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“Leaders can’t be effective unless they’re able to collaborate and work with a diverse global workforce,” said Celia Paris, a leadership development coach for Chicago Booth’s MBA programs. That’s why she and Lindsay Read Feinberg, also a leadership development coach, helped launch an event series dedicated to helping students and staff build their diversity, equity, and inclusion skills.

The sessions were led by facilitators from The Nova Collective, a Black- and women-owned consultancy in Chicago devoted to building equity and achieving meaningful change. The company hosted three free Zoom sessions in May to help members of the Booth community try to work through biases and assumptions they may hold.

During the sessions, Noor Ali, head of learning with The Nova Collective, explained how social identity—including your race, gender, and sexual orientation—can affect the impact of your leadership. Students and staff were urged to reflect on their social identities and the ways they engaged in narratives on the basis of the dominant social group’s ideologies. For those in a dominant group, Ali described how to overturn power dynamics by unpacking the privilege that various aspects of their identity may afford them—such as freedom from police brutality or the knowledge that their achievements won’t be attributed to affirmative action.

“It really made me stop and think: ‘How can I show up as a leader to try to counteract negative tendencies and make room for other narratives?’” Paris said.

Erin Ibarra, a first-year MBA student, participated in an effort to deepen her understanding of diversity and inclusion. Prior to the sessions, Ibarra said she already felt somewhat informed about inclusion—but since participating, she said she finds herself actively taking time to consider her own biases as she processes information.

“When we seek out the perspectives of people with different lived experiences, we can challenge our own biases and misconceptions that may have been informed by dominant narratives,” Ibarra said. “I also hope to employ multi-partial tactics when I participate in discussions in the future to ensure equity between group members with different levels of social power.” A multi-partial approach, as The Nova Collective facilitators explained, acknowledges the presence of power dynamics, aims to balance that power, and allows for people to share differing opinions.

“There’s a business case for effective diversity, but it’s part of a broader understanding of how we want to be as leaders in business and in society.”

— Celia Paris, Leadership Development Coach

The Nova Collective delivered a variety of tools to tackle challenging situations in the real world, while past workshops via the wider university only required passive engagement, said Grace Hammond, AB ’10, a current Booth student and director of operations at UChicago’s Center for the Economics of Human Development. For example: identifying coded language and slowing down to examine your bias. The Nova Collective also created scenarios and opportunities for real-time dialogue around workplace bias. Participants were asked to consider how they might engage with others when they encounter something that doesn’t speak to their own inclusion values.

“Before coming to Booth, I would sometimes witness microaggressions at work,” Ibarra said. “I was often at a loss for what to do or say in these situations.” Now, Ibarra said, she knows she should ask simple, open-ended questions to create space for dialogue and learning, such as, “‘Can you help me understand what you mean by that?’”

“One of the most valuable takeaways for participants was learning about and applying a framework for intervening as a bystander around issues of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging,” Read Feinberg said. “Specifically, after learning about the framework, participants had a chance to practice applying the framework in a small group using a workplace scenario.”

Since leadership has a strong role in changing culture, Booth is a key place for this transformation to begin, Read Feinberg said. Booth’s leadership development team plans to spend the summer considering what they learned to make future programs even more effective. They are hoping to host more sessions on inclusion during the 2021–22 school year.

“There’s a business case for effective diversity, but it’s part of a broader understanding of how we want to be as leaders in business and in society,” Paris said.