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UCLA Anderson Community Leads Across Difference

A weeklong conference promotes essential conversations on EDI topics
UCLA Anderson Community Leads Across Difference

  • The annual Embracing Diversity Week brings together the whole Anderson community to explore how we promote equity, diversity and inclusion every day
  • With student leadership and clubs setting the agenda, Embracing Diversity’s panels and chats feature topics top of mind for the student body
  • Prospective students meet current Anderson students, alumni, staff and faculty to celebrate differences and challenge the status quo

UCLA Anderson’s 2021 Embracing Diversity Week begins November 15. Programs and clubs across UCLA Anderson collaborate to organize this annual celebration of the many ways we advance diversity initiatives, promote inclusion and challenge the status quo. With the theme of Leading Across Difference, EDW 2021 spotlights the challenges and opportunities leaders face when equity, diversity and inclusion are in the foreground. The Embracing Diversity Conference, the culmination of EDW, is focused on providing prospective students with an immersive experience to learn more about the inclusive UCLA Anderson culture and gain insight into our programs.

EDW was the topic of a recent Zoom conversation with: Heather Caruso, UCLA Anderson’s assistant dean of equity, diversity and inclusion; Cynthia Andrianjatovo (’22), a member of the EDW planning committee; and Vickie Euyoque, associate director of Anderson’s full-time MBA admissions team.

Q: Let’s start with the basics. Why is it important to “embrace diversity”?

Heather Caruso: We have just started as a society to learn how to embrace everything that people bring to the table. For a long time, people were taught that what was most important about us was what fit the mold, what seemed like it would succeed according to past models of success. There was a lot of trying to live up to these old inherited models.

But the differences in each of us are extremely valuable. A world where there are many different models of success is one that benefits everybody. Embracing diversity is a way of embracing that fuller potential, that fuller suite of successes that we can have as a society. It’s the charge and the opportunity for every organization and organization leader to try to figure out how to support the emergence of all of those different models of success.

Cynthia Andrianjatovo: I have always had a personal passion for equity, diversity and inclusion. I grew up with a very multicultural background and then I entered institutions, including my undergraduate university and past work environments, where I often was a minority presence. So I’ve had to navigate what it means to create an inclusive environment and what happens when that environment has not been created.

Q: Cynthia, how important a factor was an institution’s commitment to EDI when you were applying to business schools?

CA: I was interested in Anderson because I remembered they had an EDI website, and a framework for connecting over our differences and being able to appreciate those differences.

I went to the Embracing Diversity Conference for prospective students in 2019. Dean Caruso made the opening remarks and talked about the work that has to be done, not just to bring people together from different backgrounds, but to actually gain the value of bringing those people together. Organizations say they want to put everyone in the same room, but they don’t provide the structure for everyone to be valued in that room and to have them be heard. The value of diversity is not just about the marketplace of ideas, it’s also a tool businesses can use to empower communities and to really think about the people they serve, their employees and consumers.

I remember thinking, “Wow, Anderson’s actually having conversations about equity, diversity and inclusion. In the other institutions I’ve attended, we didn’t have these conversations at all.” I remember I came up to Heather after her opening remarks and said, “Thank you for having this conversation. I didn’t even know that we could address this in academic or institutional settings.” She really inspired me, and Anderson became my number one choice after this conference. Just seeing that they were so engaged in having these conversations, and how these conversations also aligned with the principles of sharing success, thinking fearlessly and driving change.

HC: I remember when Cynthia came up after that talk. She was so excited about creating constructive interactions across difference, and I was thinking, “I want you here right now.” It is about getting people together. I think people are hungry for this conversation.

Q: What is the annual event about?

CA: Embracing Diversity is a full week of programming that’s geared toward celebrating the diversity of the Anderson community. Just as important, it gets the Anderson community talking about EDI topics that impact people’s careers and industries.

From Monday through Thursday, different clubs and centers hold events that include panels, one-on-one discussions and fireside chats. For example, Anderson’s academic centers of excellence are coming together to host a panel on the role of EDI in creating new levels of enterprise innovation. The Women’s Business Connection is organizing a panel on women in leadership roles and what happens after they break the glass ceiling.

On Friday, we have the Embracing Diversity Conference, which is a full day of programming. While it is open to the entire Anderson community, it is also a chance for us to showcase Anderson’s culture to prospective students. We hold different sessions with the MBA programs, MFE and MSBA to discuss EDI through various lenses.

Vickie Euyoque: It was created as an annual diversity conference to increase the pipeline of diverse applicants. Although we initially focused on the full-time MBA program, eventually we brought in the Fully Employed MBA program to expand the reach to students who were interested in a part-time MBA.

We went through a couple of different variations, but our focus always remained the same: to provide prospective students with the opportunity to learn about how UCLA Anderson can support them in their MBA journey, while experiencing our diverse and inclusive culture; to help them envision themselves as part of the Anderson community.

We From the beginning, we worked very closely with a student committee, as EDW the conference was meant for admission purposes. But we were always thinking, how could we make it an expanded conference that could speak to more students?

When Dean Caruso arrived, that was the first year that we started exploring how the conference could become EDW. Twenty-nineteen was the first year that we expanded to a weeklong EDW. This was the perfect way to involve more students, have different clubs put on their own events and present more of an overall community engagement week for everyone. In 2021, EDW has expanded with the participation of the Executive MBA program, Master of Science in Business Analytics and Master of Financial Engineering.

Q: This event began under the leadership of former Dean Judy Olian, grew under Senior Associate Dean Al Osborne and continues under our current dean, Tony Bernardo. How important is it to have the support of the school’s top administrators?

HC: I think it’s enormously important. EDW is a community moment, and I think the endorsement of our senior administration is what really makes that clear to everyone in our ecosystem. All of the deans you mentioned were very clearly in support of EDW and have celebrated seeing the community take the opportunity to run with it. In classic Anderson fashion, it’s been entrepreneurial, very student-led.

Note that EDW started as a recruiting event, as a conference for prospective students. The key, when I drove the expansion of it into a full week in 2019, was recognizing how much the event meant to the current students — the ones who had been working just with full-time MBA admissions staff to organize the recruiting conference. Seeing their passion and their dedication and their energy for these topics, I asked them why all of the focus was on sharing that passion only with prospective students outside of our community. Are we showing the rest of the Anderson community how much you all care about this? Are they getting to share their own passion for this with you?

I was also starting to see that a much broader swath of our students felt a pent-up desire to get engaged in EDI, although they didn’t have the formal position in leadership around these issues. But that didn’t mean that they didn’t care. Staff and faculty members were interested in EDI, too, but there wasn’t a place where everybody at Anderson could gather and see what issues we were each wrestling with.

We expanded the event to give more space to what matters to our students on the ground. What are the exciting EDI topics? What’s going to prepare them for futures in leadership of diverse organizations? The administration has been uniformly thrilled to see people take this as far as they can, and to see everyone — from EDW organizers to the participants to the prospective students who just pop in for different elements of the conference — just thrilled to see where people’s interest gets piqued and where they build connections that then, in my favorite cases, become conversations that go on throughout the year.