Tyrha Lindsey said she sings “Let My Light Shine” at the beginning of class to encourage her students “to remember the essence of who they are.”
For Lindsey, professor of business at Rutgers University in New Jersey, maintaining her sense of self has helped guide her through trials and tribulations in her corporate career as a woman of color. Through an opportunity with the KPMG Foundation, she now stands in front of a classroom with a mission to guide other students like herself as they enter the workforce.
The Foundation was created in 1968 to support quality education in accounting and in 1994, it initiated The PhD Project – a program that encourages and supports business students of color as they become business professors, and in turn, mentor the next generation.
According to Lindsey, the project is composed of 1,200 minority business school professors and 350 doctoral students of color. With her recent appointment as president of the Marketing Doctoral Student Association (MDSA) for The PhD Project, she said she hopes these numbers grow to “directly impact workplace diversity.”
“In the early 1990s, key stakeholders within KPMG were sending out various consultants to meet with clients. These managers in the world of business were noticing the change in racial demographics, and wanted to recruit professionals that reflected their customer base. So KPMG began to look at the lack of diversity in management ranks and felt that it was rooted in a lack of diversity within business schools,” Lindsey said. “There is less than one percent of African Americans that are obtaining PhD’s in this country, and that is a dismal statistic. If you are looking at the future of higher education, or the browning of America, as the classrooms become more diverse, the level of professors (of color) has not changed and this is a major problem.”
The Cincinnati native went on to explain that the PhD Project’s overall vision is to create a larger talent pipeline of African Americans, Hispanic Americans and Native Americans for business leadership positions. With corporations like AT&T, CIGNA, and ADP supporting its mission and recognizing its merit, Lindsey said more minority doctoral students can receive the mentoring and support they need in the classroom.
“As professors, we can impact students and their place in the business world and we can be their connection to business and this goes on all the time with my White, Asian and Indian counterparts. Black students are not seeing us in the front of the classroom. I even had one Black student at an MBA level who said I was the first Black professor he had ever seen and that is unacceptable,” Lindsey said. “I take these students under my wing and I guide them and when you see Black folks in front of the classroom, and in business settings, it makes a difference.”
And with her resume, Lindsey also has the contacts and resources to guide her students into jobs in the business world. Before joining the PhD Project, Lindsey was a fixture in the marketing and communications, entertainment and nonprofit arenas and has worked for firms like Quincy Jones/David Salzman Entertainment, NBC, Creative Artists Agency, UniWorld Group, and was the first Black public relations director at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Her past experiences help her teach her students “the art of networking” and can even help them acquire contacts that can lead to internships and job placement.
“Networking encompasses how you meet people, how you present yourself, how you do your follow up – and that is some of what you need to know when you graduate. I have had students where I had the opportunity to groom them, prepare them for what they would be faced with in the business world because I have been there and I know what it is like to be a Black woman in corporate America, and in the entertainment industry,” Lindsey said. “People are going to look at you first, and if you don’t look right and you don’t talk right you are not going to get the gig. As future business professionals – especially business professionals of color – they are going to be challenged, their morals are going to be tried and by remembering the essence of who they are they will be able to let their light shine in all that they do.”
And as she currently serves her three-year term for the MDSA, Lindsey will continue to share her knowledge and experience with her peers, and represent the group as well as help lead the planning for the 2015 annual conference in Chicago next summer.
“Through our annual empowerment conference, our members can learn more about the field, how to be better scholars, better professors, as well as learn tools to be better in academia,” Lindsey said. “Our goal is also to pull together our connections, and pool our resources. There are hundreds of us across the country and we can rely on each other to show up to different conferences across the nation. A lot of times I have been to conferences and I have been one of 10 Black people attending. We want to change that so we don’t feel alone at these events.”
While Lindsey admits it will be a challenge to increase minority presence in the classroom, and in turn the business world, it can be done with support from the community, and through programs like The PhD Project. And as a Black woman, Lindsey said she will continue to be an example, and continue to try to “change lives.”
“As a Black professional woman, I can stand before my students and show them that we are a force to be reckoned with. I can show them different types of nuances and that is the point of The PhD Project that I am so proud to be a part of,” she said. “I always tell my students that they are the future, and they can change history and as people of color we have so much to bring in terms of opportunity that can make us or break us. And through The PhD Project I have been able to get that support and now I’m here to pass that on.”