Isaacson, Miller Called in by Harvard Business School to Find Chief Diversity Officer

The Boston-based search firm, which this summer placed Harvard University’s chief diversity and inclusion officer, is now heading a groundbreaking diversity assignment for the business school. The search is a first step in executing Harvard Business School’s ambitious racial equity action plan.

December 11, 2020 – The role of chief diversity officer is expanding at universities across the country. It has, in fact, become one of the most important positions for shaping the vision, culture and very face of institutions of higher learning from coast to coast. Pandemic or not, higher educational institutions need talent and these roles are now seen as paramount for them.

To that end, Harvard Business School (HBS) has retained Isaacson, Miller to lead its search for a chief diversity officer. Partners Keight Tucker Kennedy and Ponneh Varho are spearheading the search along with senior associate Sonia Gomez. In September, the school announced the Harvard Business School Action Plan for Racial Equity, an ambitious effort to advance racial equity both within and beyond the school. This roadmap includes the school’s plan to hire a chief diversity officer, expand its case-study offerings on race and diversity issues, and recruit more Black students and faculty. “We hadn’t made the progress I had hoped we would make,” Nitin Nohria, dean of the school, told the Wall Street Journal. “Race needs its own independent focus.”

2020 Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Recruiting Report:
Building a Balanced and Diverse Workforce

Hunt Scanlon Media’s latest market intelligence recruiting report – this time focused on Diversity, Equity & Inclusion – will be available later this fall! The nation’s top executive recruiters are resetting expectations and looking for new ways forward to build balanced and diverse workforce teams for their clients.

According to executive recruiters, DE&I should not just be a priority, but an integrated part of every company’s leadership goals. Some companies have even tied DE&I metrics to executive compensation. But it’s more than that.

Part of building strong, diverse hiring teams means asking yourself: “Who is my company culture going to attract – and how will it engage people who are here?” This question can be very difficult to answer if you assume everyone feels welcome already just because you do. Fostering diversity, equity and inclusion within organizations is more than just the right ethical decision. “It is one of the best business decisions a company can make,” said Keri Gavin, a partner with Hanold Associates and leader of the search firm’s Global Diversity, Equity & Inclusion practice. Hanold Associates is a proud sponsor of this year’s report. This report will help organizations prioritize DE&I as a business imperative that drives greater competitiveness, innovation and business results. Get it now! 

“Crafting the plan was a major effort undertaken in the midst of a long overdue racial reckoning across America and around the world,” said Jan Rivkin, senior associate dean, chair of the MBA program, and leader the dean’s Anti-Racism Task Force, a group of 25 members of the community tasked with developing an action plan to advance anti-racism education and research. “I can’t recall a time when so many people at HBS came together with such a shared sense of urgency and conviction for real change. I think everyone understands that the work to which we are committing will make Harvard Business School better—for every member of our community. Now that it is launched, the hard but fulfilling work of executing the plan begins.”

Isaacson, Miller will be drawing up a job specification for the position in the coming weeks.

Founded in 1908 as part of Harvard University, Harvard Business School is the oldest continuously operating law school in the U.S. Its faculty of more than 200 offers full-time programs leading to the MBA and doctoral degrees, as well as more than 70 open enrollment executive education programs and 55 custom programs, and Harvard Business School Online, the school’s digital learning platform.

Related: CarterBaldwin Executive Search Tapped by Pepperdine University to Find Chief Diversity Officer

A nationally recognized search firm focused on recruiting transformational leaders for mission-driven organizations, Isaacson, Miller has conducted thousands of placements over more than three decades. More than half of the firm’s work has been in academia, involving university presidents, college chancellors and deans. The firm has filled top leadership posts at Wellesley College, Washington State University, Miami University, Howard University, Bowdoin College, Dartmouth, NYU, Virginia State University, and the University of North Carolina, among others. Mr. Isaacson founded Isaacson, Miller in 1982.

Experienced Search Consultants

A member of Isaacson, Miller’s team since 2014, Ms. Tucker Kennedy brings diverse experience in non-profit and higher education organizations to her practice. She has worked on several presidential searches, including those for Spelman College, Hamilton College, Converse College, Duke University, Johnson C. Smith University and Elizabeth City State University. Additionally, Ms. Tucker Kennedy has played a key role on several student affairs searches for Ohio State University, Washington University in St. Louis, Princeton, MIT and Cornell. As a search consultant, she has worked with historically black colleges and universities, women’s colleges, and K-12 education and advocacy organizations.

Spencer Stuart Recruits CHRO for Harvard Law School
Spencer Stuart recently placed HR veteran Roxanne Armbruster as the new assistant dean and CHRO of Harvard Law School, the oldest continuously operating law school in the U.S.

The search firm was seeking someone with at least 10 years of progressively responsible experience in human resources, business and/or higher education administration as well as substantial staff management experience. Ms. Armbruster fit the bill with nearly two decades of experience in human resources and business operations across a variety of settings. Most recently, she served as the director of business operations at Ropes & Gray after transitioning from the firm’s human resources department. 

Ms. Varho is a member of the executive committee at Isaacson, Miller and the leader of the firm’s Washington, D.C. office. Since joining the firm in 2007, she has built a strong higher education practice, having completed more than 100 searches for presidents, provosts, deans and a broad range of functional leaders. Her searches often result in strong client affinity relationships, and she frequently works with her presidential placements to build out their leadership teams. Ms. Varho has conducted presidential searches for institutions including Bowdoin College, Spelman College, Vassar College, Wellesley College, and her alma mater, the University of Virginia. She has long been a champion of diversity and inclusion. In addition to her client work in this area, Ms. Varho co-chairs the firm’s diversity and inclusion initiative.

Ms. Gomez joined Isaacson, Miller in April. Previously, she was a postdoctoral fellow at the Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard University, where she researched and wrote on issues related to immigration in the U.S. and also served as part of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation seminar on migration and the humanities. While earning her doctorate at the University of Chicago, Ms. Gomez worked on graduate diversity and equity initiatives in the office of the provost. In this role, she led organizing efforts in support of graduate students of color.

Recent Work with Harvard

In July, Harvard University turned to Isaacson, Miller to recruit Sherri Ann Charleston as the school’s chief diversity and inclusion officer. The same team of recruiters who are conducting the current chief diversity officer assignment led this search. “Sherri is an administrative leader and interdisciplinary scholar whose work at the intersection of history and law informs her efforts to translate theory into practice that improves higher education,” said Larry Bacow, president of Harvard. “She is widely admired for her ability to integrate all aspects of an institution into her strategic thinking and decision-making. I welcome Sherri’s leadership and expertise in this important area.”

A historian trained in U.S. history with a focus on race, women, gender, citizenship and the law, and an attorney with a specialization in constitutional and employment law, Ms. Charleston most recently served as assistant vice provost for diversity, equity and inclusion, and chief affirmative action officer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Related: WittKieffer Seeks Chief Diversity Officer for Colgate University

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor  – Hunt Scanlon Media

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