So you’ve got di­ver­sity cov­ered. But how are you on in­clu­sion?

Har­vard Busi­ness School dean Nitin Nohria says lead­ers need to pay at­ten­tion to how they’re leav­ing some peo­ple out

The Washington Post Sunday - - OUTLOOK - out­look@wash­post.com Nitin Nohria has been the dean of Har­vard Busi­ness School since 2010.

Afew years ago, a fel­low dean pulled me aside to have an un­com­fort­able con­ver­sa­tion. I had been telling col­leagues about ad­vice I re­ceived as a new pro­fes­sor. A men­tor told me: Ev­ery­one who joins the fac­ulty at Har­vard Busi­ness School is smart. So the key to suc­ceed­ing is to get to work early enough to have your choice of park­ing spots and to leave late enough that it’s easy to spot your car from a dis­tance. In other words, our park­ing lot of­fered a sim­ple vis­ual in­di­ca­tor of how hard I was work­ing. For the first decade of my ca­reer, I dili­gently fol­lowed this ad­vice, ar­riv­ing most days be­fore 6 a.m. and leav­ing af­ter 7 p.m.

The dean asked if I re­al­ized how ter­ri­bly dis­cour­ag­ing this story was to many of our younger col­leagues — those with chil­dren, those who hoped to have chil­dren and es­pe­cially fe­male fac­ulty mem­bers. They un­der­stood me to be say­ing that suc­cess at Har­vard Busi­ness School re­quires long hours in the of­fice, a sched­ule im­pos­si­ble for any­one who hoped to spend time with their fam­i­lies be­fore school or in the evening. Pass­ing along this ad­vice made me ap­pear in­sen­si­tive to work-fam­ily con­cerns.

At first, I re­acted de­fen­sively. There’s noth­ing wrong with prais­ing in­dus­tri­ous­ness, I in­sisted. It’s a value that’s deeply res­o­nant with my im­mi­grant self-nar­ra­tive.

But af­ter a mo­ment’s re­flec­tion, my view shifted. No mat­ter what my in­ten­tion, I needed to try to un­der­stand how peo­ple with dif­fer­ent lives and back­grounds were ex­pe­ri­enc­ing my words. And the more I thought about it, the more hor­ri­fied I was by my in­sen­si­tiv­ity — and the more thank­ful I was to my col­league for point­ing it out. I won­dered how many other sto­ries I’d been telling that of­fended col­leagues.

This episode il­lus­trates one of the dilem­mas on our cam­pus — one that’s ap­par­ent through­out higher ed­u­ca­tion, cor­po­ra­tions and other parts of so­ci­ety. Our in­sti­tu­tion, like many oth­ers, has made great strides in in­creas­ing di­ver­sity. But when di­ver­sity ad­vances with­out in­clu­sion, when we do not cre­ate en­vi­ron­ments where peo­ple feel like they fully be­long and thrive, ten­sions can fol­low. More im­por­tant, we fail to re­al­ize the ben­e­fits of di­ver­sity.

On cam­puses — in­clud­ing Har­vard, Prince­ton, Yale and the Univer­sity of Mis­souri — some of the most prom­i­nent protests of re­cent years have been about racial in­clu­sion. While the specifics of each case dif­fer, the un­der­ly­ing griev­ance is that even though greater num­bers of mi­nor­ity stu­dents are be­ing granted ad­mis­sion, they of­ten feel alien­ated — per­haps be­cause they walk to class past mon­u­ments and build­ings ded­i­cated to slave­hold­ers, per­haps be­cause they’ve been the tar­gets of racist threats, per­haps be­cause pro­fes­sors re­peat­edly mis­take them for other stu­dents of color.

The frus­tra­tion and dis­ap­point­ment these stu­dents ex­pe­ri­ence be­came vivid for me at a Black Lives Mat­ter vigil at Har­vard Busi­ness School. Our MBA stu­dents shared mov­ing sto­ries of how they had lived in fear of get­ting on the wrong side of authorities, or faced ques­tions from peo­ple sus­pi­cious about what they were do­ing at a high-end mall, or watched peo­ple cross to the other side of the street when ap­proach­ing them. Just when they felt that fi­nally they would have noth­ing to fear or prove — now that they were stu­dents at Har­vard — these types of ex­pe­ri­ences had per­sisted.

