Diversity Symposium Attracts Record Interest


Students at orientation week.
Incoming full-time MBA students pose for a selfie during orientation week.

At a time when issues of race and diversity lead the daily news cycle and are top-of-mind for educators, business leaders, and hiring managers, a record crowd of more than 250 prospective students is expected at the Berkeley-Haas Diversity Symposium Oct. 15.

They’ll join more than 100 current students, alumni, faculty, and staff for a day of panels and workshops on issues affecting women, racial and ethnic minorities, the LGBTQ community, and veterans in the MBA program and in the workplace.

Though the symposium is largely geared toward potential applicants to the school’s three MBA programs—with sessions on financing and balancing school and career—the day also serves as a mass networking opportunity and a chance to showcase Haas’ culture.

“Our mission as a school is to develop leaders who redefine how we do business, and that requires people who experience the world in different ways, who think differently, and who welcome different ways of thinking,” said Dean Rich Lyons. “We want to do everything we can to create an environment where everyone feels included and has the support to succeed.”

A recent Haas admissions survey found that an inclusive culture is the No. 1 reason students choose the full-time MBA program. Last year, the school adopted a new strategic business plan that puts a high priority on ethnic diversity, gender equity, and leading in a diverse world.

Dean Rich Lyons will speak at the symposium.

“We’re at a point in history when we’ve got this interesting global workforce, and increasingly companies are saying ‘I want someone who can manage anyone, anytime, anywhere,’” says Eric Abrams, director of diversity initiatives. “The more people learn about each other while they’re here, the better managers and leaders our graduates will be—and the more in demand they’ll be.”

To further the strategic plan goals, Assistant Dean Erika Walker has taken on an additional role as student equity officer, reviewing how diversity is reflected in the curriculum, extracurricular activities, and the school community across all programs. Profs. Jenny Chatman and Jonathan Leonard are serving as faculty equity officers, working on equity issues among students and faculty; Human Resources Director Denise Boyd serves in a similar role for staff.

A growing number of student-led efforts such as the Race Inclusion Initiative and the Gender Equity Initiative, as well as active clubs like Q@Haas, the Black Business Students Association, Haas Veterans Club, and the Women in Leadership Club’s “manbassadors” highlight the value students place on a culture of inclusion. The evening & weekend MBA program and the executive MBA program have recently added VPs of Diversity in their student governments; an implicit bias workshop is part of orientation for the executive MBAs.

Cristy Johnston-Limón, EMBA 16, is the executive MBA program’s first vice president of diversity.

Haas has also put in place some admissions initiatives that have paid off. While the University of California has been restricted in its use of affirmative-action criteria in the admissions process since the 1996 passage of Prop. 209, the school works closely with organizations such as the Robert Toigo Foundation and Management Leadership for Tomorrow, which help build the pipeline of talented students from diverse backgrounds.

One effort that has helped boost applications from underrepresented minority students to the full-time program is the school’s participation in the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, which seeks to increase the number of African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans in top business programs and corporate management. It offers fellowships that include training and some merit-based scholarships for exceptional MBA candidates with a track record of promoting diversity and inclusion in their schools, jobs, or personal lives.

This year, the incoming full-time MBA class includes a record 47 Consortium fellows, which is the largest group among the organization’s 18 member schools. Among them are 19 African American students, who make up 7.5% of the incoming class.

The full-time MBA office has also worked closely with the student-led Gender Equity Initiative to increase the proportion of women in the program, with direct outreach from alumnae and senior women leaders from Haas. Women make up 38 percent of the incoming class and 40 percent of the program overall. The working professionals MBA programs have similar outreach efforts, and host a popular Women’s Dinner for prospective students.

“There’s increasing competition for the most talented students among all top MBA programs, and we’ve been increasingly able to attract a diverse group and remain one of the most selective programs in the country,” said Morgan Bernstein, executive director of full-time MBA admissions. “What we hear time and again from applicants is that Haas really stands out for its inclusive culture.”

The symposium also includes a Friday night welcome reception in San Francisco, hosted by Wells Fargo Sr. VP Monica Stevens, MBA 96, and the Haas Alumni Diversity Council. The alumni council is actively involved in the school’s efforts to increase diversity on campus and in building a strong alumni community.