President Beilock Urges Open Dialogue at Fortune Conference

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The event featured the "most powerful women" in industry, education, and other sectors. 

President Beilock at Fortune conference
Dartmouth President Sian Leah Beilock, center, participates in a panel discussion at a Fortune conference with Kristin Mugford, left, senior associate dean for culture and community at Harvard Business School, and Fortune editor Ruth Umoh. (Photo by Stuart Isett/Fortune)

Speaking before an audience of leaders at the Fortune Most Powerful Women 2023 Conference in Laguna Niguel, Calif., last week, President Sian Leah Beilock said that the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on affirmative action has not changed the necessity to cultivate a campus culture that welcomes different experiences and perspectives.

"What's not on the table is this principle of diversity—that having a diversity of views, of lived experiences, leads to better outcomes," President Beilock said. "The onus now is on us as an institution more than ever to go out and get the best and brightest, regardless of background."

The remarks were part of an Oct. 11 panel discussion with Kristin Mugford, senior associate dean of culture and community at Harvard Business School, on the changing role of diversity in higher education and the workplace. The conversation was moderated by Fortune editor Ruth Umoh.

Having diverse identities in the room is not enough, Beilock said. Institutions like Dartmouth need to cultivate the skill of engaging with differing perspectives. She described her vision—announced during her Inaugural address last month—for the Dartmouth Dialogue Project, which aims to encourage students to have and participate in difficult conversations in the classroom.

"The data are really clear that better decisions are made when you have people at the table who feel like they belong and can push at each other," she said. "And part of that is feeling you can trust one another, you have a community. Then you can say things, you can make mistakes, you can feel uncomfortable."

In her own leadership, Beilock says that it is important to "take stances that allow dialogue on both sides of an issue."

"I bring a real push around free expression, around creating brave—not just safe—spaces where we can have differences of opinion and people hear each other on issues that they don't agree with."

Beilock, a cognitive scientist, also discussed the need for higher education and industry to build partnerships. She described the EDGE Consortium, an effort Dartmouth is helping to lead among six other U.S. universities with women presidents and deans of engineering, including Brown University; Indiana University; Olin College of Engineering; the University of California, Berkeley; the University of Rochester; and the University of Washington.

The goal of the consortium is to leverage the 2022 federal CHIPS and Science Act—which Beilock called "a once in a lifetime opportunity in our country to think about the semiconductor industry"—to bring more women and other underrepresented groups into the engineering and technology fields. The EDGE Consortium is hosting its first summit for leaders in education, government, and industry in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 24.

"We have to think about multiple entry points. It's not just one 'weed-out' calculus class, but how do we think about all the opportunities to show meaning in engineering and STEM for our women, and especially people of color," Beilock said. "Dartmouth is a great test case. We're actually the first engineering school in the country to have gender parity at the undergrad level."

Toward the end of the panel, Umoh asked Beilock to reflect on the arc of her career that led her to the leadership of an Ivy League university.

Beilock credited her success to "great people around me and great mentorship."

"And I want to be very clear with that: Mentorship is not just from women. It's from men too," she said. "Men have a real responsibility to help uplift the best talent, regardless of gender, regardless of race."

Connie Britton
Trustee Connie Britton '89 also participates at the Fortune conference. (Photo by Stuart Isett/Fortune)

Beilock was not the only Dartmouth woman represented at the three-day Fortune conference. Trustee Connie Britton '89, an award-winning actress, investor, and philanthropist, spoke about her approach to character, the pressure women face to be "likeable," and the challenge of developing her own production company.