Commentary, Opinion

Black in business: The consulting field needs more Black mentorship

On Sept. 12, JED Consulting, McGill Social Business Network (MSBN) Consulting, and the McGill Black Students’ Network (BSN) held their second annual “Being Black in Consulting” event. A four-person panel of Black consultants from some of the world’s top consulting firms shared their journeys, tips, and challenges. This was followed by a two-hour networking session where Black students from various Montreal universities had the opportunity to connect with 25 Black consulting professionals. While looking around at the 75 students in attendance, all dressed up in their business attire and eagerly conversing with Black consultants, two things were very clear. It is rare to see so many Black business people in one space, and Black role models are integral to furthering Black success. We need more of them, both in the business sphere and on campus.

Desautels, McGill’s Faculty of Management, has a history of abhorrent treatment toward its Black students. In 2020, in an open letter addressed to the faculty, writers detailed the ongoing issues at the faculty. The letter, which received hundreds of signatures, alleges that institutionalized racism at Desautels is entrenched in every level of the faculty. This sobering statement illustrates a systemic issue within the management faculty, and there are tangible steps and changes that must be taken to address these issues and give Black students at McGill the opportunities they deserve. 

Dr. Yolande E. Chan, a Black woman and former Associate Vice Principal at Queen’s University, was appointed as Dean of Desautels in 2021—a step forward that still did not suffice to bridge the distinct racial gap in the staff. Most Black students are still likely to graduate without ever seeing a Black professor at the front of the room. This alienates Black students, sending them the message that they are not welcome. 

Students who are unable to see people who look like them represented in their academic institutions struggle to identify with professions in the field and have a much harder time pursuing those paths. Providing Black students with Black role models helps to foster a sense of belonging that is necessary for them to thrive. Currently, there are two Black student groups in the Faculty of Management: The Desautels African Business Initiative (DABI), founded in 2014 with the aim of educating people about growing business opportunities in Africa, and the Black Students’ Financial Society (BSFS), that promotes Black businesses and financial literacy in Montreal. While the work these groups do is irreplaceable, students cannot bear the sole weight of providing Black students inspiring role models. The McGill administration and Desautels must do more. 

Networking is often touted as one of the most important things students can do in university. But while it is important for most students, it is a necessity for Black students who often lack the intergenerational, nepotistic connections that white students might be able to leverage when looking for summer internships or job opportunities. A recent Harvard study found that nearly one-third of Americans will work at the same firm as a parent, earning almost 20 per cent more than they otherwise would. This puts Black students at a further disadvantage, as generations of discriminatory employment practices have destroyed Black futures—that which will allow them to build the same kind of generational wealth as white families. Facilitating Black advancement in industries such as consulting is crucial for breaking down the racial wealth gap. The management consulting industry in Canada was valued at 24.2 billion CAD in 2022, and has been growing at an average rate of 5.4 per cent annually since 2017.

To eliminate classist and racist barriers, organizations must provide Black students with mentors who can help identify obstacles and build collectivity in overcoming them. Through “Black in Consulting,” JED and MSBN Consulting may have taken an important first step in collaborating with BSN to hold an annual Black-focused networking event. But in order to make meaningful change in the field, other groups, and the faculty itself, must use their abundant resources to follow suit. In doing so, Desautels will not only be setting an important precedent for other faculties to follow, but it will be opening doors for generations of Black students to come.

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