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Advice for putting equity and inclusion into practice

Feb 23, 2022

Black History Month panel, L-r: Paul Okundaye, Abiola Lovell, Mathieu Ruffe, and Divine Nwaokocha (1)

L-r: Paul Okundaye, Abiola Lovell, Mathieu Ruffe, and Divine Nwaokocha.

When Black man George Floyd died as a result of police brutality in May 2020, it sparked a global racial reckoning and a wake-up call for society to commit to Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) practices and values. The next step is to keep the momentum going.

At a Black History Month virtual event called Equity and Inclusion in Practice, Black Ivey alumni and student panellists called for ongoing recognition of the value that inclusive cultures bring.

“It’s not one month. It’s not one day. Let’s celebrate diversity,” said Abiola Lovell, EMBA '19. “I personally would like to see it as part of the leadership track. EDI is part of leadership – how we engage our leaders and how we prepare them to enter the workforce or make them better. And for those of us who are already in leadership positions, how can we enhance how we interact and how we lead, and be considerate of others?”

Lovell, Principal Consultant at A. Rankin Consulting Inc., was one of four speakers and discussed her experiences as a Black woman at Ivey, what’s needed to shift corporate culture toward inclusivity, and advice for young Black professionals. The panel also included Paul Okundaye, HBA '19, Senior Associate Consultant at Bain & Company; Mathieu Ruffe, an MBA '22 candidate and founding President of the MBA BIPOC Club at Ivey; and Divine Nwaokocha, an HBA ’23 candidate and Co-President of the Black Students at Ivey Collective. Hosted by Ivey’s Culture and Inclusion team, the discussion was moderated by Ladan Mowlid, Senior EDI Associate.

All panellists told how their time at Ivey was formative, but sometimes lonely given the low percentage of Black students. And it’s a similar experience in the workforce where Black colleagues are often under-represented, especially in leadership positions. They urged business schools and organizations to be more intentional in recruiting Black candidates and to create support systems, such as mentorship and sponsorship programs, to help Black candidates to succeed.

“You have access and then you have inclusion. And I feel [inclusion] is a big piece,” said Ruffe. “It's not only about having more Black students, but how do we help them to perform at their best?”

Community matters

Creating an inclusive environment in educational institutions means looking at the entire experience for Black candidates – from admissions requirements to networking activities – and ensuring there is a strategy for addressing racial inequities. Building a community is a key part of that support.

Although Ruffe said he is pleased with the diversity in his MBA class, he saw a need for support to help historically underrepresented students to build community at Ivey. He and classmate, Katie Lo, created the Ivey MBA BIPOC Club last year to help all racialized student groups at Ivey to integrate, build their networks, and find a sense of community.

Similarly, Okundaye co-founded the Black Students at Ivey Collective (BSIC) in 2019; along with Sakariya Ahmed, HBA ’19, and Shoshauna Oryema, HBA ’20. BSIC supports Black students across Ivey’s programs by providing a safe space for them to connect and receive mentorship. It also acts as a bridge and communication point between Black students and Ivey’s administration to ensure that the institution is continuously involving primary stakeholders as we move forward as a community.

“Listening to students can go a long way,” said Nwaokocha, who is Co-President of BSIC. “I think often when trying to launch EDI initiatives, you have school administrations racking their brains figuring out what they should do and often they are not in a position to address and to identify where the shortfalls are. And the students are in this position, particularly students of colour.”

Okundaye said the impetus behind creating BSIC was to create institutional change at Ivey. One of BSIC’s first steps was to prepare a report outlining many of the issues that Black students had identified. During the past two years, BSIC has continued to work with the School on the creation and implementation of an EDI action plan. Okundaye said the partnership is key because, while students may understand the issues, the administration has a better sense of what will work in practice.

Move beyond the diversity quota

While Okundaye said there’s still a lot of work to be done, he’s encouraged by the progress at Ivey and some other organizations’ initiatives. One is the BlackNorth Initiative, a program that asks corporate leaders across Canada to pledge their organizations to policies and specific targets to eradicate racism. Another is the creation of a mentorship program at Bain & Company to support Black employees. When Okundaye started at Bain in 2019, he was the only Black man in the Toronto office. The racial diversity at Bain has since increased and, throughout that process, he has been able to build a meaningful relationship with his mentor.

He said hiring more Black candidates isn’t enough. Organizations need to make sure Black employees have equal access to opportunities.

“After everything that happened in 2020, I think there was a big movement from businesses to get more Black individuals as part of their organizations, but I feel like I've seen less effort in making those individuals more successful, or at least as successful as their peers, and providing them with the same opportunities,” he said.

The power of allyship

Okundaye encouraged young Black professionals to find people who can offer support and create ally groups.

“When you get into the space, even if you are the only Black person there, number one think about how can you find your tribe – how can you find your support system. They [your supporters] don’t have to be Black… There are people who mean well for you and can support you,” he said. “Then, number two, how can you be intentional about lobbying your senior leadership to create an ally group? How can we figure out who are the people who want to roll up their sleeves and do the work and then you can really optimize the amount of your impact by ideating the work that needs to be done?”

Okundaye has been active in recruiting Black candidates at Bain. Likewise Lovell has volunteered her time mentoring Black women. And although such efforts are important for opening doors for others, Lovell said you can’t be afraid to be first.

“Do not turn down an opportunity because someone does not look like you. You really want to ask all the right questions at the interview: What type of initiatives do you have? What type of support systems? What does my progression in leadership look like,” she said. “You might be the one who breaks barriers and ensures the system is set up so you can succeed … If someone doesn’t look like you, it’s probably time to go in and make the change.”

Ruffe said allyship was the inspiration for the BIPOC Club and is a critical tool for moving the dial on diversity and inclusion because it takes everyone working together to create meaningful change.

“As much as we need to make sure that we are not out of the conversation, we also need to include other people [allies] in that conversation,” he said. “We need to have a collective, we need to include other people [allies] in the conversation, if we want to make real change."