Peer to Peer: How Do I Foster a Racially Equitable Firm?

Members of the Stanford MBA Class of ’94 drew up a playbook for business leaders looking to promote racial equity.

April 12, 2021

| by Corey Binns
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An illustration showing figures pulling apart a table to make room, while other figures are rolling up more chairs. Credit: Illustration by Jesse Zhang

Creating a diverse and inclusive workplace is not only a moral imperative, says Maria Pasos-Nuñez, MBA ’94, it also “translates into better teams and better business.”| Illustration by Jesse Zhang

After George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer, members of the Stanford MBA Class of 1994 teamed up to create an online tool called the Racial Equity Playbook.

The playbook offers tips on how to advance racial justice within organizations and how to evaluate its progress. “It is important for leaders not to just respond to external pressure, but to institute change because they believe it is morally the right thing to do,” says Maria Pasos-Nuñez, MBA ’94 and associate director of international career development at Stanford GSB. Her MBA ’94 classmate Jenny Silva explained their approach.

Commitment

It’s important that top leadership is committed to and vocal about the cause. If you don’t already have diverse leadership, it’s especially important that the board and the executive team are loud about this. They need to show that they care and that they truly want to see improvements. That may seem obvious, but it’s essential. 

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You really have to ask yourself, ‘How committed to this are you?’
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Jenny Silva

Accountability

Progress needs to be measured and people need to know that the results matter. The organization actually needs to be watching. To drive change, many organizations ultimately find it necessary to tie promotions and compensation to results on diversity and inclusion. If you say it’s important but continue to promote people who only hire and promote White men, everybody will see that nobody in the organization really cares. 

Action

First, add diversity to your hiring process. Broaden your net. Recruit from places other than the top schools. And de-emphasize referrals. If you have an all-White organization and you depend on referrals, you’re never going to diversify. Make sure you look at the job’s criteria for success, rather than just at an applicant’s credentials. 

Second, build a culture of inclusion that accommodates people of all backgrounds and allows everyone to be their best self at work. Survey your employees, but don’t look at average outcomes. Look instead at the results for the different demographic groups. If White men and Black women are having similar experiences, you’re probably doing pretty well on inclusion, but that rarely happens. If their experiences are different, analyze those differences to figure out where you need to make cultural changes.

Third, pay everyone fairly. Any organization really committed to this has to look at its executive team and its board. Look at upper-level vacancies carefully. If you have to, expand the executive team to make it more diverse. At the end of the day, if you don’t see that as important to achieve, you really have to ask yourself, “How committed to this are you?”

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