Donna Maria Blancero is on a mission to show that successful people represent all types of identities, including race, gender, sexual orientation and ethnicity. She believes the best way to do that is by being a role model—something she has succeeded in doing throughout her career, most recently when she was named Bentley’s interim provost.
She vividly recalls the first time she had a professor of color, as a junior in college. “I thought, ‘Wow, I could really do this,’” says Blancero, who is Latina and grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y. “It had an enormous impact, just seeing someone I identified with in that position.”
Blancero is proud of her Puerto Rican heritage though she admits to hesitation when it comes to discussing her success. At one point, for example, she was writing a biographical summary and struggled with whether to include that she is one of only three Latina business deans at schools in the U.S. that have earned accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.
Ultimately, says Blancero, “I put that statistic in my bio. There are still plenty of people who think that, because it’s 2019, we don’t have issues when it comes to inclusion and diversity. I wanted to make it clear that we still have work to do.”
Change starts at the top, she adds, with leaders who are vocal about inclusion — a commitment that put Bentley on her radar. In 2004, Blancero was vice president for the National Society of Hispanic MBAs when the organization presented its Brillante Award for Diversity to Bentley. She joined the university’s faculty in 2010 as an associate professor of management.
“Bentley understands the value of diversity,” says Blancero, who has since served as interim dean of business and the McCallum Graduate School. “Our Office of Diversity & Inclusion keeps these issues front and center and helps ensure that inclusion is built into the fabric of the community.”
She does the same in her classroom. No matter the subject, Blancero weaves inclusion into the curriculum, for example, through case studies that feature women or people of color in leadership roles. Her current research examines Latino and Latina experiences in the workplace, particularly the impact of cultural values on career success and retention.
Blancero’s work has earned wide recognition, most recently, the 2018 Presidential Service Award from the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science. Others include the Brillante Award for Hispanic Education from the National Society of Hispanic MBAs; and the Diversity Educator Award, presented by the Boston chapter of the National Black MBA Association. For 25 years, she has been a faculty member of the PhD Project, which works to increase diversity among faculty at business schools.
Her push for inclusion has very personal roots. “In high school, I was getting a ride home from the father of a friend, who warned me not to tell him I was Puerto Rican because ‘he hates them.’ That whole ride I was so nervous that he would somehow find out and ditch me on the side of the road. It made me very much an advocate.
“Anyone who knows me for a length of time — and I mean days, not years — knows that I’m a very proud Latina,” adds Blancero, who was the first member of her immediate family to attend college and the first Latina to receive a PhD at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. “I try to make that point because through hard work, I have been blessed with success, even though a lot of people didn’t expect it.”