By Barron H. Harvey, Ph.D., CPA, Dean and Frank Ross/KPMG Endowed Professor
Within American education, perhaps no issue has been discussed and debated more over the last 25 years than the area of diversity and inclusion. Despite significant intellectual discourse, efforts, strategies, and well-debated programs, the impact has been negligible, to say the least. The issue of diversity and inclusion has been institutionalized in higher education as important and necessary, but not successfully actualized, especially when you compare it with the diversity of the nation.
The business case for diversity regarding race, gender, age, and ethnicity has been examined, debated and made. Diversity in the workplace is still a competitive advantage and continues to differentiate average organizations and average corporations from outstanding organizations and outstanding corporations. Diversity in the workplace makes its contribution to the organization in decision-making effectiveness, responsiveness, innovation, and to their bottom line. Diverse perspectives are able to provide unique insights, approaches, and innovation that are developed from a diverse population and thereby are able to address complex problems of today.
Unfortunately, the same is true for most business programs here in the U.S. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, although business schools continually talk about their diverse student body and their unique and special strategies that increase their minority enrollment (particularly those of underrepresented minorities in the United States) the top business programs are woefully underrepresented by ethnic and racial minorities. Many top MBA schools will report in a number of journals and publications their minority representation in their graduating classes ranges from 24-30 percent. But when you look at the percentage of underrepresented minorities, such as African-Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Native Americans, those percentages drop precipitously to 7-9 percent. Thus, real progress on diversity and inclusions continues to be a significant challenge for business schools and universities as a whole.
The lack of diversity problem for business schools is further exaggerated by these facts:
1. The percentage of underrepresented minorities in the United States is approximately 28-30 percent, including African-Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Native Americans.
2. Diversity and inclusion throughout this nation continues to be a national priority.
3. Although not reflective of the nation's diversity, the top medical and law schools in the U.S. are able to report that 15 percent of their graduates are underrepresented minorities. That is more than 60 percent better than most business schools.
Elusive Sustainable Success
There are many arguments afloat about why higher education institutions cannot make significant and sustainable progress when it comes to diversity and inclusion. One argument being made as to why the minority enrollment at top business schools remains significantly low over the last 20 years places blame on the obsession with MBA rankings. Business schools have been so focused on recruiting only the students with the highest GMAT scores and undergraduate grade point averages in order to maintain or improve their position on a variety of national and international MBA rankings that it has been harder to make any significant increases in diversity. Most ranking organizations do not consider diversity, or include it in the criteria for ranking MBA programs. Therefore, schools will continue be concerned with the elements that produce the highest rankings: GMAT scores and grade point averages.
Another major argument resides in the fact that business schools are, and have woefully been, devoid of diverse faculty. Despite the extremely successful efforts of the PhD Project, this remains a long-term problem for most business schools and the number of minority faculty will remain minimal in the foreseeable future. It is important to note there are effective diversity and inclusion programs and activities undertaken by business schools. As already noted, the PhD Project has reached tremendous benefits regarding diversity. Other examples include the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, Management Leaders for Tomorrow, and the University of California Summer Institute for Emerging Managers and Leaders to name a few.
Some of the more impressive examples include developing collaborative partnerships, establishing exchange programs for students as well as faculty, and guest lecturers from global universities. The efforts also include hosting programs for students in foreign countries and international cities, hosting visiting partner universities from foreign countries and international cities, as well as establishing joint degree programs and campuses in foreign counties. One would unequivocally state that there is a tremendous focus and effort—not only on the part of the leadership of business schools—but also among faculty and administration to harvest global education experiences.
The successful globalization strategies of business schools have required the coordination of the following actions to ensure that success of these programs:
• An active involvement of the business school dean, associate or assistant dean
• An active involvement of faculty
• Development and implementation of attractive programs
• Dedicated staffing for international programs
• Providing special assistance to international scholars to ensure a successful experience
• Ensuring a welcoming atmosphere for global visitors
• Special advising and counseling
• Hands on approaches
As a suggested facilitating step, there is a need to find a forum, mode or mechanism to share diversity initiatives, best practices, benefits and sustainability. This can be done—both informally and formally. Investigating strategies for information sharing of best practices involve website or dedicated web pages, periodic publications, workshops and research forums; as well as templates, program descriptions, and pro forma agreements.
Business schools have continued to be problem solvers and consistently address the needs of our core constituencies, including the business and professional communities. Providing focus and several potential outlets of information sharing is a great step in increasing enrollment of underrepresented minorities, increasing diversity, and increasing the quality of business schools and programs.
Barron H. Harvey