Students entering the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania in 2023 can choose to pursue a diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) concentration as an undergraduate or major in it as part of their MBA, the school recently announced.
Nancy Rothbard, professor of management and deputy dean of the Wharton School, said that the DE&I major will serve as a key part of the institution’s mission to give students the knowledge to be experts in the field.
“We are invested in offering this major because a key part of our mission is to equip our students to be next-generation leaders,” she said. “We are teaching our students the traditional and foundational skills associated with a well-rounded business degree, and we are providing them with a cutting-edge evidence-based curriculum to give them the skills they need to lead in the present and future.”
The major will prepare students to face challenges involved in creating and maintaining organizations that are diverse, inclusive and rooted in equity. The coursework will focus on legal studies, business ethics, leadership and a myriad of diversity-related topics.
Through the major, students will learn, among other skills:
- Evidence-based practices for improving DE&I in organizations.
- How to use economic models and empirical evidence to analyze and improve both policy and business decisions.
- The legal and ethical implications of business decisions that can affect both financial gain and social good.
- How to negotiate and manage their careers effectively in diverse organizations.
Nicole Price, an empathy and leadership coach in Kansas City, Mo., said that the addition of a DE&I major at a respected institution like the Wharton School can have positive effects on organizations.
“Wharton is a leader among business schools, [and] I love that they are taking a leadership role,” she said. “This is a great first step towards helping more people have empathy related to inclusion and equity as concepts.”
What Led to Launching the DE&I Major?
Stephanie Creary, assistant professor of management at the Wharton School, said that groundwork for developing the major started in the school’s management department, where faculty had been working on integrating more DE&I-focused content in their courses.
“Many of our students graduate with a keen understanding of what it means to transform and lead organizations through a variety of complex business and leadership challenges,” Creary said. “Yet, in recent years, our students have challenged us to do more to prepare them for the new realities of leadership, which involve creating and sustaining diverse, equitable and inclusive organizations.”
Faculty asked MBA students and alumni who have been actively involved in DE&I courses and activities to propose the types of courses they would be interested in taking as part of a DE&I major.
“We then combined their recommendations with our own insights on Wharton’s curricular strengths and unique capabilities,” Creary said. “From there, we worked with the School-wide Curriculum Innovation and Review Committee to formalize the new MBA DE&I major and undergraduate DE&I concentration.”
Most Companies Lack a DE&I Officer
Organizations have been making greater efforts to enhance their DE&I strategies, but a 2021 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) revealed that there is still room for improvement:
- About 71 percent of respondents agreed that their organizations’ DE&I efforts are behind where they should be.
- 38 percent said their companies have achieved “moderate success” at creating diverse, equitable and inclusive workplaces.
- 33 percent described themselves as being “very successful” in creating such workplaces.
- 29 percent said their companies have not achieved much success in these efforts.
The SHRM survey also showed that 60 percent of organizations lack a chief diversity officer. Price said that the Wharton School’s offering of a DE&I major will lead to more qualified professionals overseeing DE&I roles.
“It is evidence-based and proven that leaders who recognize the inherent dignity of their employees and create spaces whereby employees have a sense of belonging achieve better outcomes and experience greater levels of employee engagement,” Price explained. “This is the way of the future.”
Evelyn Carter, president of DE&I training company Paradigm in Arlington, Va., said that the DE&I major can better prepare next-generation leaders to cultivate more-inclusive workplaces and manage difficult conversations around issues such as racial injustice.
But she hopes that the major doesn’t make it harder for candidates to land these jobs.
“For some leaders, the foundational knowledge that is one component of their job came from academic institutions, but oftentimes it’s not a degree that demonstrates competence in the core capabilities and skills of DE&I roles,” Carter said. “The moment having a DE&I major or certification becomes a requirement for pursuing these roles within companies is when this major transitions from being a positive way to expand knowledge and change behavior into a gatekeeping endeavor.”