Johan Roos, Chief Academic Officer at Hult International Business School, was invited to deliver the key note speech at the inaugural conference on “DEIB in the Business Curriculum” by the deans at State University of New York (SUNY) college in Geneseo. This is a written summary of Johan’s speech.
Hult admits students to our campuses in London, Boston, San Francisco, and Dubai from more than 140 countries, and our faculty hail from more than 40 nations. Triggered by the terrible killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020, we have spent the past year boosting our policies and processes for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB).
It’s common sense for us
We take it as a given that the moral case for DEIB is fundamental and inarguable—that humans must be guided by an ethical code that we are all equal and must be treated with dignity and respect no matter our race, gender, sexual preference, or any other superficial and subjective quality. In this regard, there is and has long been a shared strong commitment among staff and faculty to do right when it comes to promoting DEIB in our school.
Yet, we had to acknowledge that we have to do more from our end and recognized that we can always learn more about the ‘What?’ and ‘How?’ of DEIB. To this end, a dedicated group of staff and faculty specialists have conducted scores of DEIB training workshops for faculty and staff colleagues in the past year.
We had to acknowledge that we have to do more.
We have also rewritten our policies and created safe DEIB spaces and communities for students and employees. Currently, committees for Curricula and Teaming & Learning are developing how we integrate DEIB topics in all programs, which coincides with our already planned curricula renewal process. Grounded in this foundational work, we have recruited an experienced specialist who will help us to the next level of engagement with DEIB.
There is a business case too
As a business school, we also believe strongly in the second case for DEIB based on the business argument that organizations and the entire economy function best when we disregard boundaries such as race and gender. Plenty of research proves that diverse groups and organizations perform best and that the higher the gender equality of a company’s management, the better it delivers.
Ultimately, it’s about our common good
It is, however, a third argument that I believe is the key to promulgating the social change that DEIB calls for—the “governance” argument. By governance, I am referring to what is called “practical wisdom,” the classical Aristotelian virtue philosophy that espouses the intuitive notion that humanity must strive to fulfill a common good, and not get stuck in egoism for individual benefit. The governance argument is the theory that prompted democracy as we know it. It is the philosophical underpinning of the American Revolution and the US Constitution, and the theory that drove the French to declare “liberté, egalité, et fraternité” as the guiding principles of the French Revolution. It is reflected in the innate desire for freedom that drives people living in every dictatorship in the world.
Research proves that diverse groups and organizations perform best.
A practically wise normal
In my view, it is the governance argument that drives us to insist that the core DEIB idea is plain common sense – what is normal – on our campuses. In fact, Hult was founded on the idea that business is global, and students benefit from engaging in diverse groups and environments around the world. The patron of our school, Mr. Bertil Hult, founded what has become the world’s largest private language company – EF – based on the very idea of bridging boundaries through better language and communication skills.
I am convinced that this practically wise normal about DEIB will evolve in all business school communities. However, unless you want to call for guns, guillotines, and bloodshed, we must recognize also that social change takes time. We must achieve it step by step, day by day, and accomplishment by accomplishment, as we do at Hult.
Not a quick fix
Some might argue that accepting this evolving approach is a stance so often taken by those with privilege, like: hold your horses, change will happen soon enough, so just slow down. Yes, that is often a ruse by those in power who are afraid of change, I know. But at Hult, we thrive on change: new curricula, new pedagogy, new assessment, new programs, new partnerships, new organization, new almost-anything.
Those in power … are afraid of change … But at Hult, we thrive on change.
This business school is much faster than any of the other six I have had the privilege to work for. Nevertheless, commitment to change must be balanced by patience. The idea that all change about such an important matter as DEIB must happen tomorrow is a counterproductive pipedream that often only leads to cosmetic changes and sometimes even defiance, not transformation of the deep structure where values, norms, and beliefs reside.
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