Many organizations grapple with effectively ensuring that diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging are evident within their organizational practices, values, and strategy. An essential aspect of creating and sustaining a diverse, inclusive, and competitive organization is the practice of intentional and authentic leadership. Authentic leaders, those who understand their purpose, recognize how that purpose advances the organization, practice solid values, and model integrity, devise collaborative organizational systems and structures that engage and value all members.

Within organizations, leaders shape, inform, and reinforce an organization’s culture and climate — both the tacit and explicit social order of an organization which shapes attitudes and behaviors. While it is true that many organizations espouse their commitment to inclusion and belonging — an environment where all members feel respected, valued, and supported — their lived organizational culture and practices often fail to establish meaningful, sustainable practices that confront and disrupt marginalizing, oppressive, and toxic environments.

Recognizing that business is a human, relational endeavor, authentic leaders center diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging as a vital aspect of the organization’s vision, mission and culture while affirming the compelling business, innovation, and growth imperatives to lead in a global marketplace. When properly aligned with personal values, drives, and needs, culture can unleash tremendous energy toward a shared purpose and foster an organization’s capacity to thrive. (HBR, January-February, 2018)

USC Marshall has a longstanding commitment to modeling and fostering authentic leadership. We recognize the need for exemplary knowledge, tools, and skills to lead in a dynamic global economy, beginning with emotional and cultural intelligence, as well as strategic interpersonal communication, which are crucial to motivating and affirming all organizational members and teams. These competencies and values are essential to devising strategies and solutions to today’s complex business challenges.

USC Marshall fosters leadership skills in myriad ways, including providing student fellowships, professional development, and mentoring. A key initiative to confront the harmful effects of unconscious or implicit bias we initiated mindfulness series so that students could not only be aware of bias, but could have cognitive strategies to disrupt entrenched thoughts and behaviors that perpetuate marginalizing and stereotypical narratives. To build on our outstanding curricular offerings and personal development programs, we support student’s participation at professional conferences and national case competitions through travel fellowships.

We continue to focus our leadership on vital issues, including ensuring gender parity and access equity in business schools today and boardrooms tomorrow. Among our efforts to recognize and advance women leaders and thrive are events such as the MBA Everyone’s Business Global Case Competition, sponsored by the USC Marshall Graduate Women in Business and the Marshall Business Competition Program. Notably, USC Marshall was the first major business school to reach gender parity in a full-time MBA program – a significant step forward toward leveling the playing field in other business schools and in corporate boardrooms nationwide.

In addition, we support a broad array of diverse student groups such as Marshall Pride, the Black Business Student Association, the Graduate Asian Business Society, the Latino Business Student Association, SpectrumSC, and the Association of Latino Professionals for America. In the past year, we also celebrated the reestablishment of the USC chapters of the National Association of Black Accountants and the Latino Business Student Association.

Our community efforts include campus-wide events like our “Community Conversations” series, that included an Athletes and Activism Symposium and a screening of Netflix’s, Oscar-nominated film, What Happened, Miss Simone?, which chronicled the life of Artist and Activist Nina Simone followed by a Fireside Chat with Ambassador Attallah Shabazz (the eldest daughter of Dr. Betty Shabazz and Malcolm X Shabazz). Other signature events included, USC Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Week, and Marshall-focused gatherings such as International Women’s Day and the Forward Summit, a professional leadership conference organized by the Black Graduate Business Leaders and the Latino Management and Business Association student organizations. We are also proud to partner with the Leslie and William McMorrow Neighborhood Academic Initiative (NAI), a USC signature college preparatory program to support students from South and East Los Angeles gain college acceptance.

Inclusive Leadership fosters inclusive excellence. While we value our existing diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging efforts, we acknowledge the importance of growth, action, and transparency. Fight On!

Dr. Sharoni Denise Little is Associate Dean/Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer and a Professor of Clinical Business Communication at USC Marshall School of Business. Tonisha Jester is Senior Associate Director, Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at USC Marshall School of Business.

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