Joining a new community can be a daunting experience, especially for individuals who find themselves in the minority of a group they seek to enter. While all MBA students undoubtedly go through feelings of anxiety at some point during their academic journey, these feelings can be compounded for students who do not feel that they belong to the majority regarding racial identity, sexual orientation, nationality, faith, or other identities they carry. The Foster MBA Diversity in Business club (DiBs) is a space that embraces the range and depth of individuals in the Foster MBA program. DiBs began as an informal gathering by a group of students at Foster who felt the need to create a space for discussing micro and overt aggressions they had experienced. Since then, the group has grown into a community movement that focuses on social impact and educating fellow classmates on a wide range of issues. With the addition of Health and Wellness chairs to the student led Foster MBA Association Board, the group has extended its reach beyond discussing issues that impact minority students into a wide-reaching initiative focused on the mental and physical health and wellbeing of the student body at large.
Francesca Essilfe, one of the current co-presidents of DiBs has spent much of her time in the Foster MBA growing the impact of DiBs by focusing on events that build community while also bringing in guest speakers and coordinating events with other Foster MBA clubs to grow the reach of DiBs programming.
I first heard about DiBs during FOSTERing MBA Access, a program run by Foster MBA Admissions which reaches out to students of color, veterans, women, and the LGBTQ community and invites them to come to Foster for a weekend and learn more about the program. Despite Seattle being a popular destination for young people, the city remains largely homogenous. FOSTERing MBA Access helped exposed me to current students, alumni, and corporate sponsors who were all passionate about diversity and inclusion. Students of color comprise a small percentage of the Foster MBA student body and I knew that I wanted to be involved with the decisions the program was making in its outreach to minority students to help our program continue to grow in being more representative.
One of the events that Francesca organized in her role as a first-year rep for DiBs was a group outing to the Northwest African American Museum. The event was a watershed moment in Francesca’s MBA journey early on, as it gave her an opportunity to connect with and get to know second-year MBA students with whom she had not previously had much interaction.
After we visited the Northwest African American Museum, the group went to Simply Soulful, a local, black owned eatery. It was great for me to be able to relax and let my guard down as I bonded with classmates over delicious soul food. I felt like I had a lot of great conversations and really felt like I belonged. Having relocated to Seattle to attend school, I was looking for a sense of community. After the museum and café visit, I felt assured that I had made the right choice and joined a community that was right for me.
The Foster MBA program has worked hard in recent years to expand its inclusion and diversity efforts. Since 2016, has Foster joined Forté, Management Leadership for Tomorrow, and Reaching Out MBA. In 2018, Foster became the 20th MBA program nationwide to join the Consortium, a prestigious partnership of top-ranked MBA programs and blue-chip companies dedicated to promoting greater diversity in business education and corporate leadership. Since joining the Consortium, Foster has proudly admitted the first two classes of Consortium students and has seen a groundswell of support for clubs like DiBs among the class of 2022.
There is a lot of optimism for the future of DiBs. This year we have 6-7 first year reps from the class of 2022 with a lot of eagerness to implement change and accomplish the short- and long-term goals Claire Herting (Class of 2021 – DiBs co-president) and I have set for the club. Christopher Elliot and Christine Pham have been amazing in their leadership and have really hit the ground running, conducting student body town halls for students of color with the help of VP of Diversity, Kelly Yu. The growth in having difficult conversations and moving toward tangible goals that increase equity among the student body has been organic, and I am very optimistic about Foster’s future as a leader among MBA programs in diversity and inclusion.
As far as the intersection between DiBs and the broader MBA community, Francesca believes in a ‘the more, the merrier’ mantra.
Whenever people start talking about diversity, I go to the idea that we need to know the community we are seeking to help. You don’t have to be an underrepresented minority to lean in, but you do need to have the enthusiasm to learn and allow yourself to be vulnerable. I feel the events we are coordinating with clubs like Foster Creative and Business and Policy Group help reach a broader swath of the student body and allow for conversation and education about steps individuals can take when put into vague situations. The Foster MBA prepares us for a future where we will be managing others. Ultimately, I see the dialogue we encourage during the MBA as an opportunity to be vulnerable, ask questions, and to learn about the nuances that come with managing individuals who do not share the same background as you. I see our events as an exercise in building soft skills and ensuring that we do not scar the people we will be managing in the future.
For more information about Diversity in Business (DiBs), please reach out to current DiBs leaders and be sure to check out the events tab to learn more about upcoming programming hosted by the club.