In the months since the Black Lives Matter protests erupted in the United States, some incredibly passionate calls-to-action have rung throughout the world in the fight against racism and discrimination. From Brazil to the UAE, companies, organizations, schools and especially everyday people have been adding their voices to the collective demand for equality for all.
It is from this global awareness that the Black in Business Club was created at the HEC Paris MBA. With the Club’s official charter in February 2021, HEC Paris joins American business schools like Harvard, Wharton, and Stanford in having a formally recognized professional association specifically for Black students and their allies.
Even though the idea of a campus-based center for Black students has been commonplace in the United States since the 1960s, the idea never caught on in Europe. Until now. (That said, the Africa Club has been a longstanding professional association at HEC Paris).
Like all of the HEC Paris MBA clubs, the Black in Business Club was established by — and will be run by — students. Its executive team, who are elected by other students within the MBA intake, serve six-month-long mandates.
To learn more about the club, we interviewed its co-founder and first President, Shyla DeVeaux, MBA ’22. An American born and raised in Stamford, Connecticut, Shyla worked in financial regulation at J.P. Morgan and American Express before starting at the HEC Paris MBA in September 2020. She and her husband moved to London two years ago with their 11-year-old dog.
Tell us about the first steps you took in creating Black in Business at HEC Paris.
It was actually quite scary approaching people and asking them if they were interested in this type of club. When I say scary, it’s because if something is important to you, you don’t want to hear other people say that it’s not important to them. But the response I had was overwhelmingly supportive. Looking back, I don’t know why I was surprised, because HEC recruits students that understand the importance of equality and ethics. But it’s just a natural human reaction to be afraid of rejection.
The goals are three-fold: support, inform and recruit. We want to support the Black students on campus throughout their MBA experience, primarily to help them reach their career goals. We’ll bring in speakers, both Black and allies, who can speak about different career options, and give advice and guidance.
Another goal is to inform and educate the student body about systemic and institutional racism. We want students to understand how they can be better allies, and how they can contribute to creating a more diverse experience both in their future workplaces and in their everyday lives.
We also want the club to be a place of constant support. It’s nice to have people around you who’ve had the same experiences you have, with whom you can be really comfortable talking about some really uncomfortable topics.
In researching MBA programs, were you surprised that HEC Paris didn’t already have a Black in Business club?
During my research, I came to understand that these type of clubs don’t really exist in Europe. Eventually I came to terms with the fact that if I wanted to pursue an MBA in Europe, I wouldn’t be studying at a school with a Black Student Association. But I saw it as an opportunity, knowing that I could use my experience to create, either formally or informally, a group that would make the school a better place.
In the end, I looked to LBS (London Business School) as a blueprint. Tabria Lenard, an MBA student at LBS, co-founded that school’s Black in Business club a few months ago. She was doing her exchange at HEC Paris, and I met her in my French class.
Why was 2021 the right time to bring the idea of a Black Student Association to Europe?
As a Black person, throughout your life, you are constantly told ‘no’. It is nice to hear the opposite, that ‘yes, things are possible’. Just look at President Obama and Vice President Kamala Harris. These are important people who are also symbols because of their accomplishments. They show what is possible — that someone who looks like me can achieve great things.
In France, you are taught to be French first, which is one big difference between here and the United States. I had to explain to some people that ‘yes, we are a French school, but we are an international program, and our clubs should reflect the fact that we have an international student body’.
Of course, the Black Lives Matter movement raised awareness. There were protests not only in the United States, but also in Paris and around the world. International communities started to rally and be more vocal about inequality and discrimination. People are now trying to put more of a voice to discrimination, calling attention to incidents when they do happen. If anything, the Black Lives Matter movement has given people more courage to step forward when incidents happen. And, it gave me the courage make this idea into a reality. But, plainly, this club would not exist without my co-founder, Temitope Ahmed – he came to me with the idea and introduced me to the right people to help drafting the proposal. HEC staff member Monique Lewis, the club’s board members, and my fellow students were instrumental in providing me with much-needed encouragement to bring this club to life.
I don’t know if 2021 was special or if it was just the right combination of events and people to make it happen.
If you look at the Western European countries, a lot of them have built their success on colonialism. That sentiment does not just go away. It is not just an American problem because I’ve experienced the same type of racism in Europe. It might not be guns waving and racial slurs here, but racism definitely exists. Just look at the incident at Credit Suisse involving their former CEO at a work party. And that incident was directed at someone at the CEO level. Just imagine what the average person lives through.
What events can we look forward to from the Black in Business Club?
Our first event will be Black History Bingo, held on February 25 during Black History Month. It’s an opportunity to learn some fun facts about Black history and have a dialogue with the students about what the club is and how we can work together. After that, I have been talking to a couple of my connections in the financial industry to speak to us about their career paths. We’d like to bring in prominent Black business people as speakers. There’s also a newsletter in the works. Our idea is to build the foundations for a club that current and future students can sustain and enjoy.