Breaking Barriers: Now and in the future

As the University of Delaware’s Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics celebrates the 100-year anniversary of business education at UD, the Breaking Barriers blog series has told the stories of the first individuals from underrepresented groups to join the Lerner College in key roles.

Earlier this year, the Breaking Barriers series shared the stories of Dana Johnson, the Lerner College’s first female dean, and William Majett Jr., who graduated from Lerner in 1965 as UD’s first African-American business graduate.

In this article, we focus on some of the people and organizations that are currently working to promote and develop diversity, equity and inclusion at the Lerner College. These individuals and groups are helping Lerner Blue Hens to continue to break barriers now and in the future.

“The Lerner College is committed to preparing all our students to work in a business environment that recognizes the strength of diversity in the workforce,” said Lerner Deputy Dean Sheryl Kline. “Our faculty members are thought leaders in the areas of diversity and inclusion in business. Their research is making a difference in how we lead and manage employees in the U.S. and abroad.”

In the time since Majett’s and Johnson’s years at the Lerner College, numerous student groups that provide community and support for a diverse range of students have joined the college, including:

  • Association for Latino Professionals in Finance and Accounting
  • Lerner International Student Association
  • National Association of Black Accountants
  • National Society of Minorities of Hospitality
  • Women in Business

As the Lerner College works to achieve a number of goals related to diversity and inclusion, it has recently launched two initiatives dedicated to promoting diversity, equity and inclusion on campus, the Lerner Diversity Council (LDC) and the Lerner Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI).

Lerner Diversity Council

The LDC is a coalition of Lerner faculty, students and alumni that supports equality, tolerance, diversity and respect across Lerner. The Lerner College celebrated LDC’s beginnings in December 2016 with a LDC launch celebration.

At the event, Jennifer Joe, Whitney Family Professor of Accounting and Lerner’s chief diversity advocate, called the launch party a “leap of faith,” as the council had no way to gauge the college’s initial level of excitement about the LDC.

That leap of faith paid off, as the event was sold out with a waiting list. Lerner faculty, staff and students from 16 states and 12 countries packed the house at the event.

Since then, the LDC has hosted numerous educational events for the Lerner community. These include regular “lunch-and-learn” events on key issues, like a lunch-and-learn on diversity featuring professionals from PriceWaterhouseCoopers and one on military veterans in the community featuring student startup Reviresco.

“The Lerner Diversity Council has made tremendous strides in just one year,” Joe said. “We have hosted lunch-and-learn events that have attracted corporate interest with hundreds of students, faculty and staff attending. We have raised funds through private philanthropy in support of scholarships for underrepresented students, and we have begun to introduce a greater understanding and culture of diversity in the college.”

In terms of short-term goals for the future, Joe said, the LDC will focus on raising funds for student scholarships and increasing awareness and support of the LDC within the Lerner and UD communities.

Long-term goals, Joe added, include increasing the recruitment, retainment and graduation rates of underrepresented students at Lerner, educating all Lerner students, faculty and staff on the value of a diverse college and workforce through extensive programming, and potentially the establishment of a named center within the college.

“I would like to see a Lerner College that is more representative of the professional workforce,” Joe said. “Our gender balance is close to 50/50, but women are gravitating toward certain majors and are underrepresented in areas like finance and economics.

“Our underrepresented minority population is only 11 percent, slightly below the UD percentage campus-wide, but certainly not on target with what our workforce looks like,” Joe continued. “I’d like to see these things change and provide a classroom experience that mirrors what we are preparing students for in their future: people of different ethnicities, gender, race, sexual orientation, etc., who all come together to work toward common goals.”

Women’s Leadership Initiative

Created in 2017, the WLI focuses its efforts on learning opportunities for female and male students, networking opportunities for students and professionals, and advocating for women’s leadership and gender equity at UD and in society.

As part of the WLI, Lerner faculty leaders Amanda Bullough and Wendy Smith also host the Lerner Women’s Leadership Forum, which aims to help talented women achieve their aspirations in the C-suite, as visionaries and in leadership positions.

“Because of the Leadership Forum, I am now able to assert myself in a way that allows my authentic personality to shine through,” wrote Kei-Shanda D. Saddler, a member of the forum’s first cohort of participants. “I could not have accomplished this without all of you phenomenal facilitators and women. I am now on track and reaching for the stars.”

“In its infancy, the Women’s Leadership Initiative has already accomplished ongoing dialogue with alumni and organizational leaders, student engagement and awareness, employer connections and opportunities for students,” Bullough said, “as well as recognition of the initiative and our efforts across campus, including collaboration with the UD Provost’s Office, UD ADVANCE, the Women in Business student club at Lerner, the Women and Gender Studies Department, and more. There’s real buzz on the topic of women’s leadership and gender equity, and interest in what we’re trying to accomplish.”

The WLI has hosted numerous events in the Lerner College, like November’s Women’s Careers & Leadership Panel & Networking Event. This event brought numerous professionals and experts to Lerner to discuss ways to promote women’s leadership and female professionals.

“We are fortunate to have a very supportive Lerner Blue Hen alumni network,” Kline said, “which continues to mentor our students and provide support for the many programs created by the WLI.”

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