By Kara Sherrer
This fall, students at Vanderbilt Business will have the opportunity to enroll in two new courses that will address issues of structural racism and workplace diversity. “Strategic Business Solutions to Address Structural Racism” will be taught by Mark Cohen, Justin Potter Professor of American Competitive Enterprise, and “Diversity in Organizations” will be taught by María del Carmen Triana, Professor of Management.
Professor Cohen’s research focuses on ethics and social responsibility as well as strategy and business economics. His extensive career in academia and the private and public sectors has seen him publish over 100 articles and books on a wide variety of topics, serve in several capacities within the Federal Government, and consult with major corporations. “Strategic Business Solutions to Address Structural Racism” will examine the impact of business on minority communities, exploring the extent to which standard management practices are both part of the problem and the potential solution to structural racism.
The class will start with a brief overview of racial discrimination in the U.S. and provide historical context for understanding how outright discrimination might have evolved into more subtle structural racism by institutions, including business. Next, a framework will be developed to understand the economics behind organizational structures and business practices that foster disparate treatment of minorities — as well as those that foster equal treatment. Focused on economic incentives, organizational design, and corporate strategy, this framework will not only help explain the problem, it will allow for exploration of potential solutions. Case studies will include particular industries and business disciplines where structural racism has been found.
Professor Cohen points to recent corporate events that demonstrate how businesses policies and dynamics can lead to racism, intentionally or not — for example, AirBnB was called out when it was discovered that hosts were less willing to rent to minority customers despite the company’s policy of non-discrimination.
“From the corporate perspective, one might argue that none of these incidents was intentional or even encouraged; yet the organizations were held responsible in the court – or the court of public opinion,” he said. “Moreover, well-designed corporate strategies could have prevented many of these incidents from occurring — and perhaps more importantly, strategic decisions of corporations may ultimately play a positive role in alleviating structural racism while enhancing profitability.”
Professor Triana has over 20 years of work experience in human resource management as a practitioner and researcher. She recently joined Owen after spending 12 years at University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she was a professor and held the Kuechenmeister-Bascom Professorship in Business. Professor Triana’s research interests include diversity and discrimination in organizations, and she is the author of Managing Diversity in Organizations: A Global Perspective (Routledge). She has published extensively in the areas of diversity and inclusion, discrimination in organizations, and human resources. Prior to joining academia, she worked for Intel Corporation in the areas of human resources information systems, payroll, benefits, and expatriate management.
The new class on “Diversity in Organizations” will equip students with a thorough understanding of the advantages and challenges presented by workplace diversity and suggest techniques to manage effectively and maximize the benefits of diversity.
The goal is for students to be at the forefront of knowledge about diversity in organizations to enable them to make intellectual contributions in this area and lead diverse organizations in the future. The course will enable students to understand differences and bias, assess their own implicit biases, and understand how and why bias can be institutionalized. This knowledge will empower students to be agents of change (not bystanders) in future contexts they encounter where such change may be necessary.
The course will also offer a comprehensive survey of demographic groups and an analysis of their history, allowing students to develop a thorough understanding of the dimensions of diversity. From this foundation, students will engage in discussions about effectively managing diversity on the basis of race, sex, LGBTQ, religion, age, ability, national origin, and intersectionality in organizations and about issues various groups face, including discrimination. By the end of this course, students should be able to 1) define many important terms associated with diversity in organizations, 2) know about major theories used in diversity research to understand diversity in organizations, 3) apply these theories to replicate diversity successes, diagnose diversity challenges, and make informed decisions to manage diversity well, and 4) be able to connect historical context to current impact for various demographics.
“The course provides practical insight into subconscious/implicit bias and diversity management in the United States and abroad. This is a helpful class for anyone who plans to be a future team member, manager, entrepreneur, or HR professional,” Triana said.
For information about courses available at Vanderbilt Business School, please visit the curriculum page.