Since Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) is an important focus at Ivey, the MBA Association has decided to create a formal role dedicated to this area and is pleased to welcome Ifeoma Okonkwo as the new Vice President, Diversity and Inclusion. Read on for more on Okonkwo and her vision for the MBA program.
MBA student Ifeoma Okonkwo knows what a struggle it can be to fit in. At age 13, she left her home in Nigeria and moved to East Sussex, England for boarding school and had to make new friends.
“I was away from my parents and didn't know anyone and I was a bit different,” she said. “It took me a long time to come out of my shell.”
That’s why her goal in the newly created role of Vice President, Diversity and Inclusion for the MBA Association (MBAA) is to help ensure all students in the MBA Class of 2021 feel included and connected. Members of the MBAA are elected by the class to represent the student body's interests as one united voice.
“It goes beyond race and gender to even things like introversion. For people who are introverts, some of our networking activities might be difficult so how do we make sure they get value from these events?” she said. “I want to showcase the things that bind us so we can feel connected.”
Creating an inclusive environment
Okonkwo will focus on ensuring program materials, Career Management training, and cohort activities are inclusive. On the program side, she’ll recommend new cases and curriculum content. On the Career Management front, she’ll bring in Diversity and Inclusion representatives from companies to do bias and language training. And for the MBA cohort, she’ll organize fun activities where the students can share information about their culture.
For instance, for Ramadan, a month of fasting, prayer, and reflection for Muslims that began on April 23, Okonkwo asked Muslim students in the MBA class to write about what Ramadan is and why they fast. They produced an article that was shared with the entire cohort and received positive feedback.
“Our class is very diverse and I think the most important thing is to bring out those qualities so people can learn from each other,” she said. “As much as we want to talk about similarities, our differences are very important as well and we have to understand those, too.”
In her previous jobs, Okonkwo has met people from around the world and seen the benefits of a diverse workforce.
“I know how much having friends from different parts of the world has helped me to be a better person, a better manager, and a critical thinker,” she said.
Bringing people together in creative ways
And although the COVID-19 pandemic has limited the cohort to virtual activities, Okonkwo said the additional stress during this time of crisis makes it more important than ever to bring people together in other ways.
“Especially with everything that's going on, we need to come together. It's very easy to tear each other apart because we are frustrated,” she said.
As the inaugural Diversity and Inclusion representative, another important aspect of the role is to create a framework that makes the position sustainable in the long term.
“I want to create a very strong foundation for this role so that when I come back in five years it's still here,” she said. “I love that everyone on the MBAA is concerned about it and the teachers are thinking about it. I’m not alone on this mission.”
More on Ifeoma Okonkwo
Home: Okonkwo was born in Nigeria, but grew up in East Sussex, England.
Education: She completed her Master of Science at The University of Manchester in 2011.
Previous work experience: She is an Environmental Social Governance (ESG) specialist who has worked with a variety of organizations, including the United Nations and an e-commerce company that built businesses in developing countries.
Future goals: Okonkwo said she wanted to pursue an MBA to learn more about finance and business. She hopes to later work for a bank or consulting company that focuses on ESG.