December 16, 2022

The PhD Project: Building A Stronger, More Diverse Workforce. Together.

by Olivia Schmitt

The PhD Project addresses a hidden barrier to workforce diversity: the lack of diversity among college professors. According to Pew Research, 48% of Gen Z – the largest generation in American history – is nonwhite. Yet more than 75% of the faculty at the nation’s colleges and universities – from professors to administrators – are white, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics.

Having a professor “who looks like me” can have a profound impact on students. It can give them a role model, inspire them to strive for more, and ultimately set them on a path for career success. That’s why The PhD Project is building workforce diversity by creating more diversity in front of the classroom. And the nonprofit is doing it by targeting the place where great leaders are created: business schools.

For The PhD Project’s mission to come to life, it has created a network of more than 1,400 Black/African American, Latinx/Hispanic American and Native American professors. Many of them have left successful careers in the corporate world to earn business PhDs, with the intent to mentor and inspire underrepresented students who aspire to a career in business. For nearly 30 years, The PhD Project has been responsible for quintupling the number of underrepresented professors, administrators and academic leaders at an extensive list of academic programs. It has 62 members at 15 universities across the state of Virginia; 16 of those members are at Virginia Tech. The nonprofit also has more than 250 additional members who are currently pursuing their doctorate.

By creating a more diverse population of business PhDs, the project is transforming business education – and transforming business – for everyone. The PhD Project is a growing and dedicated community of business professors, PhD candidates and corporate leaders who share a commitment to diversity and inclusion. Through mentoring, networking, and unique events – and by connecting businesses to a diverse pool of high-potential candidates – the nonprofit is building a national movement that continues to gain momentum as more diverse business faculty inspire more diverse business students who will one day lead more diverse corporations.

While it’s a good start, there is more to be done.

Just one business educator from an underrepresented background can impact far beyond the handful of students in the classroom. That professor’s students can go on to become leaders in the corporate world, or business professors themselves, bringing new light to hiring practices, innovative approaches and alternative perspectives to the lives of hundreds, if not thousands of people.

PhD Project member Dr. Nicole Thorne Jenkins, the John A. Griffin Dean of the McIntire School of Commerce at the University of Virginia, has seen this firsthand and says the need for change is urgent. (pictured)

“As generation Z continues to matriculate on university campuses, they demand environments that reflect the representation that they see in their peer groups. As business schools, we are the gatekeepers to corporate America and as such, we must evolve into communities that have the cultural fluency to prepare our students for a diverse and dynamic marketplace,” Dr. Jenkins says. “This begins with having representative voices across all facets of the learning environment through holistic admissions processes, robust hiring processes and the design and content of academic programming.”

In the 21st century, diversity is critical. It’s not a box to be checked on a business plan. It’s a requirement for an effective, competitive workforce. When the people in front of the classroom look like the people sitting at the desks, when everyone knows that their unique abilities are recognized and valued, when everyone has an opportunity to succeed, campuses are stronger. Companies are stronger. Society is stronger.