Corporations have long hired employees for their essential business skills in areas like marketing, finance, and operations. They have also hired for essential interpersonal skills like teamwork, time management, and critical thinking. Today, another essential business skill is in high demand: inclusive leadership.
The Wisconsin School of Business is responding to this industry demand, partnering with corporations to develop trusted leaders who have inclusive mindsets, value diversity, and foster equity.
“Just like any other business discipline, inclusive leadership is a skill that can be learned, practiced, and developed,” says Binnu Palta Hill, chief diversity and inclusion officer for WSB. “The Wisconsin School of Business is emerging as a thought leader with its holistic approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion that has been shaped through blending existing research with best practices from corporate partners.”
Corporate partners are valuable supporters of WSB’s commitment to inclusive leadership, investing in the school’s multi-faceted DEI strategy and providing opportunities for students, faculty, and staff to develop their capacity for inclusive leadership.
“We have seen corporate interest in supporting our DEI efforts increase more than in any other area,” says Vallabh “Samba” Sambamurthy, WSB’s Albert O. Nicholas Dean. “There is a clear demand and objective need for developing inclusive leaders.”
Laying the foundation
WSB’s early initiatives around DEI were supported by Ernst & Young (EY) who, nearly a decade ago, made investments in student scholarships and global mindset programming. As an established corporate leader in DEI, EY partnered with WSB to integrate global mindset programming into the school’s curriculum. Students learn the individual qualities, communication skills, and actionable knowledge that empowers leaders to partner with individuals, groups, and organizations with multicultural considerations.
“At EY, diversity and inclusion are embedded in our culture and we know that inclusive leadership benefits our people, our clients, and our communities,” says Brian Kennedy, assurance partner at EY. “We saw that early investments in helping students understand global mindset has led to more inclusive thinking and more inclusive business leaders.”
Since 2013, more than 6,000 undergraduate students have graduated with core courses that include global mindset content or learning outcomes.
EY has also been a long-time supporter of WSB’s commitment to diversifying its student body, funding the EY Global Mindset scholarship for students from underrepresented populations. This partnership between EY and WSB opened the door for other corporate investments in innovative initiatives such as Business Emerging Leaders (BEL).
BEL scholars benefit from corporate involvement
Launched in 2015, the donor-funded BEL Program is a pre-college program for high-achieving high school students from underrepresented backgrounds. Students spend a portion of their summers during high school with WSB, taking courses, gaining leadership skills, and exploring career pathways. BEL students who are admitted to UW–Madison and major in business are then granted a scholarship for four years of attendance.
The opportunity for students to engage with corporate partners is a key component of the BEL experience. More than 20 companies have participated in hosting on-site visits in Minneapolis, Chicago, Milwaukee, and Madison, or have been guest speakers at WSB. American Family Insurance provides BEL students with an immersive “micro-internship/job shadow” experience where students explore different business units over the course of multiple visits. These hands-on, real-world opportunities give students a chance to envision themselves as future leaders in any industry.
“Corporate support of initiatives like BEL has been integral to creating equity of opportunities for our students,” says Jim Franzone, assistant dean of WSB’s undergraduate program. “We want all students to feel a sense of belonging and support in the school and beyond.”
The BEL program marked a major milestone in Spring 2022—with the first BEL scholars receiving their undergraduate degrees from WSB. These 17 graduates now enter the corporate world with foundational business skills, real-world experience, and an inclusive mindset.
Corporate engagement expands impact
In recent years, WSB has expanded and developed new corporate partnerships in support of DEI initiatives and inclusive leadership programming. Baird recently deepened its longstanding relationship with WSB by establishing a new scholarship program called Baird Scholars. In its inaugural year, Baird Scholars offered four-year financial scholarships to 11 students from groups traditionally underrepresented in business. The program aims to prepare them for a profession in wealth management, a historically white and male-dominated career path. Scholarship recipients also have access to a summer internship at Baird, professional mentoring, and the opportunity to study and sit for the Securities Industries Essentials Exam.
“At Baird, we see the importance of these educational investments to ensure students of all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds have equal access to this curriculum,” says Ashley Price, diversity and recruiting manager for Baird’s private wealth management business. “We believe that the best advice comes from diverse, multi-generational teams of financial advisors, and this program is an early investment to help us continue to add talent in support of our clients.”
In 2021, WSB received a five-year, $900,000 commitment from The Kemper Foundation to champion diversity and inclusion efforts within the school. The donation funds the Kemper Scholars Program, a new scholarship program for WSB undergraduate students from underrepresented populations who are studying risk management and insurance, actuarial science, finance, accounting and information systems, and other business disciplines.
The donation also supports the new Kemper Foundation Multicultural Directorship position for the WSB Multicultural Center. Arturo “Tito” Diaz (BS ’15), who was named Kemper Foundation Multicultural Director last fall, oversees programming, promotion, and student engagement opportunities within the Multicultural Center, and will work with the annual cohort of Kemper Scholars to foster community building and networking.
“The Kemper Foundation is committed to developing the next generation of diverse leaders, and that starts with helping provide access to education that inspires and empowers students to achieve their full potential,” says Barbara Ciesemier, president at The Kemper Foundation. “It also means building long-term relationships with leading academic institutions like WSB to elevate their DEI programs and initiatives.”
Corporate partnerships play an integral role in WSB’s multi-pronged DEI strategy, which prioritizes the development of inclusive leadership skills across the entire school community. In addition to scholarship support and curricular investments, WSB is bringing in faculty whose research focuses on inclusive leadership and offers DEI-skill building for staff, faculty, and students.
“Thanks in large part to the leadership and investment shown by our corporate partners, WSB is earning a reputation as a school that develops inclusive leaders,” says Sambamurthy. “Recognizing that there is always work to be done, we look forward to partnering with the best minds across disciplines to continue building a model for inclusive leadership that helps the future of business not just succeed, but flourish.”
Campaign Yields First Investments in DEI
The All Ways Forward campaign ushered in significant new investments to support WSB’s strategic goals around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Corporate partners became early investors in the school’s DEI programmatic initiatives, while individual donors stepped forward to enable much-needed scholarship support.
WSB launched the Business Emerging Leaders (BEL) pre-college program early in the campaign thanks to donors who supported efforts to grow the diversity of WSB’s student body and help top-performing high school students start their path toward a business career. Additional philanthropic investments in student scholarships have positioned WSB to attract and retain students from underrepresented populations, and develop programming that fosters inclusive leadership skills among the entire WSB community.