Abhishek Verma, a student in Tufts' Diversity and Inclusion Leadership M.A. program, at an on campus event

From Tufts to Diversity and Inclusion Leadership

Before coming to Tufts, Abhishek Verma, a student in the Diversity and Inclusion Leadership master’s program, was an HR professional looking to broaden his experience in the field. Now he’s working with Tufts Chief Diversity Officer on diversity and inclusion initiatives across campus.

By Gabrielle Otto

As our world becomes more globally connected and increasingly diverse, companies are investing in positions that focus specifically on diversity and inclusion. Abhishek Verma, a first-year student in the Master of Arts in Diversity and Inclusion Leadership, witnessed this trend firsthand. Before coming to Tufts, Abhishek worked in the Human Resources Department at HCL Technologies as a diversity and inclusion practitioner at the company’s headquarters in Noida, India.

“I think when I started in HR in 2014, at that time diversity and inclusion used to be just one part of the responsibilities of HR, but, increasingly, the field is evolving, sometimes becoming a unique department altogether—a lot of companies are now establishing their own separate diversity and inclusion departments.”

Indeed, a well-known career and job search website estimates that the demand for such roles has increased by nearly 20% between 2017 and 2018.

Tufts began the Diversity and Inclusion Leadership master’s program in Fall 2017 in response to the growing demand for professionals with this training. Abhishek joined the program’s second cohort and is expanding his academic background in the field as well as getting insight into the workings of diversity and inclusion divisions in the context of higher education.

Discovering A Passion and Finding Tufts

After completing his M.B.A. with a focus on Human Resources in India in 2014, Abhishek says his entry into the field of diversity and inclusion was a bit of a coincidence. But as he delved into his first position, the focus on the subject was something he saw an important need for and he felt a strong personal connection towards the work.

“The role quite aligned with my personal life experiences and my experiences in society,” he says. “I identify as gay and I’m a person of color from a middle-class family. I am a person with intersecting identities and back in India I’ve seen marginalization happening around me in my home country and city as well.”

Until September 2018, homosexuality was illegal in India and Abhishek had faced intolerance from some members of his community when he came out to them a few years prior. Gender disparity is also a large issue, he says, with men holding the majority of leadership roles both in the workplace and at home.

Abhishek hoped to change some of these attitudes in his role. “The organization’s focus was on gender inclusion, disability inclusion, and cultural diversity. When we ran various initiatives and programs for empowering women, we initially faced pushback from the management and employees. But later on, with our consistent efforts, this got better,” he says.  

After four years in the role at HCL Technologies, he sought to grow further and began to research the possibility of getting an advanced degree in the subject in the U.S., which is how he found Tufts’ program. He says there was nothing quite like Tufts’ master’s program out there and it quickly became his first choice for his second master’s degree.

“The interdisciplinary nature of the program makes it quite unique. I think diversity and inclusion is something which cannot be taught by only one department. The nature of the field and the program is such that is has to be interdisciplinary.”

In addition to courses specific to the Diversity and Inclusion Leadership master’s, Abhishek, who is half-way through his first year, has taken courses in the Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning and Psychology departments. He also says that the opportunity to take classes with both undergraduate and graduate students with a variety of academic focuses has been an enriching one.

Learn the scholarly theories and practical tools to implement institutional changes that promote diversity and foster inclusivity.


Diversity and Inclusion on Campus

When he arrived at Tufts, Abhishek sought out a job opportunity that would complement his academic studies and broaden his professional experience. Currently, he is a Graduate Assistant in Chief Diversity Officer Rob Mack’s office. In this role, he works with Mack and Deborah Kochevar, provost ad interim, on various initiatives, including a project to collate and track diversity and inclusion metrics across four of Tufts’ schools. He also assists with communication and planning around events such as Tufts Table, a university-wide event series that aims to bring together diverse sections of the community for discussions about significant subjects. There are also a number of special events sponsored by the CDO’s office that he helps promote and coordinate, including a talk by Dr. Robin DiAngelo and journalist Jack Hill on white fragility in America. 

While the position is not a for-credit component or requirement of the Diversity and Inclusion Leadership program, he says that it provides useful exposure to working in a higher education setting and compliments his prior corporate background. He also finds that the conversations he’s having in the classroom around discrimination, inclusion, privilege, and representation are highly relevant to the work and initiatives of the CDO’s office.

Looking Ahead

This July, Abhishek will begin 6 month long co-op at Biogen, a biotechnology company in Cambridge, M.A. The experience will likely become the focus of his capstone thesis project in his second year of the program. And after that? He hopes to get back into working in diversity and inclusion in the corporate world. He’s excited to bring his Tufts experience and academic training to this environment.

“I think the most important asset of any organization—be it corporate or higher education—is the people. Every person has their own qualities and their own unique lived experiences. It is inevitable that people will have differences amongst each other and it’s important to acknowledge this. It is the role of diversity and inclusion practitioners to bridge those differences and gaps and make the environment more inclusive for everybody.”