In keeping with its mission to enhance diversity and inclusion in corporate America and beyond, The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management hosted its second annual Fall Town Hall & Career Forum on Oct. 7 to connect MBA students and alumni with companies seeking diverse talent.
The virtual town hall, facilitated by online events platform Hopin, provided MBAs an opportunity to network with their peers and Consortium corporate partner companies, learn about employment opportunities and hear from professionals working in different fields. The event is designed to be both convenient and timely, occurring at a key time for students and corporate partners — before decisions are made about summer internships and full-time positions. However, it also offers an opportunity for Consortium alumni to explore new opportunities at other companies or in other fields.
“The Fall Town Hall serves as another touchpoint for corporate partners to talk with and interview current and alumni Consortium fellows,” says Kimberly Alexander, vice president of development for The Consortium, who helped develop the event. “The partners are able to be in a central location and meet students from all member schools without having to travel to each campus.”
The event kicked off with opening remarks from Consortium Executive Director & CEO Peter Aranda and provided an opportunity for the 125-plus students and alumni in attendance to engage with 23 current corporate partners as well as three companies that are considering partnering with The Consortium in the near future. Via virtual booths, MBAs were able to engage with companies via video chat, learn what it’s like to work there and ask specific questions of company representatives.
Also designed to raise the level of conversation around a single trending topic or area of interest to constituents, the Town Hall & Career Forum included a panel discussion about employee resource groups (ERGs). Moderated by Diversity Recruitment Manager at General Mills Brian Burley, “ERGs: Are They Effective?” featured panelists from several companies: Ain Powell, inclusion & diversity program manager of partner/employee networks at Starbucks; Arrastene “EJ” Henry, head of U.S. inclusion & diversity at AstraZeneca; Michael Barker, director of global inclusion, diversity & equity, Center of Expertise, at Medtronic; and Tiffany Haley, senior HR business partner for Vanguard’s Financial Advisor Services division.
Panelists discussed the value ERGs provide diverse employees and companies alike, how they are being used by companies and how and why they have become more prevalent over the last couple of years.
“The murder of George Floyd was a watershed moment for corporate diversity,” Burley said. “There has never been a stronger time in [which] companies who had these employee networks leaned into them and those that didn’t sought to understand why they needed to create them.”
Beyond serving as a safe space for and promoting a sense of belonging among underrepresented minority employees, ERGs also serve as a resource for businesses seeking to remain relevant in an increasingly diverse world. These groups can help drive diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives as well as inform a company’s product or service offerings.
“[ERGs] are the catalyst, or the crux, of our strategy across the organization,” says Henry. “Those are the individuals who are going to help build cultural intelligence. So, as we think about our patients from an AstraZeneca perspective, our patients reflect the individuals who are a part of our 13 ERGs. They are the ones who hold us accountable, to make sure that we are, first and foremost, making sure our employees are taken care of and, second, making sure that we are delivering to the business — not just asking for resources from the business, but being a resource to the business. And that is helping our patients.”
ERGs provide an opportunity for companies to recruit, develop and retain talent as well, Powell noted — which often requires some education.
“It makes no sense to bring in that amazing talent if we can’t keep them,” she says. “As I like to say, there are more ways to get to 10 than we realize; five plus five is 10, so is seven plus three, so is 12 plus negative two. We need to recognize the diverse thought that our partners bring and also celebrate that. The networks really are here to attract and retain that talent — and also to develop that talent so that our leaders can no longer look around and say, ‘We don’t have anyone available.’ Networks are the fertile ground for that leadership and that development and that growth.”
For MBAs, the presence and depth of ERGs can also offer insight into whether a company is truly committed to this work and to fostering an inclusive workplace. As Alexander says, “It is not enough that company leadership is stating they will be better advocates — they must show it.”