By Alison DeLory

Rodney Small (BMgmt’15) recalls being a student in Dalhousie’s Faculty of Management in the early 2000s.

“There were no profs that looked like me and very few students who looked like me. If they did, they didn’t come from Canada,” said Small, an African Nova Scotian man who grew up in Uniacke Square in Halifax’s North End.

Small left Dal mid-way through his second year when he needed to get a job to support his children. He returned a decade later to finish his business degree. Today, he’s a changemaker, community builder and acting director of the One North End Community Economic Development Society, carrying forward the work of people like political and human rights activist Rocky Jones.

In 2021, the Faculty of Management’s student population still does not reflect demographic diversity, something that concerns Dean Kim Brooks. One initiative aimed at changing that is The Promise Scholars program, focused on attracting more Black and Indigenous applicants to the Faculty with financial aid and wraparound supports.

Beginning fall 2021, the Faculty looks to welcome one Promise Scholar into undergraduate programs with a $2,000 renewable scholarship and minimum four Promise Scholars at the graduate level—at least one in each of the Rowe School of Business, the School for Information Management, the School for Resource and Environmental Studies, and the School of Public Administration. Recognizing that financial support alone is insufficient, the Faculty will offer work and internship experiences, plus personalized academic and career mentoring to Promise Scholars.

“We’re answering a serious call to de-colonize and this is a small step, but every small step matters. The Promise Scholars are one piece of an inclusion strategy [at Dalhousie],” said Brooks.

To explore the potential outcomes of diversity in the Faculty and management professions, an online panel event on Jan. 28 called “The promise of diversity in management,” featured Small and three other panelists of Indigenous or African Nova Scotia descent.

When true inclusion is achieved, things like improved decision making, higher overall performance and richer collaboration will result, said panelist Fiona Kirkpatrick Parsons, Deloitte Canada’s national advisor, Deloitte Indigenous issues. “A welcoming environment where differences are celebrated and organizations focus on growing people regardless of their background,” was how she defined inclusion’s potential.

Panelist and alumna Angie Gillis (BA’05, LLB’09), said in her first year, she was one of five students from Eskasoni First Nation in Cape Breton who came to Dal. By that year’s end, four had returned home. “They felt they didn’t fit in. There was nobody who could speak their history or truth. I wanted to find a path to break that mould,” the associate executive director of the Confederacy of Mainland Mi’kmaq said.

Alumnus Matthew Martel (BMgmt’14), chief operating officer at the Black Business Initiative, said people in power need to make changes. “What are you doing to hoist someone up with talent and ability?” he challenged. Martel suggested organizations build inclusion into their mission and vision statements, and operational plans. “If it’s measured, it gets done,” he said. He also advised companies wanting to become more inclusive to look around and reach out to those doing it well for advice.

‘Stronger as a result’

The entire faculty will benefit from greater diversification, said Brooks, who believes having different voices and perspectives in the faculty is exciting: “It’s such a gift to meet, learn from, be challenged by, and have your mind changed by others’ experiences.”

New ideas, the quality of decision making, and more joy and curiosity will result, she predicted. Plus, in four years, there will potentially be Promise Scholars in each year at the undergraduate and graduate levels, reflecting a small but mighty cohort that attracts others.

Murray Coolican has made a gift to help launch the Promise Scholars program, saying it’s a way he and his wife can contribute to helping Black and Indigenous people become more involved in the business world. “I think it will help the decision making. It will help the business sector,” Coolican said.

“We really need to step up our game,” added Coolican, who retired as Nova Scotia’s Deputy Minister of Energy after a long career as a business leader in private and public sectors. “It would be good for the school to have more diversity in the program. I think any business or any organization that has a more diverse workforce is going to be stronger as a result.”

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If you were unable to attend the panel event live, you can watch a recording on YouTube.