Friday 19 August 2016

Why Diversity at Fuqua Gives Me Hope for Tomorrow

A version of this post was originally published on the Duke Cross Continent MBA Student Blog from the Fuqua School of Business. 

It’s 3:30 a.m. and I can’t sleep. This happens from time to time as the 80% humidity in New England makes a summer heat wave unbearable. But perhaps, the world has finally caught up with me.
As a content writer and an MBA student studying international business, I spend a significant amount of my time reading current events. In terms of seeing theory put into practice, there’s no better time to study global business than now.
As a part of Fuqua’s program, my classmates and I travel to five different regions of the world and examine macroeconomic trends and political institutions in our core course Global Markets and Institutions. While in Latin America, we analyzed the spiraling economic indicators of the Brazilian recession. We’re currently studying the elements of government structures in the Middle East and watched with great interest the coup attempt in Turkey.
We’ve seen firsthand, the incredibly tough and chaotic times in the world. It hurts that by the time I finish writing this piece, there will likely be another mass shooting—one that could have been prevented. It hurts that we need a movement asking for lives to matter, because it’s a given that lives should matter in the first place.
But I know this brokenness isn’t all of the world, nor is it how the world has to be.
Through the Cross Continent MBA, the world I’ve experienced is one where an American-born Syrian, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, the daughter of Vietnamese refugees, and a bi-racial mom can travel together for a shared dream of visiting the Taj Mahal, designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for being “the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world’s heritage.”
four classmates standing in front of the Taj Mahal provide a great representation of diversity at Fuqua
The world I know is one where days later, my classmates and I would celebrate our own version of Holi, known as the “Festival of Colors”, as colored water and powders are playfully thrown around family and friends. It’s a celebration of colors and love. How appropriate I get to celebrate with my friends who identify as black, Jewish, Colombian, brown, Nigerian, white, Indian, and more?
students celebrating Holi symbolizes the diversity at Fuqua
The world I know is where individuals originally from Pakistan and India, two countries with a long history of tension, can stand as friends in front of the remnants of the Berlin Wall, a symbolic paradigm of a city once divided and now united. And where two Americans, one raised Buddhist, one raised Muslim, can share in their interests and similarities while celebrating their differences.
students posing in front of the Berlin Wall, diversity at FuquaIn another core course, Culture, Civilizations, and Leadership, we study cultural frameworks to apply as we work through business situations.  What I love is that we’re able to have tough conversations in and out of the classroom. On separate occasions after nearly 12-hour days of classes and activities, 70-plus of my classmates gathered to honestly ask one another questions and discuss our personal experiences around race, gender, class, sexuality, religion, and more. We listened to each other’s perspectives without judgment.
Though I’m proud to be a part of this community and proud to have a dean that encourages empathy amongst disagreeing perspectives, I know as a business school and as individual leaders of consequence, there’s more we can do around diversity and inclusion systematically as a school and personally with our biases. But when I look at these photos, the diversity at Fuqua and celebration of it, it gives me hope for the future and reminds me that even in the toughest times #LoveAlwaysWins.

Monday 9 May 2016

How My MBA Training Saved Me on a 6,500-Foot Cliff

A version of this post was originally published on the Duke Cross Continent MBA Student Blog from the Fuqua School of Business. 

My MBA training came in handy on this mountaintop
My travel mates designated as “Team Xi’an”

MBA lessons can prove practical in unlikely places.
I’m hanging off the side of Mount Huashan in China, dubbed “one of the most dangerous and terrifying hikes in the world.” Attached to the mountain by a questionable 4-foot harness, I have to walk across a 1-foot wide wooden plank. Looking down more than a mile to the ground, I’m remembering that I’m deathly afraid of heights.
Of course, this was my idea to begin with.
This past summer, my 114 classmates and I began our MBA journey as a part of the Class of 2016 in the Fuqua School of Business Cross Continent MBA Program. Living and working in various parts of the world, we enrolled in the working professional program to allow ourselves to earn an MBA while keeping our full-time jobs. A core part of the program is to attend international class residencies and essentially travel the world studying, going on corporate visits, and immersing ourselves into various cultures.
Krystina - MBA Lessons plank walk
Hiking the “Plank Walk” at Mount Huashan…smiles cover up our fear of heights!

Our first international residency was to the powerhouse of China, whom the IMF deemed the world’s largest economy just a few months prior. A handful of us decided to arrive one week early to explore Xi’an before classes began. During my travel research, every web site stated that we couldn’t miss out on the infamous “Plank Walk” at Mount Huashan, a sacred Taoist mountain located in the Shaanxi Province.
The route is a complicated one. After about 2.5 hours of climbing up steep, vertical staircases (and we took one of the easier routes), the trail leads to the edge of a cliff. Before reaching the “Plank Walk,” there are steel rods about 2 inches long and holes in the rocks to climb down. The wooden plank is only a foot wide and to top it all off, there is only one exit. So as you attempt to walk or climb one way, there are other people attempting to walk or climb the other way around you. Carpe diem!
Flashing back to day 2 of our MBA orientation during the first residency at Duke, every student went through a team-building ropes course in small groups at the Triangle Training Center. The goal was to practice our teamwork and communication skills, capitalizing on each other’s strengths while identifying and improving upon our weaknesses. As I was hiking in China, I couldn’t have imagined that the same skill sets we worked on during the ropes course (and the entire class term) would come into play.
Krystina - MBA Lessons blue devilThe Blue Devil was a crucial member of the hiking team!

