UCLA Anderson Looking Forward

by Paul Feinberg

Part of the tradition of Black History Month is a look back at the deeds and actions of African-Americans; a way to recognize the contributions of this community and celebrate the incalculable contributions of Black Americans to our society. At UCLA Anderson, we join in this tradition, giving pride of place to many of the stories of the African-Americans in our community.

But it’s never enough to simply look back. Rather, it’s an essential element of the Anderson DNA to look forward; to contemplate, to plan, to anticipate and create what’s next.

Our 2016 celebration of Black History Month features a look ahead, an examination not only of Anderson’s commitment to diversity as it stands today, but also a discussion of what the school must accomplish in the years to come. Several members of the community have weighed in: Professor Margaret Shih, senior associate dean with oversight of both the full-time and Fully Employed MBA programs; Assistant Dean Alex Lawrence (’99), who heads MBA admissions; Assistant Dean for Diversity Initiatives and Community Relations Kimberly Freeman (’02); and Veronica Perry (’17), a student in the full-time MBA program with prior experience as a management consultant focusing on human capital strategy.

Professor Margaret Shih’s research looks at the effects of diversity in organizations. We asked her to define the term as she sees it.

Margaret Shih: There are different ways of defining diversity. I define diversity as people coming from different backgrounds, with an emphasis on underrepresented groups — groups that traditionally don't have access to a lot of the opportunities that other groups might have. So, often that is socioeconomic status, race, gender; but at the broadest level I think it's people from different backgrounds with different experiences that can challenge what's going on in the classroom.

Lately, the word “diversity” has been criticized as “an empty buzzword.” UCLA Anderson’s own Professor Miguel Unzueta’s research suggests that traditional biases are morphing into something much subtler, yet they still result in underrepresentation and exclusion. We asked our group what makes diversity important to the Anderson community. Why is diversity one of our goals?

Diversity in the nextKimberly Freeman: There's plenty of research that shows that having diverse teams leads to greater productivity in the workplace. So from an efficiency and effectiveness standpoint in business and leadership, we want more voices at the table. Also, we want people to be able to manage and lead in a hyper-connected world, to be able to work across cultures, within cultures, in other countries. I mean, you're training the next generation of leaders at Anderson, so it's critical that, as a business school, we teach people how to manage diversity and inclusion well.

Shih: There's a lot of research that shows that the quality of a person's education increases, the more diverse the student population is. The learning in the classroom becomes richer, students are challenged more if people come from different backgrounds. They become more sophisticated thinkers because they need to address different perspectives. If you think about it, you wouldn't want to be in a classroom that's all investment bankers because then you really wouldn't learn much about how different organizations do things. It's an analogous situation with regard to diversity. People from different cultures, people from different backgrounds will challenge you, and so it enriches the educational experience.

Alex Lawrence: You look at the job market, and companies are looking for diverse populations so they can sell their products, because they know they're not necessarily selling to one gender group or one ethnicity. Here in MBA Admissions, diversity is not about counting heads, it is about making heads count.We know that people grow up in different circumstances, whether it be socioeconomic, whether it be regional, or from a geography standpoint. And when you have all those diverse populations in a classroom, I believe it inspires the faculty to create a different learning environment, where they know that they can pull in some of these different experiences to help reinforce the curriculum.

Veronica Perry was born and raised in Atlanta, which she says is “fortunately, one of the Black Mecca cities, and a town deeply rooted in civil rights and African-American history.” She studied economics at Spelman College, a historically black liberal arts women’s college in Atlanta. Before enrolling at UCLA Anderson, she worked as a strategy consultant for Accenture. We asked her why she chose UCLA Anderson and whether diversity was one of her criteria when selecting a school.

Veronica Perry: I’ve traveled quite frequently for work and I had the chance to see a lot of different places, but I’ve never lived anywhere other than Atlanta. When I was considering what business school I wanted to attend and what I wanted to get out of my MBA experience, I really wanted an opportunity to be pushed outside my comfort zone. I think Anderson was the best fit for me as it would constitute a big change, and I knew it would allow me to grow in multiple ways. Post-business school, I’m really interested in a career in retail and understanding how technology is used to enhance consumer experiences.

When I was looking at schools, I made a decision not to attend the diversity-specific admission weekends or prospective student events, because I grew up in heavily diverse environments. Attending Spelman, an all girls HBCU (Historical Black College or University) got me grounded and made me comfortable and confident both as a woman and as an African-American that I could be successful in any situation.

Diversity in the next

One thing I really liked about Anderson compared to some of the other schools was, although the numbers (of Black students) were small, I didn’t feel like there was any social segregation in terms of race. I felt like the different cultural communities were very intertwined in the overall Anderson experience. When I came to A-Days, I saw Blacks, I saw Whites, I saw Hispanics, I saw international students, and everyone seemed to have relatively diverse friend groups.

I wanted to come to a school where I could be really immersed in the experience. Its like an investment decision and having a diverse portfolio. Personally, I have a strong network of mentors in the African-American community, but at the same time, I think that it’s very good to diversify social networks as well. So I wasn’t necessarily looking for an institution that had the highest number of African-American students or that had a robust diversity and inclusion agenda, because I knew that that comes over time. And I knew that I needed to be able to succeed in an environment that is a better reflection of what I will experience in corporate America because that’s more like what I’m going to see for the rest of my life.

In a Prop 209 world, UCLA Anderson does not consider race when admitting students. That said, given the school’s commitment to diversity, there are efforts made to admit a diverse student body that includes students of color, women and other traditionally underserved communities.

