When it comes to diversity among its business leaders, Indianapolis is behind the curve. Among senior-level leaders in the city, only 4.4% are Black and 1.7% identify as Hispanic, according to a 2018 EEOC report. Cities capable of attracting highly skilled and diverse employees ultimately become ideal locations for companies looking to expand.
“Communities thrive when women and professionals of color are well represented in the business community, and they attract more talent from around the country, particularly among the Millennial and Gen Z generations who value diverse leadership,” said Charlotte Westerhaus-Renfrow, clinical assistant professor of business law and management at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business. “Cities with greater diversity in business leadership attract innovative, successful companies as well as global talent. They’re also attractive to international companies. Simply put, having diversity in the room drives and enhances innovation.”
The Kelley School of Business at IUPUI is partnering with Marian University—Indianapolis in a new program to address this issue directly. The Diversity in Leadership (DIL) program is building a pipeline of highly qualified, diverse talent to lead in senior-level leadership positions in the public, private, non-profit and service sectors throughout Indiana. By offering a six-month curriculum of five business courses, networking and career support, DIL aims to transform passionate, talented and underutilized women and ethnic minorities into leaders across the region.
“I decided to participate in the DIL program to help improve and develop my leadership skills to advance my career,” said Lambert Barnes, an accountant for Defense Finance and Accounting Service and member of the first cohort of DIL participants. “Individuals are often passed over for jobs because they lack leadership experience, but you cannot gain more experience if no one takes a chance on you. I also aspire to complete an MBA program, and after years working, DIL offers the opportunity to build skills while exploring the MBA offerings at multiple Indiana universities.”
DIL programming is offered through a partnership with Marian University Byrum School of Business, IU Kelley School of Business, Butler University Lacy School of Business, University of Notre Dame Mendoza College of Business and Purdue University Krannert School of Management. Each school leads a weekend course around topics such as business analytics, leadership communication, accounting and finance, organizational strategy and leading organizational change.
Westerhaus-Renfrow led the leadership communication courses, which include interpersonal communications, negotiations, conflict resolution and intercultural competencies.
“When you are the only woman or person of color in the room, you have to break through unintentional biases or imposter syndrome,” she said. “Many high-achieving women and professionals of color sometimes doubt themselves and their qualifications simply due to societal stereotypes. This program empowers them as leaders by equipping them with all the various components we’re introducing through the coursework.”
“The lessons are amazing and engaging,” added Barnes. “The exercises really allow us to be open and explore our communication on a personal level. From this module, we learned a great deal about verbal and non-verbal communication when interacting with various colleagues, from senior management to employees.”
The weekly takeaways from DIL are designed to be directly applicable to the careers of the 20 participants in the cohort. Through five months of ongoing training, the participants strengthen their capabilities and executive mindsets through exercises, coursework and stretch projects; using these tools to improve their workplace when they return on Monday. They are also engaging and working closely with one another.
“My greatest takeaways from the program are tied to the people I’ve met. I did not realize there are so many faculty members at these universities who are so passionate about the mission of this program. Seeing the way each of them prioritizes DEI has been truly encouraging,” said Oluwatimilehin Olumolade, a senior analyst at Eli Lilly and Company. “The other takeaway is from the cohort. There is so much talent and ambition in our group — and this is not even a fraction of the talent that exists in the city of Indianapolis. As someone who has had the opportunity to play a role in several of my company’s diverse recruiting efforts, this really excites me.”
Spread out over the course of six months, the weekend programming is split into academic coursework and professional development. This leaves time for reflection and incorporation of the new skills and perspectives participants gain at each session with a new business school.
“These sessions have really caused me to take a step back and think about how we are approaching some of the major work we’re conducting in my office,” said Olumolade. “I think there is a tendency to stick to the status quo, but the organizational strategy course gave me valuable tools to truly take a critical look at some of the approaches I have supported and assess their long-term value. I’ve also become much more conscious of the way I communicate with those around me, whether it is encouraging my direct reports, engaging my partners or talking with senior colleagues.”
As part of the program, each business school introduces the high-achieving participants to their MBA programs, offering a pipeline to higher degree attainment and wider business networks.
“The Kelley School of Business has a major footprint in impacting the economic growth of this region,” said Westerhaus-Renfrow. “Collectively, we produce the majority of MBAs in Central Indiana, and we offer top-notch faculty, facilities and national recognition. And we’re still growing.”
“If you’re interested in completing a post-graduate degree program, participating in DIL is immensely beneficial,” said Barnes. “You get an intimate inside look at the top graduate programs in the state, and you have the opportunity to learn from professors of those programs with a meaningful network of fellow participants.”