Erika James, a respected mentor, an award-winning educator, and a leading expert in her field, has made history as the first woman and person of color to be appointed dean of the Wharton School in its 139-year history. With extensive research into crisis leadership, management, and workplace discrimination, she has offered strategies for leaders to grow from their mistakes, build trust, create opportunities, and make positive decisions under pressure. Erika’s journey began in Bermuda, where she was born to parents who were music teachers, and she grew up in Sherman, Texas, graduating high school as a senior class president. She honed her passion for human behavior by earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology at Pomona College and a master’s and Ph.D. in organizational psychology at the University of Michigan.
Erika’s contributions to academia started when her dissertation advisor encouraged her to embark on a career in academia. Her first appointment was at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, where she taught for 13 years, becoming a mentor and champion for young women in the MBA program. She pioneered the Associate Dean of Diversity position, which fostered a more diverse and inclusive environment for faculty and students. In 2014, Erika became the dean at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, becoming the first female dean and first African-American dean. During her six-year tenure, Erika sparked a culture of collaboration, grew and diversified the faculty, and led the redesign of the undergraduate business curriculum.
Erika has won multiple awards as an educator, accomplished consultant, and researcher. She was named one of the “Top 10 Women of Power in Education” by Black Enterprise and in the “Power 100” list by Ebony Magazine. She was also awarded the Earl Hill Jr. Faculty Achievement and Diversity Award from The Consortium, an organization committed to increasing diversity in business, starting with graduate school admissions.
But James’s achievements go beyond her professional accomplishments. She has also been a dedicated philanthropist, working to advance diversity and inclusion in higher education and beyond. As dean of Emory’s Goizueta Business School, she established the school’s first diversity, equity, and inclusion office and oversaw the development of programs to support underrepresented minorities, women, and LGBTQ students and faculty. She has also served on the board of directors for several organizations dedicated to social justice, including the National Black MBA Association and the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.
Erika James’s journey is a testament to the power of passion, dedication, and breaking barriers. From her pioneering research in organizational psychology to her trailblazing leadership as the first woman and person of color to be appointed dean of the Wharton School, James has left an indelible mark on higher education and beyond.