By Alexander Cain (’17)
Whenever I, an African-American male, hear about any “diversity” event, two predictions run through my mind: either it’s an event where universities push current diverse students involved in their program to attract other diverse prospects, but then fail to show how diversity matters to the greater student body; or it’s a diversity event that emphasizes diversity of thought and doesn’t include many multicultural students.
As someone who has gone through the MBA application process and attended several diversity events at business schools, I understand how hard it can be for an MBA program to find the proper balance required for a successful diversity event: promoting an expansive ideal of diversity encompassing women, LBGTQ and multicultural candidates while still addressing each community’s unique set of challenges and opportunities.
In California, Proposition 209 prohibits state institutions from considering race, sex or ethnicity in public employment, contracting and education. Anderson faces the challenge of ignoring those attributes but still striving for diversity. While the school can’t consider those essential factors in its admissions criteria, I believe Anderson provides great support for diverse applicants because the UCLA Anderson administration — which includes Alex Lawrence (’99), Kimberly Freeman ’02), Gary Fraser and Vickie Euyoque, among many others — is itself diverse. UCLA Anderson also provides budgets to the school’s student clubs and associations, such as Out at Anderson, Black Business Students Association, Latino Management Student Association Anderson Veterans Association, and the Women’s Business Connection. The greater Anderson community has been responsive to recent tumultuous events, supporting a Black Lives Matter fireside, for example. Anderson continues to provide financial support through fellowships with The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, an organization committed to increasing the representation of African-Americans, Hispanic Americans and Native Americans in U.S. business schools and corporate management. While Anderson still needs to improve percentages among the overall student body, Anderson’s “share success” mindset has always made me comfortable to be my true, authentic self.
A common mantra I always heard growing up in a predominantly African-American neighborhood was, “Give back to those who come behind you.” I decided to participate in UCLA Anderson’s annual Embracing Diversity Conference to tell my Anderson story, gain an understanding of the pressing challenges among new prospects and give back to my community of African-Americans.
The kickoff event afforded a glimpse into what it’s like to be an Anderson student via the social context of Anderson Afternoons, the weekly happy hour where students reconnect over drinks and a small meal. As the wine began to flow, prospective students became a little less buttoned-up and more willing to ask pressing questions: “How much do diverse candidates interact with each other?” “Do you feel like there is a community?” and “How does the school support and invest in multicultural candidates?”
The first full day of the conference began with Dean Olian’s expressing her commitment to ensuring we embrace diversity of thought and cultures. Discussions focused on the unique professional network Anderson provides its students and offered insight into how hiring diverse MBAs has become a long-term business priority for companies. Prospective MBA students were able to envision what a career might look like with industry leaders such as AIG, Amazon, AT&T, Danaher, E. & J. Gallo, Google, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley and PwC.
The evening was capped off with a dinner and discussion with Rick Welts, president and chief operating officer of the Golden State Warriors and the first prominent sports executive who is openly gay. He talked about his journey starting as a ball boy with the Seattle Supersonics on up to winning championships as president of the Golden State Warriors. While it’s great to hear from current students about the value of being a diverse candidate, all of the prospective students were excited to hear a C-suite executive talk about his experience and overcoming challenges.
The last day gave us another chance to sell prospective students on the Anderson brand as we see it — a fun, collaborative, smart group of individuals working together to achieve professional and personal success. Dean Olian expressed her commitment to ensuring we embrace diversity of thought and cultures.
One prospect remarked, “The diversity conference was a real surprise. It was organized, had great speakers, and wasn’t just focused on Anderson’s diversity numbers. It was great to also see ‘non-diverse’ students volunteer at the event, which was a bit different than other schools.” Approaching graduation, I’m excited and anxious about returning to professional life. I feel really grateful for the comfortable atmosphere of the school, where collaboration is ingrained.
While it’s still a work in progress to achieve diversity numbers reflective of the U.S. population, I believe Anderson is heading in the right direction and, most important, budgeting for that goal. The Embracing Diversity Conference assuaged my initial hesitations about yet another event of this sort by demonstrating the school’s commitment to diversity at all levels of the Anderson staff, by the upscale presentation at the new UCLA Luskin Center, and through pledging the budget and careful planning necessary to make the conference empowering to prospective students, not only with respect to their MBA, but to their professional career going forward.