The di­ver­sity-in­clu­sion gap also plays out along so­cioe­co­nomic lines. Over the past decade, Har­vard and other in­sti­tu­tions have taken dra­matic steps to in­crease fi­nan­cial aid, re­sult­ing in many more stu­dents from lower-in­come fam­i­lies on our cam­puses — a di­ver­sity win. Once here, how­ever, these stu­dents some­times feel ex­cluded from so­cial life on cam­pus, be­cause they can’t af­ford its costs.

This may seem like a petty con­cern. Af­ter all, these stu­dents are at­tend­ing a top in­sti­tu­tion that pro­vides gen­er­ous need-based fi­nan­cial aid. But that view is short­sighted. The ben­e­fit of di­ver­sity in ed­u­ca­tion, or in any other area, is re­al­ized only when peo­ple gen­uinely learn from one an­other’s dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ences and per­spec­tives. If peo­ple en­gage only with those who are like them, di­ver­sity is ir­rel­e­vant. Crossi­den­tity re­la­tion­ships are not just cru­cial for learn­ing, they also form the so­cial con­duits that help peo­ple find jobs, men­tors and other op­por­tu­ni­ties through­out their lives.

For peo­ple lead­ing in­sti­tu­tions, the chal­lenge in ad­vanc­ing in­clu­sion is the same one I faced when us­ing the park­ing lot story: Un­til some­one voices con­cern or ex­presses dis­com­fort, we of­ten have no idea we’re be­hav­ing in a way that makes peo­ple feel un­wel­come. At a panel dis­cus­sion I par­tic­i­pated in last sum­mer, Provost Richard Locke de­scribed how Brown Univer­sity, like many col­leges, closed its res­i­dence halls and din­ing fa­cil­i­ties dur­ing the Thanks­giv­ing hol­i­day. To Locke, this made per­fect sense, since stu­dents typ­i­cally go home for Thanks­giv­ing, just as Locke and his friends did when they were in school. Then a schol­ar­ship stu­dent ex­plained to Locke how low-in­come stu­dents who couldn’t af­ford to travel home for the hol­i­day scram­bled to find al­ter­na­tive hous­ing and places to eat. Once Locke be­came aware of the is­sue, he quickly worked to ad­dress it, and Brown’s fa­cil­i­ties now re­main open.

In the past year, an­other di­men­sion has emerged that also re­quires this sen­si­tiv­ity: politics. On many cam­puses, po­lit­i­cal con­ser­va­tives feel as un­der-rep­re­sented and alien­ated as any other mi­nor­ity group. Rather than reach­ing for a copy of “Hill­billy Elegy,” we should en­cour­age stu­dents to be less fear­ful about talk­ing to peo­ple who may have very dif­fer­ent po­lit­i­cal views than their own. To en­able this, one of our MBA stu­dents, Henry Tsai, has built an app, called Hi From the Other Side, that matches peo­ple with op­pos­ing po­lit­i­cal views, with an eye to­ward start­ing con­ver­sa­tions. At a time when po­lit­i­cal po­lar­iza­tion is hin­der­ing our democ­racy, this form of in­clu­sion is of paramount im­por­tance.

It re­quires courage to speak up about in­clu­sion is­sues, but lead­ers can make it eas­ier by wel­com­ing these con­ver­sa­tions. I now rou­tinely ini­ti­ate them, reach­ing out to col­leagues with dif­fer­ent life ex­pe­ri­ences who can help me be more sen­si­tive to mat­ters of race, eth­nic­ity, sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion and politics, both in my speak­ing and when cre­at­ing poli­cies. These are peo­ple who are gen­er­ous with me — who look out for me per­son­ally, point out places where I may have a blind spot and in­crease my abil­ity to try to help our com­mu­nity be­come more in­clu­sive. They func­tion like an in­for­mal board of in­clu­sion, some­thing I would ad­vise ev­ery leader to cre­ate.

