On July 1, Erika James officially began her tenure as the 15th dean of the Wharton School. Her first morning on the job included a brief television appearance on ABC's Good Morning America.
In an interview with Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts, James said that her initial goals have shifted since she was formally announced as dean in February, largely due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, as well as the increased focus on racial justice with Black Lives Matter protests continuing across the United States.
She said her main focus for the upcoming fall semester will be providing a "successful student experience." The University announced on June 25 that the fall will be conducted in a hybrid format of in-person and online instruction, with in-person gatherings and classes limited to 25 students.
James is making history as the first woman and person of color to lead Wharton since its establishment in 1881. As former dean of the Goizueta Business School at Emory University, James became the first Black woman to head a top-25 United States business school and achieved significant successes in faculty growth, and also significantly redesigned the University's undergraduate business curriculum and liberal arts curriculum.
In her nearly seven minute conversation with Roberts, James said one of the most impactful ways to diversify corporations is to expand the networks in which job recruiters look for potential employees.
"We often say that there's not a pipeline of diverse talent," she told Roberts. "Well, there's not a pipeline if you look in a very narrow set of places for that talent." She said that while her role is to make Wharton better, that will only happen with the "right kind of talent in the right positions."
James continued to speak about what businesses need to do to increase diversity and allow people of color in upper levels of the the workforce, explaining that the social and informal professional networks for white people in corporate America are very different from those for Black people.
"Clearly there are systemic issues within organizations that prohibit or impede progress for people of color and women," James said.
Although she said that many business executives have written letters to stakeholders recognizing the need for racial justice, James called for the creation of more activities that focus on bias recognition, recruiting, and pay practices within organizations.
In 2019, James was awarded the inaugural Earl Hill Jr. Faculty Achievement and Diversity Award by the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, a leading graduate business school organization with a focus on diversity. She was also named one of the Power 100 by Ebony Magazine in 2014 as one of “the most influential and intriguing men and women in Black America."
James emphasized the importance of self-confidence when taking on responsibility for new roles and challenges.
"When we get out of our own way and truly bet on ourselves, that's when we start to create other people's confidence in us," she said on air. "My strongest advice to young people is to always bet on yourself."
James succeeds Geoffrey Garrett, who assumed the role of dean of University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business yesterday after six years at Wharton.
"This an awesome responsibility, not just in terms of the magnitude of the role of being the dean of the Wharton School, but so many eyes are watching me."