Eyes On A Changing World, Indiana Kelley Strives For Greater Diversity

It’s not about doing more. It’s also about doing more, more successfully. That’s what Idie Kesner, dean of the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University, says of the school’s recent efforts to increase diversity in its student and faculty ranks. They are pronounced efforts — but despite having launched […]

It’s not about doing more. It’s also about doing more, more successfully.

That’s what Idie Kesner, dean of the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University, says of the school’s recent efforts to increase diversity in its student and faculty ranks. They are pronounced efforts — but despite having launched more than 100 initiatives in recent years aimed at broadening the school’s appeal to under-represented minorities and women, Kesner and Kelley aren’t done. This summer and fall, as the country reeled from waves of racial unrest, the Kelley School — one of the founding members of the groundbreaking civil rights-era Consortium for Graduate Study in Management — launched two major undertakings: a committee of students, faculty, and staff with a mandate to examine the B-school’s systems for issues of inequity and make recommendations to address them; and The Commons, a sort of monthly community-wide roundtable for discussions about diversity, equity, and inclusion on campus and in life.

“It’s not always about doing more,” Kesner tells Poets&Quants, “but it’s about figuring out what’s working for us and committing additional resources to those things, and being more successful in the things we do deliver. We have this huge inventory of DEI activities that we have, so it’s not necessarily adding to the inventory of activities we already do. It’s also about finding ways to go deeper and really do things more effectively.

“We’re not sure that we’re really missing very many things. But we need thoughts and ideas about how we can integrate things more effectively and how we can deepen our activity level. So that’s a big part of what we’re doing.”


Idalene Kesner, dean of the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University

In a major report on diversity in graduate business education in April, the Graduate Management Admission Council, which administers the test predominantly used for admission to graduate business programs worldwide, reported notable trends in U.S. B-schools’ minority numbers. While GMAC found a rising number of test takers of Hispanic descent, it reported a flattening or even shrinking proportion of Black examinees, with most Black GMAT takers hailing from New York, Texas, and Georgia. GMAC also reported strong preference among both Black and Hispanic candidates for MBA programs over other graduate management options, as well as a preference for “small, close-knit” classroom settings.

That should be right in Indiana Kelley’s wheelhouse, but the school has experienced recent struggles on the diversity front. In its latest full-time MBA entering class, Kelley reports that just 10% of the Class of 2022 are under-represented minorities. Last year, including students of Asian descent, Kelley had 21.9% minorities in its full-time MBA, according to data from U.S. News & World Report — fifth-lowest among top-25 schools.

Kesner, P&Q‘s 2019 Dean of the Year, acknowledges the hill that the Kelley School needs to climb. Despite having launched a huge number of diversity initiatives — including the annual National Diversity Case Competition — the school can do more, she says, and better.

“We have a great interest in getting that 10% number up,” she says. “We were an original founding member of the Consortium — we go back more than 50 years in terms of being at the forefront of these issues. But the idea is, we’ve got lots of new initiatives to try and take that percentage up. We hope to be certainly closer to 15%. Obviously we can grow once we reach that, but we do have an aim to get that number up to 15% as quickly as we can. So there’s going to be lots of outreach activities to handle that.

“Broadly speaking, for full-time MBA programs, the environment has changed quite considerably. So not only are there fewer students going out, taking GMATs, interested in full-time MBA programs, which means the denominator’s down for everybody — but it also may have an impact on those who may not find this the right time to come back to school. They may want to keep their jobs right now. So I think it’s going to be a challenging market for the full-time MBA, but we’re certainly going to do everything we can to make sure that we increase our diversity numbers.

“We can and must create a fair and just environment for everyone in the Kelley family.”


Jason Brown, professor of accounting at Indiana Kelley and chair of a new committee on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Kelley photo

Kelley’s new Committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion will be chaired by Jason Brown, associate professor of accounting. Its mandate, Kesner said in a recent news release, is to examine the school’s “systems, structures, and curricula for unconscious biases and opportunities to foster a culture of inclusion and respect,” with six main areas of focus: structural and organizational changes; faculty and staff recruitment, retention, and training; curricular changes; co-curricular changes; graduate programs; and the Kelley undergraduate program. Among the committee members are Regina Funk, director of diversity and inclusion for graduate programs; Quentin Speight, Kelley Direct assistant director of student experience; and Carolyn Goerner, clinical professor of management and entrepreneurship.

Several subcommittees already have been formed; recommendations will be sent to Kesner’s office for consideration and implementation.

“Although Kelley has made steady gains in the recruitment and retention of diverse students,” the dean said, “the recent racial injustices and protests across the country and in our own back yard have shown us our efforts don’t go nearly deep enough. We need to address systemic racism, prejudice, and privilege, and to prepare our students to be anti-racist business leaders. To do that, we need the kind of change that can be made only through critical assessment and difficult conversations.”

What changes might occur in the MBA curriculum?

“We’re looking at everything in our undergraduate curriculum and our graduate curriculum, and of course we have lots of graduate programs,” Kesner says. “We have an MBA program, we have an online MBA program, we have MS programs, and they’re looking at the curricula for all of them. Even our Ph.D. program.

