Isenberg Names Associate Dean for an Inclusive Organization
February 05, 2019
When Nefertiti Walker decided to write her dissertation on women coaching men in collegiate and professional basketball, she says, “more than a few folks laughed at the topic, but I uncovered success stories for women at welcoming institutions like the University of Kentucky. I found that inclusive cultures were ones where women coaches were valued for their unique perspectives and ways of viewing the game, and this began with inclusive leadership from the very top of the organization.”
The Sport Management professor has remained focused on how organizations become inclusive, and her work has helped advance the field as well as having a concrete effect on Isenberg’s culture and activities: In 2017, she was appointed the school’s director of diversity and inclusion, and this year she’s gained elevated status as the first associate dean for an inclusive organization. In her new role, Walker will oversee the school’s human resources for staff. Just as critical, her expansive, strategic vision for diversity and inclusion will inform every corner of the school’s operations.
“The idea is to pursue inclusion with a capital ‘I,’ involving every student, professor, and staff member,” observes Isenberg’s interim dean, Tom Moliterno.
An Innovative Diversity and Inclusion Structure
Diversity directors are commonplace in business schools, notes Walker. “But only a handful invest diversity and inclusion with dean-level leadership. Dean Moliterno is truly an innovator among our B-school peers in imagining this role with this specific structure,” she says. Because Walker will oversee both the chief personnel officer and, once the position has been filled, a chief diversity officer, inclusion will be a priority in all of Isenberg’s people functions. “We aim to build on Isenberg’s positive culture by expanding the feeling of inclusiveness and bringing awareness of its importance to business,” Walker observes. “That includes exploring its influence in every corner of business and leveraging the backgrounds and worldviews of Isenberg’s diverse community.”
Hiring a full-time chief diversity officer will expand the scope of Isenberg’s inclusion efforts. “That on-the-ground position will focus on engagement, including students, alumni, and corporate partners,” Walker says. She adds that to examine issues from different angles, Isenberg has also created a 13-member inclusiveness committee comprising faculty, staff, and students.
New Inclusiveness Programming
This spring, a new speaker series called Conversations will offer at least three events. The first will feature a panel of Major League Baseball executives for discussions of inclusiveness issues in baseball, notably along gender and color lines. Later in the semester, executives from the accounting firm PwC will lead workshops revealing unconscious cultural biases in the workplace. And finally, a panel will explore how artificial intelligence and other manifestations such as “augmented reality” can spread and amplify biases that undermine inclusiveness. That, Walker remarks, might surprise students in technical areas like IT and operations management who figure, I’m a data person,I’ll never have to work with people.
Walker has also begun planning a daylong conference devoted to inclusive leadership that will be hosted by Isenberg next fall in collaboration with the accounting firm EY and spearheaded by Catherine Lowry, faculty and director of firm relations for accounting. “We see this as an annual event with students, academics, alumni, and corporate partners,” Walker remarks, adding that she can only hope that it develops into an event on the scale of the annual Women of Isenberg conference, which attracted more than 400 participants last year.
Progress and Promise
“My line of research and personal history have fueled my passion for my new Isenberg role,” says Walker. Most of her more than 50 publications and presentations—many of them in top sport management journals—have explored marginalized and underrepresented identities in the workplace and the development of inclusive cultures. Those concerns also inform her stellar performance in the classroom. Last year, she earned Isenberg’s school-wide Teaching Excellence Award, and she is faculty advisor to the Advancement of Diversity in Business club. Beyond Isenberg, Walker serves on the ESPN espnW College Advisory Panel.
A 2011 PhD graduate in Sport Management from the University of Florida, Walker also excelled in varsity basketball at Stetson University, where she earned BA and MBA degrees. “My personal perspective owes a great deal to my experiences in basketball,” she confides. “I scrimmaged with the boys through middle school. Then things diverged. In college, I noticed the scarcity of women—two to three percent—in the coaching ranks of men’s sports,” she recalls. “Men’s sports were where the money was,” which inspired her to look at representation among coaches as a dissertation topic. “Today, increasing numbers of women have begun to break into the management and coaching ranks of the NFL and NBA,” she says. “But we still have a long way to go—in sports business and in business itself.”