How 2U Celebrates Black History Month All Year Long

Learn how this global education technology company is working to authentically demonstrate its commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion

February 17, 2021

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Editor’s note: Mark your calendars and tune in to the first episode of 2U's LinkedIn Live series EDU: Live, which debuts on Wednesday, Feb. 24 at 3 pm (EST).

Over the past year, conversations focused on racial diversity, inclusion and equity have gained traction at businesses across the globe. LinkedIn is also continuing its diversity and inclusion work as we believe that we're uniquely positioned to create equal access to opportunity and help drive more equitable outcomes for all members of the global workforce.

Now that February is here, brands are trying to find ways to authentically celebrate Black History Month – they have learned that messaging is not enough. One way forward is to not just commemorate the achievements of Black Americans for 28 days in February; brands need to ensure issues of diversity, access and opportunity aren’t confined to 28 days in one month each year. Companies that do the hard work internally to be more inclusive and equitable will undoubtedly see those efforts translated into stronger brand and employee engagement. 

One brand focused on doing the hard work necessary to build a culture of inclusivity and equity is Maryland-based education technology company 2U, which powers online degrees, short courses, and boot camps in partnership with 75 nonprofit universities. In addition to having a diverse C-suite, the company has one of the most diverse boards of directors among publicly traded companies, which includes Valerie Jarrett, who served as a senior advisor to President Obama.

Fostering an Inclusive Company Culture is Key

According to 2U’s Chief Strategy and Engagement Officer David Sutphen, the organization’s commitment to prioritizing diversity, equity and inclusion has become a core focus of company leaders. “If you’re going to move the dial in any meaningful way on these complicated issues, it needs to be a leadership-wide priority as opposed to the responsibility of a single diversity and inclusion leader,” he said. “Companies, for the first time, are starting to put real metrics and benchmarks around what they are trying to accomplish, and are also providing a much greater level of transparency about where they are in their journey.”

Though the company has made some progress, Sutphen explains that there is still much work to be done. “We don’t have a pipeline problem. Where we struggle is how to take the talent we already have and help them develop clear, defined career pathways to move up. How do we mentor them? How do we make sure mid- to senior level managers know what it means to be inclusive leaders so some of that homegrown talent starts to make their way up the ladder in the company? That’s where a lot of our focus is right now,” he said.

What feels different to me, in this moment, is that it’s not just the employees of color or women or LGBTQ+ community asking their companies to build a more diverse and inclusive culture and business—it’s the broader employee base. Some of the most vocal advocates for change are White employees. –David Sutphen, Chief Strategy and Engagement Officer at 2U.

How Internal Efforts Influence External Initiatives

Sutphen emphasized that the company’s mission-driven commitment to diversity and inclusion extends beyond its culture and employees to its partnerships with colleges and universities, which center on expanding educational access. Recently the company announced a partnership with historically black college Morehouse to launch a suite of online bachelor’s degrees, beginning with online degree completion programs designed for nontraditional students. Sutphen said this initiative has never been more relevant or important than now during a global pandemic that’s reshaping what education looks like and that has disproportionately affected people of color.

“Morehouse College is one of the most iconic HBCUs. There are close to 3 million Black men in the United States who started college, earned some credits, but never earned a degree because life got in the way. And now for those individuals – as working adults – to not just go back to college, but to go back to college as a Morehouse Man, is inspiring,” Sutphen said.

Continuing the Conversation on Equity With LinkedIn Live Series

In order to keep the conversation going around equity and access in education across the industry, 2U decided to launch EDU: Live. Hosted by Sutphen, this monthly LinkedIn Live series will feature conversations with a wide-range of leaders from academia, business, and civil society who are passionate about creating greater equity, access, and opportunity in higher education and beyond. 

“I'm excited to launch our new EDU: Live conversation series on LinkedIn Live. I can't think of a better platform for reaching and engaging a diverse community of professionals who share my passion for fostering greater access, equity, and opportunity in higher education,” Sutphen said. “I look forward to bringing much needed voices to the table—like Dr. David Thomas, President of Morehouse College, Lynn Wooten, President of Simmons University, and Dr. Al Tillery, Founder of the Center for the Study of Diversity & Democracy at Northwestern University, among others—and along the way sparking a thoughtful and productive dialogue that resonates widely across LinkedIn."

Mark your calendars and tune in to the first episode of EDU: Live on 2U’s LinkedIn page on Wednesday, Feb. 24 at 3 pm (EST), which will be a conversation between Sutphen and David A. Thomas, president of Morehouse College.

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