“And then beyond the curriculum, we’re looking at what we would term co-curricular activities. We have academies and workshops, for example, and those not only touch the curriculum, but there are extra activities that go on outside of the curriculum. We call those co-curricular. And this committee is also looking at extracurricular. So, for example, our clubs and organizations — are they welcoming and diverse and do they have a mindset of inclusivity?

“We’re looking at our structure and our strategy. We’re looking at how we recruit students, how we yield students, matriculation. We’re looking at retention, how we serve our students when they’re here, to make sure that they stay with us and graduate successfully. And we’re even looking at how we interact with our alumni. So it’s as comprehensive as we have ever had. When you look at things holistically, I think you have a very different perspective than when you do things like programs, or when you do things that may influence faculty recruitment but not influence student recruitment, and so forth. So we’re trying really to be as comprehensive as we can be to look at all of this.”

First-place winners in last year’s National Diversity Case Competition, hosted by Indiana Kelley. This year’s competition will be held January 15-16, 2021. IU Kelley photo


The major new initiative announced this fall is The Commons, which will welcome not only Kelley School students, faculty, and staff, but those from IU-Bloomington as a whole and Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, as well. The schools are billing it as an effort to foster better understanding in this academic year, with all degree-seeking undergrad, grad, and online MBA and MS students invited to participate.

The first activity, a school-wide reading of How to Be an Antiracist,” by Ibram X. Kendi, will be capped by a panel discussion hosted by Dean Kesner on September 30.

“I hope that The Commons will achieve an open, honest dialogue with our students,” Kesner says. “What we’re doing is once a month, we’re either reading a common book, and the first one coming up is this end of September here. We’ll have the dialogue about how to be an anti-racist, Ibram Kendi’s book, and then the other activities will include either listening to a common podcast or watching a common film, a documentary, or something like that.” The key, she says, will be students coming together in open and honest dialogue “about what we’re learning about ourselves and about each other.”

“The conversation that I’m going to lead as dean is just the first step in it,” Kesner says. “What’s going to happen after that is that the various programs will adopt further activities, further initiatives, that will be a continuation of what we do with the thing that I lead once a month.


A pandemic is a challenging time to launch any new initiative or program, particularly one like The Commons that seemingly would be better served by in-person gatherings and live face-to-face communication. But even in a virtual world, there are advantages to having the kind of community conversation Kesner and the Kelley School are seeking.

In fact, the dean says, in some ways virtual is preferable.

“We’ve learned a couple of things about the virtual environment,” she says. “Sometimes it’s better to do things in person, and you have a closer connection. Then you can do lots of activities, experiential kinds of activities. But let me say that we’ve learned a few things about where virtual environments are actually helpful. For example, we know that things like academic advising and career coaching actually work even better in a virtual environment. Our recruiters are telling us, ‘If I have to come there and interview in a mask, I’d rather do it virtually online. I think I can do just as good a job.’ And I believe that to be truth. So when it comes to The Commons or when it comes to other diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, what we’ve found is that we can get some really prominent speakers to come forward, and they don’t even have to be here physically. And they do an amazing job.

“I’ll give you an illustration. So on Friday, September 11th, we hosted an event for our faculty. This was not for students, but our faculty. We had 293 faculty join. There were another almost 50 faculty that are going to review the recording because they had to teach during that period, so they weren’t available exactly when the recording happened. But 293 faculty members joined. We had three very prominent chief diversity officers, including the chief diversity officer at Eli Lilly and the chief diversity officer at Deloitte, and what they were talking about is not only how faculty should recognize the case for them embracing diversity in their classroom — in their curriculum in their individual courses — but also curricular-wide. And not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because of the business case. But more important than that, these recruiters were talking about how they want to recruit students that have certain skills and competencies when it comes to cultural diversity and awareness.

“And so we were asking questions like, ‘If we want to be a school of choice, what are the kinds of competencies and skills we need to be embedding in our classrooms so that you want to come and recruit from us?’ So it was a very frank and honest conversation about how our faculty must embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion and embed it in their classrooms specifically and in the curriculum overall. And it was extraordinarily compelling. Would we have been able to do that as easily in a non-virtual environment? No, because we were pulling speakers and people from all over in order to participate in this really informative session. So, virtual environments have some benefits for us.”


Kesner says Indiana Kelley faculty meet with students regularly, sitting down with student leadership groups every two weeks “to hear them and to act as quickly as we can.” In such a rapidly evolving environment with national and world events shaping and reshaping the cultural conversation, Kesner adds, “we want to make sure we’re on top of things and we’re hearing things. Above and beyond that, we’re trying to really highlight things in our history that make our diverse population proud of what has been accomplished, so that they can take pride in that.

“So for example, outside of our school, on the road outside, coming up, we’ll be hanging banners about some of our African-American alums who have achieved monumental accomplishments throughout their career. We’ll be hanging banners for the first graduating class at the Consortium more than 50 years ago. So their old pictures when they were students here will be hanging there and we can celebrate the accomplishments they’ve had since.

“We will highlight our Black alumni, we’ll be highlighting our women, we’ll be highlighting our alums of other more diverse backgrounds — all to showcase that we have had a lot of diversity in our history. Let’s not forget that. Let’s build on it.”


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