On a mission to increase diversity and inclusion awareness at Ross

October 26, 2017

Shaping the future

As Michigan Ross defines the future of business education, current students chart the future of business.

Ariana Almas, +LAB fellow

When Ariana Almas, MBA ’18, first arrived at Michigan Ross, she knew diversity and inclusion would be one of her passions. As a business student with a concentration in HR management and an interest in social justice, Almas is an advocate for people. Coming from a nonprofit background, she spent several years in workforce development, helping low-income and minority young adults successfully find employment. Although she enjoyed working in the nonprofit industry, the New Jersey native decided to shift these skills to the corporate world.

“Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) has always been a passion of mine, and I saw business school as an opportunity to address it from the other side,” says Almas.

This past academic year, Almas served as the co-chair of Ross Diversity Week with classmate Caitlin Cordell, where they helped to create and facilitate programming that focused on diversity and inclusion issues, including workshops, presentations, and keynote speakers. The theme was “Empathy and Action,” zeroing in on how the two ideas can help academically, professionally, and personally. One session she facilitated was a design thinking workshop, where several Ross faculty shared the challenges and opportunities they encountered introducing diversity into the curriculum. She also partnered with Out for Business for the annual MBgAy event, the Design+Business Club and the Sanger Leadership Center for their StoryLab session, the Center for Positive Organizations on their anti-racism workshop, and a fellow MBA student to create a fireside chat about tackling Islamophobia.

Through her work, Almas wants to illustrate that diversity is not just a buzzword, but a concept that groups and companies should address and implement to improve employee productivity and profit. She says including the thoughts and ideals of all individuals is vital to any organization.

“Business plays such an important role in shaping our society and we have a responsibility and moral obligation to think about things like DEI, positive organizational scholarship, and social impact,” says Almas. “There’s been so much research that suggests these elements, specifically DEI, affect the bottom line, so this matters.”

While strides have been made, Almas acknowledges the challenges she faces in addressing DEI issues. Some common misconceptions, for example, are that DEI is designed to only serve women or minority groups, that people expect change instantly, and that they often think equity and equality are interchangeable. She also mentions another major one—our view of inclusion, which is often seen through a Western lens.

“DEI in the U.S. has been taught from a western historical perspective, but this is also a global matter and we have to approach it as such.”

“At Ross, over 30 percent of our student population is international, so we have to explore ways to ensure their perspectives, experiences, and ideas are included too.”

Despite the challenges, Almas believes Ross students, faculty, staff, and specifically alumni have the opportunity to continue moving the needle in the right direction.

“Many of our alumni hold positions of power where they can make change and be advocates for inclusion,” says Almas. “Their feedback, mentorship, and understanding of the current student experience will be instrumental in determining the direction we go as a school.”

Almas is continuing her DEI work this academic year, serving as vice president of diversity, equity, and inclusion for the MBA Council (formerly Student Government Association). In this role, she will continue being an advocate and help implement various DEI-related initiatives and programs at Ross.

“There is definitely a need for serving the current student body. We have a lot of great programming and structures put in place to execute that,” says Almas. “The University of Michigan has a five-year strategic plan for DEI and Ross is following the lead on that. I’m looking forward to seeing the DEI committee further build Ross’ capacity to prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion now and in the long term.”

by Brittany Smith

This article was originally published in the fall 2017 Michigan Ross Dividend Magazine.