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Facing the Challenges of DE&I in the Corporate World

World-renowned “thought leader” Ryan Patel joined HEC students to discuss ways to promote Diversity, Equity and Inclusion issues (DE&I) in the corporate world. The Californian specialist on global business and corporate governance was the guest of the HEC Diversity & Inclusion Committee.

Ryan Patel with HEC Paris MBA students for a talk on diversity and inclusion

MBA Students: Luis Mauricio Annear, Lynn Chui, Thandiwe Mkhetshane with Ryan Patel at HEC Paris

It was perhaps Ryan Patel’s passionate drive to combine social good and business which first attracted HEC students to the idea of inviting him for a fireside exchange on ethical corporate DE&I. It was certainly one of the reasons the director and senior fellow with the Drucker School of Management was invited to be the only external advisory member of HEC’s Diversity Committee last year. “I’m honored to be part of this team and help the school become a beacon of change for other universities, not just in Europe but globally,” he says at the end of his two-day visit to the Jouy campus. “It’s amazing to see how much HEC wants to be inclusive and innovative - and make an impact around the world. With over 120 nationalities on the campus, there’s every chance it succeeds.”

Patel enjoyed a good taste of this diversity at the October event co-hosted by students in the LQBTQIA+ Club, the Awareness, LGBTQIA+& Allies Club and DiversiTALKS. The exchange centered on current challenges to ethical corporate DE&I. Its focus: how companies benefit from a DE&I approach in the context of a polarized world and the global crises in environmental and health domains. The exchange also discussed the hidden risks for companies which refuse to integrate a DE&I approach within the workplace.

 

Strong Student Reaction

“The methodologies Ryan described to us are tactical implementations,” says Thandiwe Mkhetshane, President of HEC’s Africa Club. She was one of three students interviewed by the HEC Newsroom after the 90-minute exchange. Mkhetshane is an MBA student who has made her mark in the first year at HEC. She is described by Poets & Quants as “a renaissance woman, a risk taker who enjoys fashion and photography. The South African entrepreneur pursues: “What stood out for me was what Ryan said about influence. It hit home. Because you can start by influencing your circles and then they influence others, so it creates a ripple effect. This is magnified by companies with bigger platforms and budgets. Ryan has put pressure on those companies to make sure that the right policies are implemented. With him, it’s not just about talk, it’s about action.” 

 

 

In Patel’s exchange with the students, he mapped out his efforts to guide corporate DE&I. These are systemic changes designed to create more a welcoming and equitable environment for people of less-privileged identities. “This is a huge ask in the current environment,” Patel admits. “Students are walking into a system and workplace that is conservative by nature and some companies just don’t build people’s confidence to be themselves. So, students have to be well prepared to change businesses up towards a more equitable environment. The key for this is to build themselves up into leaders, then build others around them to create this inclusive space which is open-minded to different types of backgrounds and perspectives.”

 

No Simple Fix-it Approach

For Luis Mauricio Annear, Patel’s eclectic experience forces respect on these issues. The MBA student (H23) and industrial engineer from Colombia believes such DE&I changes will help in his own personal long-term goal to transform healthcare businesses and make them more accessible and sustainable. “Ryan encourages us to be the best version of ourselves. We as diverse people should invest fully in a corporate job. That way, people would see that, okay, investing in diversity and inclusion is paying off because we’re nurturing really, really good talent.”

 

 

Californian student Lynn Chui (H23) believes improvements in DE&I can also be implemented at the MBA level. The military veteran is convinced debates over ethical corporate DE&I should be mandatory for students and showcased in bigger settings: “This fireside chat is a significant but intimate step and needs to be boosted for all students to be aware of its importance. Ryan Patel touched everyone I talked to at the event and I’m sure it would be the same for everyone on the campus. His experience is extremely extensive having worked with governments and non-profit organizations so it talks to the diversity we enjoy at HEC. But, again, on a corporate level, there’s no simple fix-it approach. Each organization, culture and geography has its own struggles and bosses to convince, so Ryan insisted each one needs a specific toolkit, requiring a personalized approach. It’s challenging but he shared with us several practical options.”

 

The HP Example

For Ryan Patel, it is vital for business institutions to offer students multi-disciplinary tools on top of their work on organizational behavior and management structures. This diversity will prepare them for the challenging corporate world ahead. Patel’s own corporate career has been impressive. It includes growing the relatively young yoghurt company, Pinkberry Ventures, into a dynamic chain with 270 stores in 23 countries, making it one of the fastest growing retail brands of that period. Now, he has settled into a balance of advisory and pedagogical positions: “I’m comfortable in different advisory roles across the global in different industries because I think we are all interconnected. I feel I’ve been able to add value and bring different actors together. I also enjoy taking these complex and challenging ideas and making them simpler to follow.”

An example which appears to be picking up traction is his current series, “The Moment with Ryan Patel”, presented by HP. “This company has shown fine examples of being nimble and efficient to scale its business,” says Patel, who has been on the firm’s advisory board. “They are usually number one in the corporate social responsibility fields and one of the keys to that success is their transparency: they publish on diversity every year on their hiring for workplaces. HP’s successful DE&I policies can perhaps be attributed to their CEO, Enrique Lores. He started as an intern in Spain and 30 years later he is the CEO of this global company. His commitment to DE&I is second to none and it shows since they are the first Fortune 100 tech company to commit to key elements like gender parity in leadership. I’m convinced these big leadership changes have given them a strong competitive edge.”

An edge the loquacious thought leader believes will resonate in the Jouy campus’ own DE&I drive.