The Impact of UPenn Wharton School's Appointment of Its First Female Dean

Nicholas J Price
5 min read

The recent emphasis on diversity in corporate leadership and in boardrooms may have been a factor in the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business's choice of its next dean. UPenn announced the appointment of Erika H. James as dean of the university effective July 1. University President Amy Gutmann and Provost Wendell Pritchett proudly made the announcement.

President Gutmann describes James as '...a strong, proven leader...and a passionate and visible champion of the power of business and business education to positively transform communities locally, nationally and globally. She is exceptionally well-prepared to lead Wharton into the next exciting chapter of its storied history.'

Provost Pritchett adds that James has built upon her qualities of leadership development, organizational behavior and crisis leadership. She effectively applies her own insights into human behavior to encourage a work culture that motivates students and faculty to thrive personally and professionally, especially in the areas of gender and racial diversity. Pritchett also notes that James has led workshops on such tough issues as unconscious bias and building trust across divides.

James is soon to replace Geoff Garrett, who moves on to become dean of the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business.

What Makes James an Outstanding Choice for Dean of Wharton

James will be the first female and the first African American woman to lead Wharton, which boasts a 139-year history. She will leave her position as dean of the Goizueta Business School at Emory University, where she has served since 2014.

Prior to that, she served as the senior associate dean for executive education at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business, where she worked with other teachers to reinvent executive education and to develop opportunities for lifelong learning.

James was awarded the Earl Hill Jr. Faculty Achievement and Diversity Award from the Consortium, which is an organization that promotes increasing diversity in business with an emphasis on graduate students. She was also named one of the Top 10 Women of Power in Education by Black Enterprise and made Ebony Magazine's Power 100 list.

Adding to her credentials, she is an active member of the SurveyMonkey Board and the Graduate Management Admission Council. She previously served on the board of the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, the foremost accrediting body in business education. She has also served as a consultant to some of the largest, most prestigious firms.

Ms. James holds Ph.D. and master's degrees in organizational psychology from the University of Michigan and received a bachelor's degree in psychology from Pomona College of the Claremont Colleges, in California. She has also served as an assistant professor at Tulane University's Freeman School of Business as well as a visiting professor at Harvard Business School. James earned a name for herself at Goizueta as she initiated and led efforts to build an innovation and entrepreneurship lab that is open to all Goizueta students.

By the end of her first term at Goizueta, James had added 25% more faculty. She built a critical staff of junior faculty and seasoned scholars in key academic areas, including behavioral and decision-based research, business analytics and health care innovation. She quickly gained strong support from faculty, which led her to create a research-based corporate think tank.

The Future of Business at Wharton

Erika James brings a wealth of enthusiasm to her new position. She states, 'The scope and platform of the Wharton School provides an opportunity to create far-reaching impact for students, scholars, and the business community.'

James hopes to build on the legacy of Wharton, which was founded in 1881 as the world's first collegiate business school. Wharton has a faculty of more than 235 professors and 5,000 undergraduate, MBA, executive MBA and doctoral students.

With the recent emphasis on gender and racial diversity, this is an important time for a woman with James's experience and credentials to take over leadership of the top-ranked Ivy League business school program. Enrollment at some of our nation's most elite business schools has been on the decline. College students are rethinking the value of graduate school as they weigh the pros and cons of student loans over job opportunities. This has led to a drop in applications for advanced degrees for five straight years. As an example, applications to Wharton's two-year MBA program were down by about 5% in 2019.

The Impact of Gender and Racial Diversity at the Top

The appointment of Ms. James is a notable and visible testament to statistics that support gender and racial diversity in the workplace.

A survey by Glassdoor shows that 67% of job seekers consider diversity an important factor when accepting a job. In a Harvard Business Review study, 78% of the respondents said that their corporate leadership lacked diversity.

Besides a preference to work for a company with a diverse workforce and leadership, statistics also show that diverse companies perform better. A Fast Company survey indicates that a higher representation of women in C-suite positions yields 34% greater returns to shareholders. According to a 2015 McKinsey report, companies in the top quarter for racial/ethnic diversity have a 35% greater chance to surpass the competition, while those in the same bracket for gender diversity have a 15% greater likelihood to do the same. Another Harvard Business Review study demonstrated that companies that have two-dimensional diversity have a 45% greater likelihood to report having captured a greater part of the market and were 70% more likely to enter new markets.

The appointment of Erika James may motivate other universities and corporations to cast a wider net in seeking to hire or appoint individuals who break the mold of gender and racial diversity. Diversity at the top contributes to increased job satisfaction, employee retention and increased revenue. Nom Gov by Diligent Corporation is a digital tool that can help your company cast the widest net possible when seeking recruits for corporate leadership positions. It's a tool that provides a database of thousands of profiles of leading executives and board directors to aid in your best recruitment and succession planning efforts.