Diversity is good for business, which makes it an imperative for U.S. business schools, say Wisconsin School of Business administrators.
If the business school community does not have a mix of students, faculty and staff that can prepare students for a global economy, students will go somewhere else and so will business recruiters.
That has already happened at UW-Madison. A decade ago, big corporations like Procter & Gamble, General Motors and Alcoa stopped recruiting in Madison because of a lack of diversity among business school students.
And demands from the business community have been a major driver of changes at the School of Business in the years since, administrators said this week at UW-Madison’s annual Diversity Forum.
“The business case for diversity drove the business school to seek ways to diversify the undergraduate population, which historically has been appallingly low,” said Phil Miller, assistant dean for research programs at Wisconsin School of Business, during a panel discussion Tuesday.
One change was a more sophisticated evaluation of prospective business school students beyond their achievement in a small core of courses traditionally used for the criteria, he said.
“Students who came in as freshmen or sophomores who didn’t have the advantage of a really strong high school system often were discouraged from even considering business,” Miller said.
The business imperative for diversity applies not only to minority students, Miller pointed out.
“Diverse perspectives enrich the education of majority students,” Miller said, especially at a campus like UW-Madison where diversity for many decades boiled down to urban versus rural.
“Businesses drove us to change not just to provide a diverse pool for their hiring needs, but also because so many majority students were not prepared to face a diverse work world,” Miller said.
As national and international demographics change, businesses want a workforce primed to tap such markets as $1.2 trillion in spending power annually among Hispanics or $890 billion in spending by the LGBT community, said Peter Aranda. Diverse teams are more creative and effective in developing and delivering products, said Aranda, executive director of The Consortium, a nonprofit group that works to increase the number of African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans and Native Americans in U.S. business schools and corporate management.
“This is no longer America’s century,” Aranda said. “U.S. companies used to be able to go somewhere, plant the flag, and be better than everyone else. That is no longer reality.”
Companies, then, must be increasingly sensitive to what works in a given culture to successfully market themselves.
“They have to understand how to harness diversity and create inclusive environments,” Aranda said. “If they can’t do that in America, how will they do it on a global level?”
Students, too, want a diverse learning laboratory, said Blair Sanford, assistant dean of full-time MBA programs at the School of Business.
“If we are not prepared to provide an inclusive environment as this dramatic shift occurs, they may not be satisfied with our programs or our institution,” Sanford said. That inclusivity involves not only accepting people who look different or have different backgrounds from the majority, it extends to people who think differently too.
“We want make sure staff and faculty understand that viewpoints are not so singular anymore, that there are multiple ways of doing things,” she said.
“It’s a competitive marketplace; there are a lot of good MBA programs,” Sanford said. “To make the case you want to come to Wisconsin and get a great education and have a wonderful future, you can’t just open the doors and say ‘We’re here.’ You have to be responsive and ready.”
Diversity is so important to MBA students that failing marks helped pull down Harvard Business School from 2nd to 8th in Bloomberg Businessweek’s annual ranking of MBA programs. Harvard Business students ranked their school second to last for “climate for all socioeconomic backgrounds” out of 112 schools ranked.
“Diversity to HBS means playing around with grades and other measures of success until the numbers look right, rather than tackling the underlying issues,” wrote one student.
The Wisconsin School of Business has made significant progress in building a diverse student body in recent years, says Binnu Palta Hill, director of diversity.In 2006-2007, business school undergraduates included 2.7 percent underrepresented minority students, a group that includes African-African, Hispanic/Latino, Native American and Southeast Asian/Hmong students, Hill said. That percentage rose to 4.4 percent by 2010-2011 and is 7.3 percent in the current academic year.
Strategies to attract a more diverse group of students have included changes in where and how the school recruits, revised criteria for admission, and partnering with campus programs designed to recruit and support underrepresented students.
The school has hired 25 new faculty members in the past two years, and several among them are from minority race or ethnic groups, but perhaps more significantly, they bring new perspectives to the department’s body of research, Miller said.
“Faculty recruitment and tenure decisions often have to do with how someone’s research fits in to existing research,” he said. With the School of Business’ recent hires, “I believe that tenure decisions will be made in the future less on replicating work by other faculty members and more in forging new frontiers. And that will diversify our faculty.”
Once a more diverse mix of people is at the school, inclusion, or a culture that engages everyone, is primary, Hill said.
To that end, the school hosts “lunch and learn” gatherings where faculty, staff and students have been part of discussion panels on being black in business, being gay in business, and Jewish traditions in the workplace, Hill said.
She credited support by Dean Francois Ortalo-Magne with making the lunches popular and effective.
“Our dean attends,” Hill said. “If you have senior leadership engaged, it drives the initiatives.”
Ortalo-Magne also has fostered a climate where people are encouraged to talk about cultural differences and learn from one another, Hill said.
“Our dean sees himself as a learner, just like all of us, and that gives permission to stumble as we have these conversations,” she said. “It’s been refreshing and rewarding.”
Prospective students can sense the atmosphere of inclusion when they visit the school, Hill said.
“The aspects of you that make you unique, we value them,” she said. “When students feel that, they want to be here.”
By Pat Schneider, The Capital Times
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