I knew the MIT EMBA program was the right fit for me when I was invited to attend an open house workshop in Cambridge for prospective students. At that event, I felt like I was already a part of the MIT EMBA community. There was a feeling of inclusiveness, where the focus was on developing principled leaders regardless of race, gender, religion, social class, or sexual orientation.
During the program, I furthered embraced inclusiveness and found ways to dive deeper into diversity issues. Students are genuinely curious about each other’s backgrounds, experience, and expertise. They want to learn from each other to broaden their perspectives. There are countless examples, but here are a few that stand out.
Diverse classmates Upon acceptance into the program, my advisor set up calls with other students prior to Orientation Weekend. During those calls, we talked about our backgrounds and why we were coming to MIT. One of the students I met through those calls was also on my first-year study team. His name is Richard and he immigrated to the U.S. from China as a teenager. On the surface, we seemed completely different from each other. But during that call, we discovered similarities. Throughout the program, we became close friends, and I was especially excited to support him through the birth of his first child. I probably wouldn’t have met Richard without having come to MIT, much less had a chance to really get to know him.
I have also met and become close friends with many other talented and amazing classmates in the program from the U.S., Canada, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa. I have met parents, spouses, other LGBTQ students, leaders from just about every industry in corporate America, as well as nonprofits, start-ups, privately-run organizations, etc. There are so many bad asses in this program. It made me even prouder to be part of this community.
“Ask Me Anything” chats “Ask Me Anything” chats are safe spaces where students can ask each other anything about a particular topic. One of the first chats I attended was conducted by veterans in our class, who talked about why they were inspired to serve. They shared how it felt to lose fellow soldiers, kill enemies, and how war forever changes you. Another chat was held by the women in my class regarding the “glass ceiling” in corporate America. These were robust and honest conversations that helped bring greater understanding for all students on the issue of gender.
I was inspired to host a chat on LGBTQ issues to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising. I explained how the Stonewall Uprising happened at a time when there were many social and economic lines drawn against LGBTQ individuals. That uprising sparked gay pride parades around the world. We show our pride now because there was a time when we could not be open.
I also discussed what LGBTQ means and the vocabulary that is OK (and not OK) to use. It was a peer learning session where I answered questions like: What does it mean to be queer? Why do some people continue to stay in the closet? Many of my classmates, like me, grew up in a time when being LGBTQ wasn’t openly discussed. It was an incredibly robust and well attended conversation, despite the fact that it was held at 7:30am on a Saturday morning before class.
Fireside chats Every on-campus class weekend, two members of the class host personal “Fireside Chats,” which are an oral history about their personal journey. These chats have covered deeply personal issues that give you a glimpse into the person sitting next to you. These stories have brought tears, laughter, and standing ovations.
LGBTQ panel discussion During Leadership and Integrative Management Week for the incoming 2021 Class of MIT EMBA students, I helped organize and moderated an “Ask Me Anything” LGBTQ panel. I included straight and gay EMBA students to ensure a diversity of perspectives. We talked about how the program is inclusive and provides a safe space to have conversations and ask questions. It was important to let the incoming class see that MIT practices what it preaches on being a diverse and welcoming community.
Exploring diversity in classes Diversity was even part of the curriculum, most notably in Organizational Processes. Dr. Roberto Fernandez, who is a first generation American, taught us to look at organizations through political, social, and cultural lenses. The key is understanding how human behavior and bias impacts decisions and to find ways to evolve those biases in a more inclusive direction. We all want a seat at the table, but sometimes you have to build your own table and invite those diverse voices around that table. Change may mean developing uncommon and common allies to evolve a more diverse organization.
The end of my time at MIT is bittersweet, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented us from meeting in person. We have formed a very tight-knit community willing to share experiences and help each other broaden perspectives. Our goal is to pass this legacy on to future classes and ensure that the program remains an open place for everyone.
Stephen Gregory Barr, EMBA '20, is Vice President, Business Development at Univision Communications Inc. in New York City. He also was a 2020 MIT Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Award Recipient.