While climbing down the cliff, I couldn’t see directly below me, so I depended on my classmate to tell me exactly where to put my feet. Afterwards, I had to direct my other classmate where to go and predict the upcoming path for her. As people attempted to walk around us (and often we didn’t speak the same languages), split-second decisions had to be made to stay on the safest route. More importantly, given somehow that we all were afraid of heights (no one wanted to admit it until the few days leading up to the hike of course), we had to support each other so we could face our fears and encourage each other to push through the exhaustion from the long day.
When I first researched Duke, I knew of the emphasis placed around teamwork—which is not necessarily the case at other business schools. However “Team Fuqua” was simply a phrase I had heard before starting the Cross Continent program. As this experience has shown me and as every day passes, I’ve found that the spirit of “Team Fuqua” goes beyond a methodology. It’s a community of trust that has taught me to be a better leader, teammate, and communicator that can take on a boardroom or a 6,500-foot cliff.
Watch the video to see Krystina and her team’s treacherous route

Wednesday 9 March 2016

3 Things Managers Can Do for Gender Equality (Leading to Better Teams and More Profits)

This post was co-written by Robin Moriarty, PhD.
Early on in my career, I interviewed for an Analyst position with the Managing Director of a Wall Street bank, a fifty-something-year-old male. After the typical interview questions, the conversation took an unforeseen turn as he took a keen an interest in my background — nonprofit work on social issues — as it was atypical from other interviewees. After discussing some of the topics I had worked on in the past, he inquired, “Tell me. As a manager, what can I do for gender equality?”
Study after study shows that diverse teams produce better results. We know that companies with women in leadership positions are also more profitable. Though we have data and have built general consensus that gender equality is yes, a good thing for successful business outcomes, what concrete actions can we actually take?
While it must be recognized that there are systematic barriers and HR policies that formally contribute (or don’t contribute) to gender equality, here are three practical tips that managers can employ if they want to start removing gender bias from their organizations:
1. Evaluate performance reviews based on performance metrics rather than primarily on an employee’s personality characteristics

A 2014 study by Kieran Snyder demonstrated that regardless of the manager’s gender, women are more likely to be given negative feedback surrounding personality rather than performance. Even when critical feedback was provided to men, it offered constructive suggestions around work.

Language was key: often, negative words associated with personality characteristics such as “bossy, abrasive, emotional, aggressive, and irrational” were used to judge female behavior, while only the use of “aggressive” to describe personality — which can often be perceived as a positive trait depending on the organization and industry — could be found in men’s reviews.


One solution that Business Insider suggests is “to be clear and consistent about the criteria on which employees are evaluated.” Stating this criteria up front, and including both business metrics and behavior expectations, is critical for laying the groundwork for fair performance reviews.

Additionally, when reviewing behaviors, which are important to business and organizational success, try flipping the script. Ask, “How would we judge a man for doing the same thing?” as Frank Bruni suggested in his latest New York Times editorial "If Donald Trump Changed Genders." Flipping the script can help a manager to reveal when perceptions of behavior are related to gender and then decide how to handle accordingly.

Considering that performance evaluations lead to promotions and pay increases, it is important to recognize and correct for our biases to ensure that staff are evaluated on the quality of their performance and not on unintentional gender biases.

2. Ask employees what they can/can’t do rather than make assumptions about their personal lives

A rising star’s name was recently brought up during a meeting for a new project lead. Another colleague had mentioned that she was pregnant and unfortunately the position would require international travel. Instead of leaving the discussion there and assuming that she would not be interested in traveling or taking the lead, one of her sponsors made the smart move of actually consulting her. The result? She was more than willing to take on the role, travel included, and the project was a success.

Alternatively, I’ve also seen situations in the reverse: one of my single, male friends was assumed to be fully capable of travel because he didn’t have commitments to “tie him down.” He eventually left the company because of fatigue from jetting around the country all the time. The company lost a valuable employee because of assumptions about his personal life.

Through implicit assumptions, a manager could mistakenly believe that they know enough about an employee’s situation to make decisions for them. Therefore, as a good rule of thumb, regardless if the employee is a man, woman, young, old, married, or single, it’s important to talk to the individual to see if they can and want to do the special project or take on the bigger role. Don’t let your own assumptions about someone else’s personal life drive decisions about their future.

3. Facilitate meetings so all voices are heard

As Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant have pointed out, there is often an unfortunate bias that can occur during meetings. They observe, “When a woman speaks in a professional setting, she walks a tightrope. Either she’s barely heard or she’s judged as too aggressive. When a man says virtually the same thing, heads nod in appreciation for his fine idea.” I’ve also seen this happen with senior vs. junior members, older vs. younger colleagues, experts vs. generalists, and certain nationalities vs. other nationalities. When interruptions occur or one team member’s comments are overlooked, it takes great employees to notice this and call it out as well as a great leader to facilitate the meeting in a more inclusive direction.

Project Aristotle at Google had researchers examine what made successful (and therefore profitable) teams. They found that “on the good teams, members spoke in roughly the same proportion, a phenomenon the researchers referred to as ‘’equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking.” Thus, it’s in the manager interest and team’s benefit that all team members are heard and heard well. As research shows that women’s comments are dismissed and even punished compared to men’s comments, facilitating inclusive meetings can help address gender bias that occurs on a routine basis.

Gender equality and open, diverse environments are a must in today’s businesses. By being intentional in these practical approaches, managers can contribute to reducing gender bias and having more successful teams.