Published: April 25, 2022

 Leeds is building a pipeline of leaders who will change the face of business.

Business panelists
Time and again, studies have shown that companies driven by diverse leadership teams are more likely to outperform their less diverse peers on profitability. Diverse perspectives foster innovation, creativity and empathy in ways that homogenous teams do not. The same can be said for business schools.

Diversity of thought is absolutely essential, say leaders of the graduate programs at Leeds School of Business, to the quality of education students receive. Leeds not only welcomes diversity—it thrives on it. And although just under 25% of the student body is diverse, the program continues to grow in representation.

“The future workforce is a diverse workforce. We want our student body to reflect this diversity as well,” said Kristi Ryujin, associate dean of graduate programs & special assistant to the dean for faculty diversity, equity and inclusion.

This spring, Leeds’ Graduate Programs Office launched its inaugural event for prospective and admitted diverse graduate students, “Transforming Business: Connecting Diverse Scholars.” It was an immersive day of rich content and connections with diverse faculty, classmates, alumni, corporate partners and board members—a special opportunity for attendees to get to know their future community.

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“DEI isn’t just the latest trend for Leeds.”

Ellen Balauger, emeritus chair, Leeds Advisory Board

Attendees enjoyed a TED Talk on “Diversity Within the Workforce: New Expectations, New Opportunities”; conversations on DEI with industry leaders from Accenture, Ball Corp., KeyBank, McKinsey & Co. and Medtronic; interactive sessions with Leeds’ world-class faculty; and a deep dive into Leeds’ graduate programs.

Meet a diversity advocate

The event wouldn’t have been possible without the generosity of Ellen Balaguer, a champion of DEI efforts at Leeds who established the Mel and Marcy Balaguer Scholarship, that gives economically and socially disadvantaged students the opportunity to get a high-quality business education. In addition, her gift provides funding for programming and activities in support of diverse graduate students, including this event.

“DEI isn’t just the latest trend for Leeds—twenty-one years ago when Michael Leeds named the school, he envisioned ethics and inclusion built into the DNA of the business school,” said Balaguer.

A retired global managing director at Accenture, she serves as an emeritus chair on the Leeds Advisory Board and has earned the Leeds Distinguished Alumni and Service Award in recognition for her service to the school.

Ellen named the scholarship for her parents who endured hardships and sacrifices to send her (and her brothers) to college; she hopes to give the same opportunity to others.

The ‘only’ way to be

Both faculty and alumnae speakers offered food for thought on identity in the workplace. PhD instructor of communications Salma Shukri suggested strategies for diverse employees in the business world. “Find power in being the ‘only’—the only person in the room with a different perspective,” she said.

Nana Yaa Asante-Darko, alumna of the MS Finance program, shared with attendees, “I came to Leeds to find something different,” she said. “All of me was wanted. All of what I think. As a woman in business, it’s important to bring who you are…You have to consciously decide you’re allowed the same as every other individual.”

Leeds’ corporate partner John Min, a managing director at Accenture, reinforced the importance of strength in your identity: “Know who you are; stand for something.”

What graceful leaders do

Medford Moore, manager of diversity and inclusion at Ball Corp., observed that we live in a culture that too quickly ‘cancels’ people who make mistakes. His leadership style prescribes offering grace instead.

Rupal Ayer, senior director of strategy & customer success at Medtronic, said the best leaders possess skills of empathy, communication and accountability. “I flip the org chart,” he explained, “and I’m at the bottom. My job is to support those above me.”

Ryujin strives to offer similar support for diverse students.

“My hope is that attendees were able to sample what the Leeds experience is like for a diverse student,” said Ryujin. “We want to create a pipeline of talented, diverse professionals who will change the business world, and these prospective students are the ones to do it. I hope they felt our commitment to their success.”