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erika-james
Credit: Brandon Li

As rising second-year MBA students at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, we are proud to be part of the record-breaking class of 2021 with the highest percentage of women, 47%, in Wharton’s history. Now, we also have the exciting chance to be an inaugural class under Dean Erika James, whose first official day is today, July 1, 2020. Dean James is the first woman and the first person of color to lead The Wharton School in its 139 year history.

It’s about time.

We are student leaders of Wharton Women in Business (WWIB), a professional club whose mission is to help all Wharton MBA women further develop their voices as confident female leaders. As one of the largest clubs in the MBA program, representing over 650 diverse women, we are proud that our class has almost achieved gender parity. While we celebrate Dean James’s appointment and Wharton’s new era led by a Black woman, we also recognize that there is still a lot of work to be done at Wharton in terms of diversity. Wharton faculty still skews male and overwhelmingly white. Women make up only about 20% of Wharton faculty, and only 5% are underrepresented minorities, including African-Americans, Latinx, and Native Americans. 

We are also increasingly aware that outside the walls of our Philadelphia campus, achieving gender parity and racial equity is an uphill climb. Even as the number of women CEOs at Fortune 500 companies hit an all-time record of 37 this year, these women only account for 7.4% of top CEOs — and only three of these women are women of color. The murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and so many others have rightfully caused us all to reckon with institutionalized racism and the need for diverse leadership in the private and public sectors, including in academia, to reform these systems. Now, more than ever, we need powerful female role models at the helm who are committed to diversity and inclusion. 

Data clearly shows the benefits of diverse leadership. McKinsey & Company found in its latest diversity study that organizations in the top quartile of gender diversity were 25% more likely to outperform competitors with less gender diverse executive teams. Organizations with ethnic/cultural diversity among executive teams were more likely to achieve above average profits by 36%. Conversely, those companies in the bottom quartile for both gender and ethnic/cultural diversity were 27% less likely to achieve above average profitability. 

Dean James has made a significant impact on the organizations she has led, while breaking glass ceilings. In 2014, when she was named dean at Emory’s Goizueta Business School, she became the first ever Black woman to lead a top MBA program. At Goizueta, she focused on innovation and entrepreneurship, while growing the number of female faculty, placing Goizueta first among peer institutions with women comprising 34% of its faculty. We are excited for the innovative leadership she will bring to Wharton and the greater Penn community.

There is much uncertainty around what the next few months of business school will look like, but we are excited for the change coming to Wharton today. As women and student leaders representing a diverse array of backgrounds and experiences, we are humbled to welcome Dean James to Wharton and the Penn community as she continues to pave the way for future women leaders. 

LAUREN VICKERS, RACHEL RESEK, JULIA BEVILAQUA, LAURA JOHNSEN, and NIKKI JENKINS are rising second-year MBA students, and all leaders of Wharton Women in Business at The Wharton School.

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