Lawrence: Issues of diversity actually come up very rarely when I speak to potential students and I think that's because it's the position that I'm in as director. So many times people are a little more buttoned-up, they want to make sure that they're presenting themselves in the best possible light and they don’t necessarily want to convey a sense of worry.

Freeman: There is a long game and a short game (in terms of recruiting a diverse student body), they require two very different strategies. There are pipeline concerns that we address through programs like Riordan and the various fellowship programs that we offer, as well as our partnerships with organizations like Forté, Catalyst, the Consortium and so forth.

What we don't want is for qualified candidates not to be attracted to UCLA because they don't see this as an inclusive place to learn. It's a very expensive decision to go to graduate school, period, and we want to make sure that we are offering the best value to those students who have other options beyond Anderson.

We wondered if, mid-Winter Quarter, Veronica was still thinking about the issues on her mind before coming to Anderson now that she was fully immersed in life on campus?

Diversity in the nextPerry: Yes. You can’t turn on the news, I can’t go on Facebook or go on any other social network, without seeing issues that arise in the African-American community, and I’m very tied to it even in the midst of perusing my MBA. My mother is really passionate about African-American history so I’ve always had a strong point of view on various subjects. I’m connected to the perspectives and the emotions of my family and friends who are much closer to some of the social economic impacts of race.

When horrible things impact us as a society, whether it be a terrorist attack or a natural disaster, our community at Anderson and beyond shows a strong support of solidarity for those impacted. I constantly think about the issues of race, classism, and social warfare happening in U.S. cities today that impact the lives of African-Americans, and many people who are not personally connected or affected by these things may not consider them as significant as I do. I think about it both from my personal experiences and connections but also in the realm of business and how it shapes me to be a better leader and representative of my community.

So, now that you’re here, how has it been?

Black@AndersonPerry: There’s a very strong African-American community here. But it’s not huge, and honestly I didn’t choose Anderson because it has the highest African-American population, because that wasn’t something that I was necessarily looking for.

By the same token, I think that it’s very cool to have more of an international class compared to some of the schools that I considered. I also think that it’s very satisfying how the African-American community is able to connect and really integrate with the students of other races. I don’t feel like if there were more African-Americans in our class it would be better or if there were fewer our class would be worse off. I think that we have a great mix; I love that one of my best friends in this program is not an African-American student. And if you were to ask me that a few years ago, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. The relationships that I’ve built and fostered with the people outside of my race are a true realization of some of the growth and change that I have experienced since being at Anderson. And I’m thankful that Anderson really allows that to happen.

I’m not saying that people at Anderson don’t see color, I think that acknowledging differences is natural. But I think that people are truly open to integration and mixing and being friends with everyone, and being able to connect on a multiple levels. And yeah, we do hang out, just the African-American students. We go to lunch; we go to brunch. There’s an old-school hip-hop party this weekend in downtown L.A. and we’re all going to go. And maybe some of our White classmates would love something like that, but it’s an opportunity for us to hang out and let each other know that, hey, we’re all here. We support each other, we understand some of the similar struggles that we all have. We can talk to each other about issues or insights that we all have. We use our differences as an opportunity to educate. If I can explain my perspective, or if one of my classmates can better understand my experiences, then I think I helped out. I made a change for the better.

While there is no getting around the fact that UCLA Anderson would love to increase its number of African American students, it’s equally important to remember that Anderson is located in Los Angeles, one of the world’s most diverse cities.

Lawrence: It's more about, look at L.A., look at the environment you can be a part of — your experience isn’t just an academic one. You have an opportunity to really have a good balance of working on your career, maybe doing something that has a social impact and, at the same time, make friends.

Perry: I think the thing I love about being in L.A. is that there are so many different types of people; in Atlanta it’s traditionally Black or White. I think I was here, almost two weeks before I saw another African-American person, but there are people from all over the world here, it’s a real melting pot.

It’s important to look ahead and see where Anderson should be in five years or in 10 years.

Shih: I think the school would be a very welcoming and intellectually vibrant place, where there’s interdisciplinary diversity, ideas from all perspectives; where people just feel comfortable sharing, either in the classroom or in research. Everybody feels welcome, everybody feels that they're on equal footing, everybody feels invested and identified. I don't know, is that achievable?

Diversity in the nextLawrence: I'm optimistic in thinking that, given all the work that we've been doing over the last five, six years — how we're a partner with MLT, the Consortium, even how we've done recruiting differently — it's more of an awareness.

This year we doubled the number of African-American students in the first-year class. That has definitely helped change some of the dynamics from a leadership standpoint, with respect to some of the student clubs that are not necessarily identity clubs, like African-American Students in Management. In five years, we’ll see that we're starting to get a critical mass in terms of even just having enough students to consider running for these opportunities. For the overall student body to have relationships with not just one to five, but now one to 15, 20 in a class — I think this is important. I'm also hopeful that our gender balance between men and women will get in alignment. I can't say we'll be 50/50, but the higher percentage of an overall population just brings more awareness, more diversity of thought, and even more opportunities to the larger community. Over the last five or six years, we've done a great job of soliciting feedback and acting on that to make the environment that much better.

Freeman: With the expansion of the definition of diversity and inclusion, my role is much more complicated because you have to work much harder to make sure that you're not excluding anyone, either directly or indirectly. And so what I'd like to see is more skill, not just by me, but other diversity practitioners, in understanding just how expansive this definition of diversity and inclusion is.

From a business school standpoint, I’d like for us to be talking about macro-level issues around diversity and inclusion, talking about how we operate successfully in a global context — and not have to keep going back over some of the micro-aggressions that we tend to keep stumbling on.