Since the appointment of Ray Reagans as Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and Fiona Murray as Associate Dean for Innovation and Inclusion almost three years ago, the MIT Sloan Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) has morphed into an eight-person office with reach across admissions, career development, the graduate and undergraduate degree programs, and the school’s alumni offices.
As one of the most far-reaching and important offices in MIT Sloan, the Office of DEI sits in an advantageous position. For example, all team members have backgrounds in both higher education and inclusion. “There are no colleagues of mine that exist to my knowledge within the career development offices at peer schools,” Steven Branch (Associate Director, DEI, CDO) says. The office is truly the first of its kind at MIT Sloan.
Because it started mid-pandemic, the challenges faced by the Office of DEI have been unique. “I didn’t relocate to Massachusetts until nine months after I started working,” says Bryan Thomas Jr. (Assistant Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion), who joined MIT Sloan in the summer of 2021. Austin Ashe (Senior Associate Director, Belonging and Culture) adds, “Like many places, we were challenged to find ways to create a familiarity and community because we were all virtual and in different time zones.”
There was also no blueprint for such an office at MIT Sloan. “This office had not existed before, so there were certainly challenges figuring out what this office would be focused on and look like over the long term,” says Ashe. As Branch explains, “We are a startup that operates within a well-established entity.” Making room within MIT Sloan and the Institute required some give and take, but this also brought rewards.
“Being new as an office means that we ourselves get to create the identity of the office, as opposed to stepping into a more established office where the pressure to live up to an existing identity—disconnected from us—might be greater,” Amanda Jarvis (Assistant Director, DEI) says.
The office culture is also unique. From Thomas speaking regularly across the Institute and Jarvis leading Open+Inclusive (O+I) training to help staff understand their biases and work better as teams, to Kaylicia ‘Kay’ Merisier (Senior Administration Assistant) organizing events like the first MIT Sloan DEI Holiday party, the office is clear on its purpose of moving MIT Sloan forward with a wholistic DEI focus.
“Bryan needs to receive a lot of credit for having a vision that made the need for increasing our team size an essential part of our success,” Ashe says. His sentiments about Thomas are echoed throughout the Office of DEI. “Bryan has done a great job of creating a fun working environment with clear communication channels and an emphasis on transparency,” says Terrell Williams (Associate Director, Admissions, Diversity Recruiting). “If it weren’t for Bryan creating this open and inviting environment, we wouldn’t feel comfortable enough to comfortably be ourselves,” says Merisier.
The Office of DEI’s closeness goes beyond their work, too, as Merisier continues, “A perk to working on a predominantly Black team is knowing that someone understands you in and out of work, and on a worldly level.” Branch adds, “This is the first time in my life that I’ve worked in a setting with co-workers who share similar passions as myself. On a surface level and very emotionally, this is the first time in my working career where most of the team members shared in my physical identity.”
Growing pains were expected in the Office of DEI, from outside forces and from within. “Our greatest challenge is ourselves,” says Kayla Burt (Data Research Analyst, DEI). “We work hard each day, and we are currently juggling a lot of projects. We put so much pressure on ourselves to meet goals, grow and develop as professionals, and produce initiatives or programs that are truly impactful.” Merisier adds, “Ray, Fiona, Bryan, and Austin lead the troops, but I steer the ship. I help them say no and mean it and have real boundaries for work and yourself. It's okay to rest and put work second.”
This emphasis on self-care comes from the top, too. “One of my goals is to have everyone on my team take at least seven vacation days,” Thomas says. “That may seem low, but many people believe that they do not have time for vacation. I make it a priority for the team to rest.” And they make sure to look out for each other. Williams laughs, “Kayla has created an ‘anti-burnout pledge’ for me, where I raise my right hand and vow to not get burnt out.” Help comes from everywhere, as Burt adds, “I call it a win if I can convince Bryan to leave at 5 p.m., if Amanda takes time to sit and each lunch, or if we can end our day, as an office with a spirited discussion about sports, music, or movies. Those micro-wins add up.”
Everyone presents their ever-growing list of accomplishments and projects along with data to back up their findings. Because if there’s one thing the MIT Sloan community appreciates, it’s data-driven proof. From O+I to RealTalk—dialogue spaces where staff, faculty, and students express themselves openly and honestly—the members of the Office of DEI are proud of their work and proud to be at the forefront of DEI. “I’m going to brag a little. We’re doing our own thing and getting lots of attention from peer schools and other organizations,” says Benjamin Daniel (Assistant Director, DEI Communications). Branch adds, “We are leaders within the DEI space among elite MBA programs and are proud to model the behaviors that we would like to see throughout the industry.”
Like most things MIT Sloan-related, the Office of DEI operates both separately from and along the same lines as the rest of the Institute. “We work closely with the Institute Community and Equity Office—MIT’s DEI office—to program events, align efforts, and ensure continuity of services and support for projects across the enterprise,” says Daniel. Ashe adds, “While MIT can be such a decentralized place, I don’t think it’s hyperbole to suggest that the work that happens across the Institute echoes and informs what happens here, and while we have a unique community here at the business school, we also have much to offer the entirety of the MIT community.” Thomas says he and the other assistant deans of DEI at MIT “come together frequently to support [each other] and bring up solutions that have worked in our schools to help align and coordinate efforts together.”
The Office of DEI sees a future in which belonging and inclusion not only come from their office but from all aspects of the community at MIT Sloan. Daniel says, “In 10 years? We’ll have altered the perception of DEI across the enterprise. Faculty will design courses that incorporate elements of O+I and lessons learned from RealTalk. We’ll structure employee onboarding such that DEI is baked into processes and procedures. There won’t be separate marketing efforts for so-called underrepresented minorities because marketing will be multipolar and multicultural by default.” Jarvis adds, “By then, the Institute would commit to increasing resources to building out DEI offices at the other schools around MIT over the next two years so that our office is just one of many.”
The people of the Office of DEI are working to make sure they’re out of a job, so there will eventually no longer be a separate need for DEI resources and guidance because it is so ingrained in every aspect of life—not just as MIT Sloan, but in every school in the country. Until then, Thomas and his team will continue their work.
“Showing up is and will forever be a victory,” Thomas contends.