A new student group, Return on Equality, brings conversation to the art of empathetic leadership.
By Aria Florant and Brian Vo
Business school is a bubble. It can be a magical bubble, where skills can be cultivated and friendships formed. It can also be a dangerous bubble, shielding us from the realities of the world, and even the communities in which we live. From the looming U.S. presidential election to the events of Ferguson, Baltimore, and Flint, to the immigration crisis in war-torn regions, this is the reality we will be graduating into. The conversations about this reality are difficult. But as students of business and leadership, our two years at Wharton offer the opportunity to establish a foundation of empathy toward others—empathy deeper than superficial understanding and discourse.
To help foster this dialogue, we formed the Return on Equality (ROE) Coalition out of seven student groups. Our purpose is to nurture appreciation of, and advocacy for, inclusive practices across lines of difference. Substantial research has pointed to empathy and emotional intelligence as prerequisites for effective leadership. Through ROE, we hope to bring that conversation to life and dive into the richness of the diversity at Wharton.
As part of our efforts, ROE launched the Humans of Wharton campaign to share personal stories with our peers. The initiative has been a big success, with thousands of interactions on social media. In addition, ROE has hosted workshops with leading faculty such as like Management Professor Sigal Barsade, to learn the subtleties and implications of unconscious bias. And, with the support Dean Garrett and Vice Dean Kaufold, we created the ROE Fund to sponsor and support student grass-root events.
The reception has been overwhelmingly positive. ROE has grown from the original 15 founders to almost 50 student leaders. We hope to continue that positive momentum as we engage administrators, faculty members and students to provide programming and safe spaces for conversations on race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomics, and even politics. We envision a Wharton community that doesn’t shy away from these difficult conversations, with empathy as the cornerstone. The academic value is there. The business case has been made. Now, we must lead the change.