On a warm afternoon on the second day of MIT Sloan Reunion 2022, an audience of alumni and their guests gathered to listen to Assistant Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Bryan Thomas Jr. answer the question: How is the school building an inclusive organization?
Thomas, who came to MIT Sloan in August 2021, started by sharing the history of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) at MIT, including reports going back 20 years. He ended his summary with the 2020 Diversity & Inclusion Taskforce Report, which advised the administration to appoint multiple DEI deans and create a systems-based approach—to avoid tasking a single person with the job of improving DEI at MIT Sloan.
The immediate result of the report was the appointments of Ray Reagans (Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Management) and Fiona Murray (Associate Dean for Innovation and Inclusion; William Porter (1967) Professor of Entrepreneurship) in March 2020.
Then the pandemic kicked off and the world changed. Two months later, George Floyd was murdered and the world changed again.
“Systemic problems require systemic solutions,” Thomas said while stressing that “it should not take death for us to change.” Finding it difficult to alter behavior, Thomas and the DEI Office instead focused on changing the systems that enable and perpetuate such behavior through different trainings and discussions with faculty, students, and staff.
Focusing on faculty first, Thomas outlined the problems that historically marginalized faculty members face, including women of color typically having to take on more teaching and committee work for less tenure. The DEI Office is currently tackling how to create equitable teaching and committee work to ensure fairer tenure by having faculty teach faculty about situations and problems in higher education. Along with the DEI Office, MIT was one of the founding members of Pathways to Research and Doctoral Careers (PREDOC), which procures opportunities in STEM for students from underrepresented groups for them to expand their network and increase the chance of tenure.
Though the DEI Office was created during the pandemic and did not have a physical office for students to visit, students nonetheless had a say in the development and training they received from Thomas and his colleagues. In collaboration with the MIT Sloan Student Senate, the new DEI and leadership course, Discussions and Dilemmas, created an opportunity for students across programs to meet in small groups informally facilitated by a faculty member and discuss selected topics. The first course had a student satisfaction of 98%, which stunned Thomas and the DEI Office.
For staff, whom Thomas said often felt “less important than the furniture at MIT,” the very successful Open and Inclusive development training was created to help facilitate conversations based on the Institute’s own research on organizational change. “People support what they help create,” said Thomas. And since the data they based all their trainings on resulted from MIT research, Thomas said the DEI Office has found it to be highly successful.
To ensure that these successful training courses do not stop once their creators have left the school, the DEI Office is in the process of creating a tracking system to survey previous years to see what worked and what did not. MIT Sloan will then be able to see what departments and offices are working on and what the story behind their work is.
The DEI Office connects everything at MIT Sloan from individual academic programs to MIT Sloan Admissions and the Office of External Relations, and they will only keep growing as the school strives to become a more inclusive organization. As Thomas reminded his Reunion audience, “We’re smart enough to know we’re smarter together.”