The killing of George Floyd in 2020, and the subsequent call for justice for Black lives, drew attention to the current state of racial inequities in the United States and prompted many people, communities, and organizations to evaluate their efforts against anti-Black racism — and their efforts in support of diversity, equity and inclusion more broadly.
They also underscored the need for business schools to create executive programs specifically for Black leaders, who remain underrepresented in various sectors of business. According to a 2019 McKinsey report, women and people of color hold 65 percent of entry level positions, but their numbers decrease at every successive level across sectors.
For example, in financial services, only 2.4 percent of executive committee members, 1.4 percent of managing directors, and 1.4 percent of senior portfolio managers are Black.
Stanford Graduate School of Business, in California, released its Action Plan for Racial Equity in July 2020, and one of its goals is to make lasting, positive change toward eliminating bias and anti-Black racism beyond the campus. In 2021, it launched the Black Leaders Program, a one-week intensive leadership program aimed at Black leaders, which explores the complexities of showing up authentically.
“The program is about expanding the way participants see the world — by helping them develop the skills and values to be an effective leader and transform their career, all of which is taught in the program through the lens of race throughout corporations,” says Molly Patrick, Associate Director for Executive Education at Stanford GSB.
The Black Leaders Program builds on the school’s portfolio of personal leadership education focused on diversifying the top rungs of the corporate ladder, and it’s the only program of its kind offered by a leading business school.
One unique aspect of the program is the capstone project, a personal career advancement project that begins while on campus and continues for several months with small-group coaching and feedback from peers. “This project allows participants to continue to strengthen the relationships they have with their peers and apply their learnings both personally and professionally,” says Patrick, who heads the Black Leaders Program.
Among the key benefits is that the course encourages participants to reflect, share and learn how to lead with authenticity as a Black leader. “From having honest conversations about Black identity in the workplace and barriers to success, to learning how to manage power more effectively, participants are provided a safe place to discuss complex ideas and strengthen their own community ties,” Patrick says.
In addition, participants discover leadership strategies that deepen self-awareness and home in on the communications skills they need to lead with courage and compassion. “The program not only helps participants be better leaders; it also helps address some of the most pressing challenges Black leaders face in the workplace,” she adds.
Other executive education programs tackling racial bias
While Sandford’s program is unique, there are other options that tackle racial bias in the workplace. In New York, Columbia Business School offers the Developing Black Leaders in Financial Services program, which aims to address an ongoing challenge in finance: the development, promotion and retention of Black professionals. The program takes place in two modules over two years and program sessions include inspirational leadership, financial technology and blockchain.
Across town from Columbia, NYU Stern School of Business runs a course called Inclusive Leadership: Addressing Unconscious Bias to Build Stronger, Diverse Teams, which emphasizes the advancement of women and people of color. Participants develop an inclusive leadership mindset, with a focus on working with others across various dimensions of diversity — including gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability and age.
“If majority-group members don’t get leadership development in this space as well, then the burden for equity remains on under-represented minority (URM) workers,” says Rosalind Chow, Faculty Director at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business in Pittsburg.
The school puts on the Fostering Organizational Equity (FORGE) leadership training program, which aims to give leaders the tools, knowledge, and perspective needed to operate as effective agents of change within their own institutions.
“There are more and more companies focusing on leadership development for under-represented groups in corporate contexts, but that only addresses half the problem,” says Chow.
“The executive education programs offered by many business schools don’t, in my opinion, push the envelope far enough,” she says. “To fully understand issues of diversity, equity and inclusion requires feeling uncomfortable. Paying to feel uncomfortable isn’t something a lot of people want to do, so business schools often do not feature programs that are designed to make discomfort part of the experience.”
FORGE addresses the challenge of getting majority-group members to understand how systemic discrimination (of any type) operates and what it looks like. “They need to understand not only how others are harmed by these processes, but also how they themselves are helped,” says Chow.
“Once they see and truly understand what systemic discrimination is and how it operates, it is hard to unsee. That’s when they can begin to consider personal and institutional changes that will enable them to be effective allies to Black and other URM leaders.”