At Georgia Tech’s Scheller College of Business, Drew Harvill is both an MBA student and Senior Academic Program Manager for the school’s evening MBA program. This gave him a unique perspective on Forté’s Inclusive Leadership: Allies for Gender Equity program, a five-part training designed to give business leaders the knowledge and tools to take effective action on gender equity.
Drew enrolled in Scheller’s evening MBA program in January 2022, and quickly bonded with the Scheller staff. He already had a Master’s degree in higher education administration and a decade of experience in the field, so when a job opened up at Scheller, they encouraged him to apply, and he was hired.
A few months later, an assistant dean at Scheller — a previous Inclusive Leadership participant — recommended the program to Drew, and he registered for the Fall 2022 cohort. Drew recently spoke with Forté about how the program benefited him both in his work with Scheller and as an MBA student himself.
When the program began, he got to know the other members of his cohort, who worked at different levels in different types of companies. He appreciated the diversity of perspectives, and says, “What makes the program impactful is the experiences the participants bring with them — being able to hear each other’s stories and exchange ideas.”
During the Inclusive Leadership program, Forté invited a panel of women-identifying leaders to discuss some of the challenges they’d faced on the job. Drew recalls that before the panel started, Forté made a point of saying, “We’re not going to be recording this, because we want the panelists to be able to be as authentic and transparent as they feel inclined to be.”
He found that a good reminder, and noted, “As someone who has many privileged identities, it’s easy to forget that there are still many places where questioning how things are done, or sharing your thoughts on a matter in an authentic and fully vulnerable way, can have very real consequences.”
Bringing What He Learned Back to Work
One of Drew’s biggest takeaways from the Inclusive Leadership program was about how challenging it can be for women and people from other underrepresented populations to be the only one like them in a professional setting. He recalls, “That ended up having direct immediate impact for me and my work.”
At Scheller, there are historically fewer women than men in the full-time and evening MBA programs, so when students are divided into teams, the school had previously made an effort to ensure there was at least one woman on each team. The Forté program helped Drew understand that this may not always be the best approach. He explains, “Even though it might be a learning experience for the other members of their team, the women were going to be the ‘only’ in that environment,” making it more likely that they’d be seen not as individuals, but as a monolithic representation of all women in the workplace, as well as potentially exacerbating factors that make it harder for women to be authentic and vulnerable in team settings.
Drew adds, “I took the resources provided by the facilitators to my boss to say, ‘We should rethink how we create groups, and how we’re thinking about diversity and representation in those spaces, to maximize impact, and not disproportionately place an undue burden on underrepresented minorities, including women.’”
Allyship as an MBA Student
The Inclusive Leadership program also inspired Drew to be more intentional about how he interacts with other students in his MBA classes. He makes an effort to hold space for women, and says, “I’m trying to make sure that I’m not the first to raise my hand or jump into discussion.”
With the goal of being “quick to listen, slow to judge,” he takes time to make sure that his classmates feel seen and heard. He says, “Let’s start from a place of make sure I fully understand you, and do so in a way that is not condescending or judgmental, and then from there, hopefully try to establish a relationship where I can then share my perspective.”
For Drew, it all comes down to empathy. He says, “If empathy starts with trying to truly understand somebody else’s perspective, I think this was a good masterclass on why that’s important for being an ally, advancing the aims of DE&I work, and just being just a good person.”
Advice to Future Inclusive Leadership Participants
Drew’s message to anyone who’s considering joining a future cohort of the Allies for Gender Equity Inclusive Leadership program: You get out what you put in. If you’re the type of person who occasionally finds themselves dual-screening during virtual programs, he says, “I would encourage you to do it at a time when you can actually do the work associated with it, and not try to coast through it. It’s well worth the effort and a tremendous investment in growing as an ally.”
This story was originally published on the Forté Foundation’s Business 360 blog.