Business School launches action plan for racial equity

Harvard Business School.

Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

6 min read

The Harvard Business School Action Plan for Racial Equity, an ambitious plan to advance racial equity both within and beyond the School, was announced today in a message from HBS Dean Nitin Nohria to the community. 

“This moment has made urgently clear that the School must redouble its commitment to combat racism — and anti-Black racism in particular — to create meaningful and enduring change that will enable every member of our community to thrive” said Nohria in a message to faculty, students, staff, and alumni. “Our Action Plan for Racial Equity reflects our highest aspirations for the School and the role it can play in business and society.” 

The plan was drafted by the Dean’s Anti-Racism Task Force, a group of 25 members of the community tasked with developing an action plan to advance anti-racism education and research, support the Black community at HBS and beyond, engage the broader business community, and change the School’s culture and organization. Chief Information Officer of HBS Ron Chandler, Senior Associate Dean for Culture and Community Jan Hammond, and Senior Associate Dean and Chair of the MBA Program Jan Rivkin led the effort.  

“Crafting the plan was a major effort undertaken in the midst of a long overdue racial reckoning across America and around the world,” said Rivkin. “I can’t recall a time when so many people at HBS came together with such a shared sense of urgency and conviction for real change. I think everyone understands that the work to which we are committing will make Harvard Business School better — for every member of our community. Now that it is launched, the hard but fulfilling work of executing the plan begins.” 

Creating a shared vision

The Task Force first met on July 1 to begin to build consensus around a common vision and identify the cornerstones of a plan for racial equity at HBS. It settled on seven key areas and set up work streams for each, casting a wider net to engage more members of the community. What began as a 25-person Task Force quickly expanded to 72.   

Each work stream was asked to generate two or three bold but achievable ideas for how the School could advance racial equity. The recommendations were discussed and refined through multiple iterations, and the Task Force co-chairs sought broad input from the community before finalizing the action plan.  

“The Task Force leaders were certain from the start that a successful action plan would emerge only by including, and carefully listening to, a broad set of voices of Black members of our community,” said Hammond. “The ideas the work streams developed emerged out of thoughtful, candid, and sometimes difficult discussions — the kind of discussions we will have to continue having to make progress and meaningful change.” 

Highlights from the plan

The plan describes seven steps the School has committed to take to improve racial equity on its campus and in the business world more broadly, beginning with an unambiguous rejection of racism, and anti-Black racism in particular, and a vision for HBS to become an institution that exhibits racial equity itself and educates leaders who advance racial equity in other organizations.

The second step calls for establishing enduring structures that will sustain HBS’s work on racial equity, beginning with hiring a Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer who reports to the highest levels of the School. The School will also establish and fund a Racial Equity Initiative to serve as a hub for research, course development, convening, and outreach related to race in business and the economy.  

The third step focuses on attracting additional Black talent to the School’s faculty, student body, and staff. Efforts include reaching more thoroughly into talent pipelines and pools, confronting current practices that impede diversity, reducing financial barriers for promising students of all backgrounds, developing programs that meet the professional needs of Black talent, and creating a culture that makes HBS a particularly attractive place for diverse faculty, students, and staff to do their best work. 

The fourth step involves supporting the development and dissemination of research and course material that advances racial equity in business. The Racial Equity Initiative will play an important role in this effort, working closely with HBS and visiting scholars to strengthen research, promote collaborations between HBS faculty and faculty at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), and develop more cases with diverse protagonists and course material relevant to racial equity. 

 Step five calls for equipping HBS’s students to become leaders for racial equity by better training faculty to lead sensitive discussions about race, mandating program chairs to outline and improve how diversity, equity and inclusion issues are addressed in their educational programs, and increasing the diversity of speakers, panelists, and attendees at HBS convenings.  

The sixth step centers on engaging with the broader business community to promote racial equity. Initial steps will include adjusting purchasing practices to include a greater share of Black-owned businesses and enabling and encouraging companies that recruit at HBS to reveal how well they are performing on diversity metrics. Future steps may include, for example, convening roundtables of Black executives and allied leadership to deepen the community’s understanding of best practices for creating and managing a diverse workforce. 

Step seven describes how the School will hold itself accountable to meaningful, measurable progress. Ownership of every aspect of the plan has been assigned to a senior faculty or staff member responsible for launching the work and defining a timeline. A regularly updated public report and an internal dashboard will track HBS’s progress on its racial equity work. And a Board of Advisors will be assembled to review the School’s progress, advise HBS’s leaders, and keep the racial equity efforts on track.  

The path forward

The Task Force leaders note that the most difficult work is about to begin. To support this critical work, Nohria has committed $25 million dollars during the next 10 years, and the School will seek additional support from donors to sustain the plan over time.  

“The plan is a really important step in what now has to be a sustained effort.” said Chandler. “I’ve seen firsthand the passion of our community for this work on racial equity. There is real recognition that we all own this.”  

“To be true to our mission, we must enlist the full spectrum of human talent and educate leaders who will make the most of the differences that enrich us individually, and societies globally,” added Nohria.

The complete Harvard Business School Action Plan for Racial Equality can be found here