Black in Business: Leveraging momentum and looking ahead

A year after the founding of Black in Business at London Business School, Tabria Lenard and Cole Agbede, the club Co-Presidents, sit down to discuss and reflect on some of the challenges and successes in both the club, the broader school community, and society at large. They are joined by Jean-Pierre Benoît, Professor of Economics at London Business School.

The year in retrospect

In reflecting on their early efforts to get the club set up in the wake of George Floyd’s murder last year, Tabria recalls the many challenges that she and Cole experienced, as well as the tremendous support from the schools’ various internal bodies. Cole highlights the surge in support from all corners of the school’s administration following the club’s establishment, which he found surprising given the challenges facing new student clubs. He also points to what the landscape looked like pre-BLM and the hope that these past twelve months are not just a one-off. Momentum is tough to gain and easy to lose, and one of the fears is that the progress gained could be quickly lost. Running with that idea, Jean-Pierre (JP) mentions the inequality, racism, and discrimination against people of colour is not new, despite this current outpouring of support. Educational establishments specifically, have known for a while that changes are required to facilitate a higher level of diversity at both the faculty and student level, and this past year has provided renewed impetus to push forward on a multitude of these initiatives. 

How much progress has been made?

More broadly, the number of companies that committed to certain initiatives or monetary sums to support and rectify inequality was substantial. However, as Tabria mentions, the reality is that few of those companies followed through with those commitments. Historically, changing legislation was the simple part (relative to correcting the massive inequality and societal discrimination; Jean-Pierre references Dr Martin Luther King Jr.’s efforts as a prime example. Tabria and Cole are hopefully, both for the future of the club, but also the future of black prosperity. JP highlights that the hopefulness shown recently must be driven and maintained by the younger generation, as they are less prone to cynicism due to past experiences. It is now easier to organize, and push for progress, given our ever-increasing connectivity; this is true for clubs and communities. As Cole points out, when he was growing up in the UK, people did not want to acknowledge that racial inequality existed. That is changing, but slowly. Society is waking up to the reality that racism is prevalent in the everyday lives of black citizens, but there is still much to be done.

London Business School’s role

Focusing on LBS’s involvement, Tabria asks what role faculty should play in the school’s efforts to support progress. JP highlights three levels of involvement that need to be the focus of the school’s efforts:

  1. Laser focus on creating an inclusive and supportive environment for all students
  2. Ensuring that recruitment and hiring reflect society and not just the privileged
  3. To remain true to the school’s motto: to have a profound impact on the way the world does business and the way business impacts the world.

JP also firmly points out that meritocratic ideals in MBA admissions are flawed, as people of colour are often not provided the same opportunities to succeed from a young age. The focus needs to shift towards diversity, potential, and opportunity taking priority.

The role of private enterprise

The responsibility of carrying forward the momentum of this past year is not exclusive to the government or academic institutions and will be fundamentally influenced by private companies. Their efforts and initiatives will drive most of the change that needs to happen. Cole highlights his summer internship at Bank of America where within the first couple weeks, the CEO spoke to the interns and highlighted their action plan for increasing diversity and inclusion of black employees and interns in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. He says this creates the opportunity to have important discussions around race and inequality and facilitates the impact and progress that needs to happen. Tabria has also noticed a shift in how conversations are taking place, the willingness of organizations to admit the shortcomings in their hiring and diversity practices, and the bluntness in which they are trying to address them.

What is the 10-year Goal?

Fundamentally the perpetual goal is to continue with the momentum achieved in the last year and build on the progress and inroads made. Tabria makes clear that there is a long way to go before anything nearing equality can even be contemplated. The disparity in wealth remains extreme between black and white households around the world, specifically in the US and the UK, and that realization needs to be continually reinforced for progress to continue. In sum, engagement is the key to future success. Joining the conversation and educating oneself on the realities of racism and inequality in communities and society at large will go a long way in maintaining the awareness and impact already achieved.

The Black in Business Club at London Business School aims to cultivate an environment that promotes the representation, well-being, and advancement of Black professionals in business. BiB will serve as a cultural foundation and network for Black students (past, present, and future) and their allies. The club is the ultimate conduit for the Black Inclusion Network and facilitator of ongoing discussion between LBS and students for a way forward on racial equality.

Zachary Day (MBA2021) is the Co-President of the Military in Business club at London Business School. Prior to his studies, he was an officer in the Canadian Armed Forces where he served in various operational and strategic roles from 2015-2019. Zachary is an intern for the Wheeler Institute, contributing to the creation of content that amplifies the role of business in improving lives.

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