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Interview with Yolande E. Chan | The Dean of Business



In August 2021, McGill University’s Desautels Faculty of Management opened its doors to Yolande E. Chan. Born in Jamaica and a graduate of the University of Oxford, she has made diversity, equity, inclusion and social responsibility her workhorses for more than 20 years. The dean wants the Montreal institution to be closer than ever to entrepreneurial reality, the business world and the profound changes in society.

What brought you to Montreal and to the position of Dean of the Desautels Faculty of Management?

There is an alignment between the strategic objectives of the faculty and mine. I am thinking of equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI), for example, corporate social responsibility, innovation, digital technologies and entrepreneurship. I have been involved in these issues for a long time. I want to do something to bridge the gaps. For a long time, I have focused on the role of the university in society as a whole, in the development of cities.

What do you think of the titles of director of diversity, equity and inclusion in business? Too little, too late? Are they necessary?

The representation of women in the leadership of boards of directors is distressing. There are women, but not in the position of president. The same goes for people from diverse backgrounds. We have not reached an acceptable zone at all. It is therefore an important position. We just hired another EDI employee at the faculty. You need a dedicated resource that opens eyes, educates and follows up. Even if things change in organizations and we won’t always need these positions, they are essential right now.

I am well placed to promote diversity and inclusion because I have experienced such absences. There are few black superiors in the faculties. It’s sad that in Canada today, in leadership, in almost all industries, we don’t see women of diversity. It needs to change. We need models. That we walk into a class and say: “She’s the dean”, and not: “What? Is she the dean? We make little room for those who are different. However, we deserve our place, because we are excellent. You have to have a pipeline of candidates. There is no question of lowering the bar. And it has to come from the school system.

What has changed in management school in what is taught since the start of the pandemic?

Faculty students are taught to be able to turn around quickly and deal with the unexpected. We are in a time of continual disruption, COVID, Black Lives Matter, war… we are living through change, one horrible thing after another. Our students must therefore be able to follow, to manage new situations, to learn constantly. It’s the key to success. As companies live in a context of impromptu changes, we expose our students more and more to realistic situations. I want them to face reality, to graduate with at least one concrete experience.

As SMEs have suffered a lot during the pandemic, do you think that students from your faculty will also be attracted to entrepreneurship from now on?

The vast majority of businesses in Canada are SMEs. It runs through the veins of the country. From what I see at McGill University, the interest has not dropped at all. I don’t feel any disengagement at all. Billions of dollars are awarded in seed funding. Students see this. They want that! They want to build post-COVID. We want to make sure that they have a sense of entrepreneurship in life. We want them to be able to bounce back in real life, to find solutions, opportune circumstances for themselves and others. And we want the university to become entrepreneurial. It’s a big challenge. There are opportunities that can be seized from COVID. We want what we teach and what there is on the pitch to be consistent.

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