At the same time, it’s im­por­tant not to as­sume that bias and discrimination un­der­lie ev­ery slight. Early in my ca­reer, when a white se­nior fac­ulty mem­ber and I vis­ited com­pa­nies to­gether to write case stud­ies, I noticed that ex­ec­u­tives tended to look at and ad­dress him (of­ten by name) dur­ing our con­ver­sa­tions, while rarely do­ing so to me. Were they giv­ing me less at­ten­tion be­cause I was the ju­nior mem­ber of the team? Or be­cause I am In­dian Amer­i­can? Maybe there was a sim­pler fac­tor at work. My col­league’s name was Bob. My first name, Nitin, doesn’t have a fa­mil­iar Amer­i­can pro­nun­ci­a­tion. In­stead of as­sum­ing I was wit­ness­ing bias, I be­gan be­la­bor­ing my self-in­tro­duc­tion: “My first name is Nitin — as in ‘stick to your knit­tin’.’ I know it can be hard to pro­nounce, so it won’t bother me if you get it wrong,” I’d say. By speak­ing up about the is­sue, I re­duced peo­ple’s fear of mis­s­peak­ing, and they re­sponded by mak­ing it clear that they in­tended to in­clude me in the con­ver­sa­tions.

The di­ver­sity-in­clu­sion gap per­sists be­yond uni­ver­si­ties. Cor­po­ra­tions have done well in ad­dress­ing much of the overt and hos­tile discrimination against mi­nor­ity groups, but they must rec­og­nize that sub­tle, em­bed­ded prac­tices can of­ten im­pede in­clu­sion. An African Amer­i­can in­vest­ment banker told me about a re­cruit­ing meet­ing where col­leagues were asked to de­scribe to a group of stu­dents how they’d been hired. One af­ter an­other, they talked about the help they had re­ceived from con­nec­tions who had pro­vided in­tro­duc­tions and guid­ance — and of­ten be­came men­tors once they’d be­gun work. The peo­ple telling these sto­ries were show­ing hu­mil­ity, point­ing out the role of oth­ers in their suc­cess. But to the African Amer­i­can banker (and oth­ers like him in the audience), the anec­dotes were a re­minder of the sig­nif­i­cant ad­van­tages of a pre­ex­ist­ing net­work — some­thing non­white and non-af­flu­ent job ap­pli­cants are less likely to pos­sess.

The big­gest im­ped­i­ment to cre­at­ing a cul­ture of in­clu­sive­ness is the fear or stigma that ac­com­pa­nies con­ver­sa­tions about race, gen­der, so­cioe­co­nomics, politics or other types of dif­fer­ence. All too of­ten, we think the risk of caus­ing of­fense is so great that we just de­cide to stay silent. We may also refuse to speak up be­cause we know that talk­ing about di­ver­sity can ac­ti­vate bias, rather than al­le­vi­ate it; this is one rea­son, de­spite com­pa­nies spend­ing mil­lions of dol­lars on di­ver­sity train­ing, ac­tual mea­sures of ad­vance­ment for women and mi­nori­ties haven’t moved much in many in­dus­tries. The prob­lem with con­flict avoid­ance is that doesn’t make the un­der­ly­ing is­sues go away, and the con­flict can then erupt in un­ex­pected ways. Talk­ing is hard, but when it comes to ad­vanc­ing in­clu­sion, we need to heed the sage ad­vice of Jus­tice Louis Bran­deis that sun­shine is the best dis­in­fec­tant.

While cre­at­ing a fully in­clu­sive com­mu­nity can be a chal­lenge, tak­ing steps to­ward it can be easy. If a boss or a col­league or a dean is telling a story that strikes you as in­sen­si­tive, have the courage to gen­tly tell him or her. If a cam­pus pol­icy is mak­ing life dif­fi­cult, make sure the per­son in charge knows why. Of­ten, of­fenses against in­clu­sive­ness are un­in­ten­tional, and build­ing mu­tual un­der­stand­ing can lead to a rem­edy — and these changes can add up. His­tory shows that large-scale so­cial change usu­ally comes in­cre­men­tally, one small step at a time.

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