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Why Diversity Matters in the B-School Classroom

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Rebecca Baer

Programs with diverse student bodies expose you to the perspectives and values of other cultures.

Rebecca Baer is Director, MBA and Certificate Programs at Ball State University, College of Business.

Business in the modern era is inherently global. No longer is globalization a topic of one particular International Business course, but it is woven throughout business school curriculum. As a result, students have been encouraged to learn more about the customs of other cultures in order to do business outside of their home country. The practice of learning the traditions and customs of those you are doing business with has been accepted and embraced in the business world. In doing this, we immediately recognize that cultural differences exist across geographic borders, but we must also recognize and increase our awareness of intra-national cultural differences.

Employers assume academic competency for students who have earned a degree but have placed an increased emphasis on the development of “soft-skills”. In the 2016 GMAC Corporate Recruiters Survey, respondents ranked a candidate’s ability to fit within an organizational culture the most important trait, followed by the ability to work in teams, and the ability to make an impact. In order to develop these skills and achieve success in a diverse and multicultural workplace, leaders within organizations must possess multi-cultural awareness, knowledge, and skills which allows them to understand and value the ways that culture influences different perceptions of the same problem and solution. Development of Cultural Intelligence allows for the development of one’s self-awareness as well so that any assumptions and unconscious biases may come to light and no longer influence decision making in an unintentional way.

Gain Exposure to a Wide Variety of Perspectives and Values

Attending a program with a diverse student body allows for students to be exposed to the perspective and values of other cultures. It is a safe place to learn and practice the skills needed to work with people who are not like ourselves. Working with people who are not like us allows us the ability to understand that our own truth is not the absolute truth and that our perspective is not the only perspective. The ability to learn in a diverse classroom helps students understand that many factors affect decision making and that the way that an individual approaches a problem and makes decisions is not the only way.

Popular research shows that race, culture, gender, nationality, and age all play an important role in how a person approaches a problem and makes a decision. These traits (race, culture, gender, etc.) also influence leadership style and effectiveness. An understanding of how other people make decisions translates to success in a professional environment by eliminating and biases, judgment, or criticisms you may currently hold. Understanding and appreciation for those who are not like us allows a leader to constructively work with people from diverse backgrounds. The type of collaboration and innovation that occurs when people approach a problem in different ways is astounding, taking the best ideas and formulating solutions that have been thought through many minds with varying perspectives is powerful. Business schools with diverse student bodies help foster this type of learning, understanding, and personal development.

Good, Effective Leaders Are in High Demand

Transformational leadership has become the expectation. Transformational leaders are aware of their own behaviors and how they affect others as they are also aware of the cultural implications of others’ behavior. In order to be effective, a good leader understands the motivations of others are rooted in cultural values. Without the opportunity to experience working with a diverse group of people, one may only rely on their own ethnocentric viewpoint which would yield poor results in a multi-cultural environment. A diverse classroom allows students to develop awareness, knowledge and skills which help to avoid an ethnocentric approach to management and thus allowing them to become effective leaders in a diverse workplace.

For additional reading on why diversity in the classroom is important, I recommend: Leadership in a Diverse and Multicultural Environment by Mary L. Connerley and Paul B. Pedersen, (2005) Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

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