A Measured Apology and A Teachable Moment

My Measured Apology

My father was an associate pastor in a small town in Texas. He once was quoted poorly in our local newspaper and the experience stung him. Last week, I experienced the same.

To everyone in and around FEMBA, I had a conversation on May 16 with the new education editor of Businessweek which led to the paragraph below. I apologize for the light this paragraph casts on FEMBA, and I want to offer what I see as valuable lessons learned from it that could benefit your career.

In Bloomberg Businessweek’s experience, faculty members aren’t the only women who aren’t being taken seriously. On a visit to Anderson last month, we asked Dylan Stafford, assistant dean of the Fully Employed MBA Programs, what types of students his program takes risks on by admitting them. “Women,” he replied. “Their quant skills aren’t good, and the applicant pool is lower.” (Quant, or quantitative analysis, is part of the GMAT.).

This paragraph makes three assertions. As I see it, the first assertion is inaccurate, the second is only half the story, and the third is accurate.

First assertion: I don’t take women seriously. That is not accurate. I absolutely take women seriously. I take all the applicants to UCLA FEMBA seriously, women and men. I’ve trained over 1,000 FEMBA SuperSaturday admission interview volunteers the last decade with this quote: Treat everyone with dignity and respect. Remember, they are evaluating us too. We admit top-quality women here at Anderson and they do just as well as their male colleagues.

Second assertion: We take risks on women with low quant skills. This is partially accurate. What I thought I was saying, but was apparently misunderstood, was that anyone with low quant skills, male or female, is a riskier admit since getting an MBA (necessarily) involves a lot of numbers and good quantitative skills. And, it’s a good thing that we take risks; that’s how we build a dynamic student body, by taking risks.

Third assertion: Women are a lower percentage of our applicant pool than men. That is accurate. Slightly less than a third of our applicants are female and we admit proportionately. As a matter of fact, FEMBA set all-time program records the last two years for total number of women matriculating.

I sincerely apologize to the women and men currently enrolled in FEMBA, our alumni and the population at large. The implication of this paragraph that I don’t take women seriously does not reflect my strongly held view that the more women in the program, the better.

A Teachable Moment

Suffice it to say, I feel as if my reputation has taken a direct hit in the national press. I know that politicians, actors and other high-profile people are used to this. But, as a regular-profile person, it stung to read those words. My hope is that you, our almost 900 FEMBA students, can have your first brush with the national media be better than mine was. Here are the four lessons I learned.

1. When you meet with a reporter, treat it as an interview.
My conversation was billed as a meet-and-greet, to help the new b-school education editor for Bloomberg Businessweek. I spoke candidly, conversationally, as I would to anyone who wanted to hear how great FEMBA is; I didn’t think of it as an interview.

2. Don’t get in a hurry. 
We started our meet-and-greet late, about 4:50 on a Friday afternoon when I normally leave at 5:00 to pick-up my two-year-old from daycare. I was rushed and that didn’t turn out well.

3. Know the points you want to make.
My conversational, rushed, ‘kitchen sink’ overview of FEMBA led to the horrible interpretation that I don’t take women seriously. Next time, I’ll think of a couple of points and stick to them.

4. Record the interview with your cell phone.
That would help a lot, having a recording to play back. Then I could listen to the interview to hear both the exact words quoted and the paragraphs before and after. Businessweek is a high-quality news organization, and a long-time positive proponent of Anderson, but it would be helpful to be able to rewind and listen to what I was trying to communicate.

We are educators, attempting to empower you, very smart and capable career managers, to have even more impactful, more successful futures. You invest over $100,000 and three years of intense effort to earn your FEMBA degree. My intention is to offer lessons learned so that you might fare better in your first national media moment. I apologize again that my conversation could be construed in such a negative light. I will be much more careful with my words in the future.

To the education team at Businessweek, Francesca Levy, the new education editor with whom I spoke, and Claire Suddath, the author, your job is to look at society and report on it, objectively and dispassionately. Please report more on FEMBA. The more you learn about FEMBA, the more empowered you will find the women and the men here.

I invited Francesca to connect on LinkedIn this week. I’d like to invite her back to campus this fall, on November 8, for our 36th FEMBA Admissions SuperSaturday. It will be a record-breaking day, as we will surpass 5,000 lifetime FEMBA admission interviews conducted. It will also be a great chance to get an additional perspective on what we are all about here.

Coach Wooden said, “Be more concerned with your character than with your reputation. Character is what you really are. Reputation is what people say you are. Character is more important.”

5 thoughts on “A Measured Apology and A Teachable Moment

  1. Dylan, I’m so disappointed by Businessweek’s misrepresentation of your character. As a proud FEMBA alumna (2007), I’ve seen firsthand your dedication to the job and your pride in the school — and know, without a shadow of a doubt, that you merely seek to admit the most qualified of candidates, irrespective of gender. Your response and idea to turn this awful encounter into a learning experience for the rest of us are just a testament to your character — you are truly a class act. I hope you can take heart in the fact that the people who know you find your portrayal in the article to be absolute rubbish, and thank you for sharing your incident so that the rest of us remember to be on our toes.

  2. Great and thorough reply. Sorry you had to be represented that way. You are a great man and I am clear where your heart is at. Vicki

  3. Dylan, I read it. Very straight to the point. Very well written, articulate. Clear. Couldn’t have done better myself. –Neal

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