilofficial, @the_female_lead, @astro_jessica, @fiercebymitu, @latinarebels
- Indigenous advocacy- @ndncollective, @culturalsurvival, @native_mvmt, @lakotalaw, @nativelandnet, @seedingsovereignty, @mmiwusa, @indigenousrising
- LGBTQ non-binary advocacy- @lgbt_history, @alokvmenon, @ lesbianherstoryarchives, @queerbible, @ h_e_r_s_t_o_r_y
- Inclusivity in the outdoors- @pattiegonia, @outdoorafro, @unlikelyhikers, @naturechola, @queerappalachia, @brownpeoplecamping, @browngirlsclimb, @disabledhikers, @blackgirlstrekkin
- Body positivity- @bodyposipanda, @glitterandlazers, @kenziebrenna, @hi.ur.beautiful
- Use google 😊! If you’re into podcasts, google anti-racism, LGBTQ, differently abled, inclusive, etc. podcasts to listen to. If you’re into books, do the same thing! If you’re into movies, the same! Google why a phrase you are unsure about may be offensive, google a better phrase to use instead. Google why people are protesting, go to their website if they have one, read their mission. Google how to be a better ally. There is a lot of information for free and it has been parsed and made more accessible than ever in the last 9 months.
- Advocate for compensation for your classmates and coworkers who volunteer on DEI initiatives especially if they identify with the community are advocating for.
By Angela Murray, LGO Class of 2021