This article appeared in Stanford Business magazine in March 1996.
Having a diverse organization is a business imperative. So says KPMG Peat Marwick Foundation Director Bernie Milano in explaining why his company developed and is helping to finance the PhD Project, a nationwide program to encourage targeted minorities — African Americans, Mexican Americans, Native Americans, and Puerto Ricans — to enter business school doctoral programs.
“Forget about set-asides, forget about quotas.” says Milano. “As a major accounting firm, we find it imperative to have minorities on our client teams. You go to a board of directors, they’re spending millions of dollars trying to improve diversity in their own organization. Invariably, they have a female or a black director who is going to ask the tough questions. Companies with minority employees are getting internal pressure to move more minorities up in the organization. No matter what business you’re in, there are imperatives up and down the line.”
One problem these companies face in hiring minorities is that there aren’t enough minority MBAs in the hiring pool. One reason for that is that many minority students feel uncomfortable in largely white business schools, where there are few, if any, minority professors. And the main reason there are few minority professors is that there are so few minority PhDs in the pipeline. In 1993, for example, only 38 members of targeted minority groups received PhDs in business. That was the year KPMG and its corporate friend Citicorp dreamed up the PhD Project.
Milano credits Stanford PhD candidate Michael Clement, an African American, for providing much of the inspiration for the project. Clement, 38, was then in the second year of his doctoral program in accounting at Stanford GSB. Armed with an MBA from the University of Chicago, he had held a great job with Citicorp but left it for Stanford’s PhD program to work with its leading faculty. Clement had realized that what he wanted out of his life was to make a long-term contribution. And for him, teaching and research was the way to make it.
Clement was invited to attend the KPMG-Citicorp project discussion in St. Louis. He explained to the group how most talented African Americans don’t even consider getting a PhD. It isn’t that they see it as impossible; it’s simply that they don’t see it as an option. Clement had seen the possibilities — his father is a professor of marketing at Medgar Evers College in New York — but he still found information about graduate business programs hard to come by. Based in large part on Clement’s observations, the dozen participants decided to reach out to good minority candidates. Through annual conferences and other means, the project would acquaint them with the option of becoming business school professors and would act as an information clearinghouse for those who decided to apply to PhD programs.
In its first two years, the PhD Project added corporate sponsors and participating business schools (including Stanford GSB) and reached thousand of prospective PhD applicants. Of 285 people invited to attend the organization’s first conference in 1994, 102 either entered PhD programs last fall or are expected to enroll this year. One of them, Pamela Givens, is at Stanford GSB now.
Givens, 32, mirrors Clement in experience. A graduate of MIT with a degree in electrical engineering, she is also an African American who left a promising seven-year career to go back to school — in Givens’ case, she left the pharmaceutical firm SmithKline Beecham for the MBA program at New York University’s Stern School. When she got to NYU, Givens recalls, “I realized how much I enjoyed economics, and I realized I wanted to focus in more.” After talking to her professors and attending the PhD Project conference, she made up her mind to enter the doctoral program in economics at Stanford GSB.
Givens is joined in her first-year PhD class by two other minority women: Katherine Williams, 23, an African American transfer from the PhD program at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, and Maria Mendez, 24, a Puerto Rican graduate of the University of Pennsylvania in both mathematics and economics. Williams is working toward a doctorate in organizational behavior; Mendez, in finance. Williams first thought of going into university teaching when she was an undergraduate psychology major at the University of Illinois. “Working with professors on their research opened up options,” she says. She entered Northwestern and worked under organizational behavior professor Margaret Neale. When Neale moved to Stanford, Williams applied to Stanford GSB and was accepted. Mendez, like Michael Clement, has a homegrown familiarity with academia. Her mother is a retired professor of statistics at the University of Puerto Rico. After two years with the Federal Reserve Bank in New York, Mendez entered Stanford GSB.
Givens, Williams, and Mendez represent the largest minority group to enter Stanford GSB’s doctoral program in the last five years. Out of 23 students in all, they make up 13 percent of the class. If this seems small, consider: Michael Clement is one of an estimated five minority PhD candidates in accounting expected to earn the degree this year. That’s five in the entire country.
Joanne Martin, who last year completed a five-year stint as director of the PhD Program, was strongly committed to increasing enrollment and graduation of talented minority students at Stanford GSB, and that commitment continues under her successor Jonathan Bendor. Pipeline programs like the PhD Project have helped in recruiting, but they are only part of a larger effort.
Current minority students like Michael Clement and Joseph Guzman, who is working toward a PhD in economics, represent the school at organized recruiting functions. Stanford GSB faculty interview promising minority candidates prior to admission or even application, and place follow-up calls to those who are accepted.
Recruitment is only a beginning. In order to retain the minorities who enroll, faculty and administrators, particularly Elizabeth Fitting, assistant director of the PhD Program, attend carefully to progress toward the degree, giving time, individual attention, and financial help where it is needed. And, as a group, all the minority PhD students, including Alva Taylor, Donnel Briley, Damon Phillips, and Albert Perez, work to ensure the success of their fellow students.
Increasing the number of minority doctoral students won’t put professors in the classroom tomorrow, but it looks like the best hope for the future. Bernie Milano is frequently asked, if his goal is to encourage minority participation in corporate America, why waste his time recruiting future teachers? Why doesn’t his organization just go out and recruit minorities for MBA programs? His answer: “The leverage on this is incredible. You can support MBAs and end up with one employee for each person supported. But you support PhDs and they touch hundreds of MBA students a year.”