Racial Equity@Haas: Core Professor – Alan Ross (UGBA 107)

This Racial Equity@Haas blog series written by three Haas students (Charlie James, Alankrita Dayal, and Naayl Kazmi) is providing the space for us to meet our core principles of being Students Always, Beyond Ourselves, and Questioning the Status Quo by opening the conversation on race, how it manifests in business, and its broader implications. We’re asking Four questions to members of the Haas community in order to illuminate how racial equity in business and Haas is conceived and to stir an open conversation.

Q1) What is Racial Equity to You?

“What it’s not is quotas, where everything has to be equal or whatever percentage of the society you are is what percentage you’ll be in any organization. It’s not that I believe in quotas, but equity being fairness where everyone has an equal shot, which we don’t even come close to in America. I think that’s something we strive for and are far from and hopefully we’ll be moving in the right direction towards something resembling equity.”

Q2) How do you find Racial Equity Important to Business?

“If you are an organization that is not diverse, you’ll miss out on so many opportunities in reaching out to a diverse society. I think for them to understand who their customers really are, they themselves should have diversity, and that’s lacking obviously still in so many different businesses. To make the company diverse would really help the bottom line since it’ll help them understand their customers much better. It’s also important just to be open to different ideas. If everyone on a company’s board of directors looks the same, you’re going to miss opportunities. Again, it’s not that we should have quotas, say this percent this, this percent this, this percent that. That’s not the answer. On the other hand, by not valuing equity, fairness, and diversity, businesses really do lose out I think.”

Q3) In Your Perception, How is Haas on Racial Equity?

“I think the leadership at Haas is amazing, both Dean Lions and Erica Walker, Assistant Dean. I think they both really value diversity. Though it’s a work in progress, they’re making improvements at Haas. I’m seeing my classes becoming a little more diverse, though we have a long way to go. I appreciate their efforts in not turning a blind eye to everything, which was the case way back, before they got here. I think there is a difference now, but I still see tremendous division even within my classroom. I don’t believe it’s anything intentional; I don’t sense racism, but you still see people separating by race within a classroom, so I think we need to do more to bring people together and break down barriers that exist from the schoolyard when kids are little even. This is something people carry over. I don’t think there are any bad intentions that are associated with it, but I think we could do more for people to learn from each other this way. Just simply being in the same room solves some of the problem, but it doesn’t go far enough. The problem for me is that I have a sea of 250 people, so I lookout and can just get a quick perception. I don’t teach sections to see how the discussions go, so I’m always asking my GSIs,  ‘how are things? Are there open discussions?’ which is obviously what I’m looking for. I want everyone to be included, all voices, not let anyone dominate, and I think the GSIs do a good job at that. But it still isn’t the same as people breaking down those barriers.”

Q4) Please Add a Personal Anecdote on Racial Equity.

“Just the reaction to my slide show of tokenism in boards of directors. It resonates with students so much; one, there’s some humor, but two, they just see the reality of America in that slide show. The idea of tokenism is still alive and well. The idea of ‘oh we’ll put someone who’s not white in and that’ll silence the critics.’ I believe that’s still the case so often with corporations, that they are really not reaching out for the right reasons as much as for the appearance, and I think that’s a shame. What we’ve seen is minority members of board of directors who are seen as successful recruited by other board of directors because they say, ‘this one’s okay; let’s use him or her,’ and then all the companies want that person. It’s not for their leadership at all; it’s to check the box. That’s why my students, when I do the slideshow, remember it years later. People see that it’s a problem, but we’re still far from any real kind of equity when people are reaching out for the right reasons.”

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