Haas inspires EMBA student to pursue career in diversity, equity, and inclusion

By Susan Petty

Jason Atwater, EMBA 19, never thought that he could base his career on establishing diverse, equitable, and inclusive (DEI) work environments—until he came to Berkeley Haas. His time in b-school has changed the course of his career.

Through his work at Ancestry.com, Jason knows that nothing has the potential to be more diverse than a person's family tree. But sometimes this doesn't translate to one's work environment. That's why he and two Ancestry colleagues are launching a new employee resource group at the company called Black Roots. The group joins others that are focused on supporting female, LGBTQ, and military veteran employees.

“My cofounders and I wrote a mission statement that we presented to the leadership, outlining how a group like this was needed to give Black employees a voice and address the problem of attrition," Jason says. "The fact is, often people of color feel unwelcome in the tech world. We hope this group will help Ancestry attract more qualified Black candidates—and better serve our clients, who of course include underrepresented minorities.” 

The need for inclusive, safe, and equitable education is pressing, and Haas is no exception. In 2018, the school delivered a targeted action plan that provides concrete ways to bolster enrollment of underrepresented minorities and to develop a more inclusive environment schoolwide. This DEI action plan was a direct response to a disappointing decline in the number of underrepresented minority students in Berkeley’s MBA programs. As part of the DEI action plan, Haas hired David Porter as its new chief DEI officer and Élida Bautista as director of inclusion and diversity.

Jason was part of the group of students who vetted potential applicants for the chief DEI officer position. 

“Each candidate offered a presentation on some aspect of the Haas program they would change to make it more inclusive and diverse—and none of the candidates couched their words,” he says. “There was some tough criticism of Haas and some great ideas for how to further foster a culture of inclusivity. For example, updating the case studies in our coursework to be more current—most are 10 to 15 years old—and more reflective of the diversity of the business world today and tomorrow, rather than focused on an older white male CEO protagonist.”

The Haas MBA can be career changing if you're willing to come with an open mind."

Jason's passion for DEI and the insight that he could integrate efforts to make businesses more inclusive into his career were further fueled by Jennifer R. Cohen's class Equitable and Inclusive Leadership. In one of the class assignments, students wrote a letter to themselves describing a DEI initiative they wanted to undertake; Cohen said she would check in with them about it six months later. Jason's initiative was the resource group at Ancestry, as well as serving on Haas councils that address DEI issues, including the Part-Time Admissions Diversity Council and the Alumni Diversity Council.

“The school is going all out to correct DEI problems where it sees them, an effort I applaud and want to be a part of,” Jason says.

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Jason had long been interested in pursuing an MBA, and in 2018 the timing was finally right. He knew the degree would make him a stronger management candidate and boost his existing leadership skills. He chose Haas because of its Confidence Without Attitude vibe and the way the school offers students opportunities to tailor their programs through immersion experiences.

In his fourth term, Jason and his classmates traveled to Amsterdam on a design thinking project for booking.com that explored how the company could expand its sustainable travel offerings; this Fall, he went to Australia under the auspices of the Global Network for Advanced Management (GNAM) program, exploring “negotiation and influence” at the University of New South Wales Business School in Sydney.

“I've really appreciated that once you complete the first three terms of compulsory classes, you can really choose your own adventure,” he says. 

The Haas MBA can be career changing if you're willing to come with an open mind, according to Jason.

“I've been interested in DEI for years, but I never saw engaging with it as a potential career,” Jason says. “That happened during my time at Haas.”

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Posted on January 30, 2020
Susan Petty
Susan is Director of Admissions for the Berkeley MBA for Executives Program. She has nearly twenty years of experience in marketing and advertising, having worked in several different industries including technology, travel, healthcare -- and many others from her media planning days at J. Walter Thompson where her clients included Chevron, Kaiser Permanente, Nestle, and Ford. She enjoys advising prospective students and guiding them through their personal MBA experience.