UVA Darden Celebrates Inaugural Diversity Week

By Dave Hendrick

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business’ inaugural Diversity Week, held 26-30 October, featured a full slate of programming, including panel discussions about women in finance and diversifying the pipeline to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) jobs, speakers with expertise in diversity issues, social events and special First Coffees.

The week of programming was devised with real-world applicability in mind, intending to increase awareness of diversity challenges in business, educate the Darden community on the importance and benefits of diversity, and provide programming relevant to the current business environment.

Wearing his Darden diversity T-shirt while speaking to prospective students as part of a diversity open house hosted by the Office of AdmissionsDean Scott Beardsley said the School’s focus on diversity was consistent with its effort to be a truly global business school.

“Everyone is welcome here, because the world has all forms of diversity” Beardsley said. “If you are a global company, you have to welcome all walks of life.”

The dean told the prospective students that while he may not look like one’s preconception of diversity, he noted that he was a French citizen who had spent the last 24 years living in Belgium and that he is the only nontraditional dean in the top 20, having not come up through the traditional faculty ranks. He said it spoke to the open-mindedness of Darden that they would entrust their leadership to a global citizen who had not come through traditional academic channels.

Asked by a prospective student what he planned to do to make Darden into a more diverse and global enterprise, Beardsley said the process “starts with a mindset.”

“I don’t think of diversity as an academic area of study — it’s everything you do,” Beardsley said, noting the importance of diversity in students, faculty, cases taught and even food served at the School. “We look for diversity in all of its forms in everything we’re doing. I don’t accept that we’re ever ‘there.’”

In one concrete example of the continued push forward, Beardsley said he recently made the case to the Darden Board of Trustees for increased scholarship funding, a key step in attracting the best, most diverse student body.

Talking about Diversity

The Darden student body is an increasingly diverse and global one, with the School welcoming an MBA Class of 2017 composed of 38% students from outside the U.S., 17% domestic minorities and the most-ever women admitted at 35%.

Despite the clear diversity on Grounds, familiarity does not always produce open dialogue on the topic, according to Professor Martin Davidson. Author of The End of Diversity As We Know It: Why Diversity Efforts Fail and How Leveraging Difference Can Succeed, Davidson led two separate sessions during Diversity Week called “How to Talk About Diversity (And Not Get Stuck in Political Correctness).”

Davidson led one workshop in which participants paired off with those unlike themselves and exchanged narratives of how one’s cultural upbringing influenced their professional self. Each partner took turns at uninterrupted listening, and reflected on methods of how to be an effective, open listener and position oneself in a manner that invites others to share of themselves.

Davidson spoke of cultivating this practice of open listening and seeking to learn from others, even those we may be predisposed to think have little to offer us.

As part of the UVA Batten Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation’s The Innovator’s Roundtable series, Davidson also led a discussion called “Leveraging Difference to Drive Innovation” on 29 October in San Francisco.

Diversity in Finance

At a Women in Finance panel featuring recent graduates now working at Amazon, Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan and a Second Year Darden student, panelists seemed to agree that success in their roles was heavily dependent on forging relationships across a diverse group of colleagues and clients.

Panelists reported generally positive and supportive working environments at their companies, many noting the women in leadership positions in their respective offices. That doesn’t mean that gender issues don’t sometimes present themselves, however, particularly in client-facing work.

Surabhi Singh (MBA ’13), a financial analyst at Amazon, talked about the subtle gender dynamics that often seem to emerge in office discussions, noting that women sometimes allow themselves to be talked over or cut off prematurely.

“It’s totally fine to say, ‘I’m not done yet,’” said Singh, who also advised students build strong relationships with colleagues in and outside of work.

Lindsay Cressy (MBA ’11), who works in private banking at J.P. Morgan Private Bank, said that when you can demonstrate that you know your facts and can “lead with knowledge,” clients will “drop the male-female thing.”

“You have to prove yourself,” Cressy said.

Cressy advised Darden students to do what they could to actively bring their career goals to fruition, and encouraged them to create support systems in their professional spheres.

“Figure out who the respected people in the office or firm are and connect with them,” Cressy said. “Go find the person who you want to be your mentor, and make them your mentor.”

About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D., MSBA and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.


Press Contact

Sophie Zunz
Director of Media Relations
Darden School of Business
University of Virginia