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Top 10 Reasons Why Diversity Matters in Your Business School Classroom  

Hannah Turner

Hannah Turner - GMAC Media

Hannah Turner is a freelance writer and journalist producing work for a range of outlets including Refinery29, Mashable, Cosmopolitan magazine and The Metro.

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Business in the modern era is inherently global. No longer is globalization a topic of one International Business course, but it is woven throughout business school curriculums. As a result, students have been encouraged to learn more about the customs of other cultures to do business outside of their home country.

Alongside encouraging students to understand varied life experiences, diversity within the classroom is essential in ensuring the diversity of the future workforce. MBA programs and wider business schools pride themselves on creating the leaders of tomorrow, so it is vital that those leaders represent the full range of identities that these businesses serve worldwide.

Why Diversity Matters

Employers assume academic competency for students who have earned a degree but have increasingly placed 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 as the most important trait, followed by the ability to work in teams, and the ability to make an impact.

To develop these skills and achieve success in a diverse and multicultural workplace, leaders within organizations must possess knowledge and empathy for ethnic and cultural diversity. Not only do white leaders need to have a nuanced understanding of differences amongst fellow workers, but organizations are seeking to hire and promote diverse talents to leadership positions to manage diverse teams.

Why Diversity has to Start at School

Business school classrooms must be incubators for the next generation of diverse talent, who will be able to bring lasting change across the board in all business sectors. People from a wide range of backgrounds must have seats on corporate boards, in human resources departments, and at board meetings. Diverse management teams are key to an inclusive culture which in turn creates positive results across financial performance and employee satisfaction.

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 different cultures exist across geographic borders, but we must also recognize and increase our awareness of intra-national cultural differences in the classroom too.

Building a More Balanced World

Attending a program with a diverse student body allows for students to be exposed to the perspectives and values of other cultures. It is a safe place to learn and practice the skills needed to work with people from different backgrounds.

For too long has the dominant culture of white male leaders been the status quo in major corporations. Recent research shows that working with people with different life experiences and cultural perspectives enables us 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 one individual approaches a problem and makes decisions is not the only way.

Better Decision Making

Popular research shows that race, culture, gender, nationality, and age all play an important role in how a person approaches a problem and makes decisions. 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 biases, judgments, or criticisms you may currently hold, consciously or unconsciously.

Understanding and appreciation for those from diverse backgrounds fosters a culture of collaboration and innovation where different perspectives enable creative solutions to problems to emerge. Business schools with diverse student bodies help foster this type of learning, understanding, and personal development.

Innovative Problem Solving

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 multicultural environment. A diverse classroom allows students to develop awareness, knowledge, and skills which help to avoid an ethnocentric approach to management and thus allow them to become effective leaders in a diverse workplace.

Problem-solving is a collective effort. Diverse teams bring together cognitive diversity as well gender, religious and cultural differences to ensure a product, plan, or strategy is watertight in its effectiveness to serve its goal. Business is global, so workforces should represent accurately the experiences of as many different people as possible.

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.

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.

Business school programs are the place future leaders are made, therefore ethnic and racial diversity in the classrooms across the country matters. Top-quartile companies are looking to hire diverse talent from the best business schools, to diversify their teams.

Therefore, cultivating a diverse and inclusive environment welcoming of students from a range of backgrounds is in the interest of schools that want to have alumni reaching top positions soon after graduating. Prospective companies will be looking towards business schools that center diversity and inclusion as a key tenet of their education, to provide those future leaders.

Reduce Discrimination and Racism

In the last five years the world has experienced several reckonings with social justice causes, including systemic racism and discrimination. People from ethnic minorities are continuing to speak up about much-needed changes required to ensure both education and the workplace are an inclusive environment for people of color to participate in. Workplace diversity matters. Ensuring business school students are socializing and working with others who have a different lived experience to their own, is essential in ensuring those same people will go on to recognize, highlight, and prevent racism occurring within future workplace settings.

Diverse leadership is an essential facet of reducing discrimination in the workplace. All companies have some form of corporate social responsibility policy, but fewer practice anti-racism daily. Putting people of color in positions of power and as part of executive teams is essential in breaking down racial stereotypes and ensuring an inclusive culture throughout a company's organizational structure.

Gender Diversity

Historically, women have been sidelined from leadership positions in business because of gender discrimination. Statistics show that since 2013 there has been a steady rise in women in leadership positions in Fortune500 companies, however, the academic industries have not kept up. It is vital women are represented across the board on university campuses, particularly in business school programs which can still be dominated by men.

Racial and Ethnic Diversity

To only increase women's representation is not enough. Although gender is no doubt important, it is vital to consider the ways that different marginalized groups of women are represented. The experiences of a young African American professional woman, are very different to a white woman who has been schooled at the same university, therefore using diversity data and inclusion policies that are based only on gender, are not the best way to achieve diversity goals.

An Intersectional Approach

Individual markers of difference are less helpful in understanding a person's life experience. Homogenous teams are no longer the norm in the classroom, but there are often still blind spots in representation across the student body. It is important that all people from different backgrounds feel valued and able to bring different ideas to the table during their studies and in their workplaces.

There are identity markers less obvious to others such as invisible disabilities, religious groups, and sexual orientation, which must still be valued. A diverse and inclusive culture must extend to include all life experiences of marginalization and uphold an intersectional values approach to diversity.

Productivity Power and Global Innovation

The key to business success in a global world is breaking from the status quo. More diverse companies allow the organization to understand and value the ways that culture influences different perceptions of the same problem and solution. The 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.

It is an ever-moving target, to remain innovative in the global business landscape. Therefore, hiring top graduates, with diverse views and life experiences is key to staying ahead. By prioritizing diversity in the hiring process, companies can be sure they are harnessing the best candidates who can provide a multitude of different solutions, using their unique skill sets, to make sure their team remains on top.

Diversity matters in business school classrooms because together, schools, businesses, and the people that work within them, are all essential parts of making the world a more equitable place.

Hannah Turner

Hannah Turner - GMAC Media

Hannah Turner is a freelance writer and journalist producing work for a range of outlets including Refinery29, Mashable, Cosmopolitan magazine and The Metro. She writes editorial content for GMAC media. Hannah earned her bachelor's degree in education from the University of Brighton, and currently lives in Amsterdam.