It only took 24 hours in an immersive business education program for me to realize that an MBA wasn’t in my future.
In 2006, I joined the first cohort of the Bridge to Business program, an MBA program at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.
Despite a professional resume that read like a classic, type-A overachiever, I didn’t feel at home in my new crowd.
I’d been nationally recognized as a community leader, managed an award-winning million-dollar education program, received my own share of awards and had a strong network. On paper, I looked like a perfect MBA program candidate.
But in other ways, I didn’t fit in.
In addition to chasing success, I was also a formerly homeless high school dropout who was juggling a full-time job with school and desperately trying to find my way to feeling confident and at home in the world.
On that first day in the MBA bridging program, listening to peers and professors speak in very gendered ways about business, the boardroom, cottages and golf, I felt the chasm between their experiences and mine grow.
I soon realized that as a woman and as a person of colour, I would always feel like an other in business school.
This year’s ranking of the top sustainable MBA schools by Corporate Knights offers a reason to think things have changed. But only more data gathering can say for sure.
For the first time, the Better World MBA ranking includes two measures of diversity – race and gender.
Those at the forefront of ensuring dignity is respected in public spaces – diversity and inclusion practitioners, (dis)ability advocates, radical feminists, LGBTQ+ activists and champions of religious diversity – might be wondering why only two measures were taken.
Well, it’s a start. The first batch of data also challenge your assumptions.
Globally, the data points to a startling and promising revelation: At the institutional level, business school faculties are generally more diverse than the countries where they are situated.
For example, the U.S. school in the Better World MBA ranking with the most racially diverse faculty is the Scheller College of Business at the Georgia Institute of Technology, where 59 per cent of faculty members are considered racially diverse. This makes the faculty twice as diverse compared to the rest of America.
That’s right, America’s most diverse business school is in the South.
Even the most established schools – the original bastions of the Old Boys’ Club – are racially more diverse than the U.S. population. The school in the MBA ranking with the highest diversity indicator in that camp is Rutgers Business School, which is 1.83 times more diverse than the U.S.
Diversity problem? What diversity problem?
In Canada, where 22.3 per cent of the population is considered racially diverse, the result is similar. Halifax is apparently not just home to some of Canada’s most important moments in the country’s racial history. It’s also home to the second most racially-diverse business faculty, the Sobey School of Business at Saint Mary’s University. Over half of the business school faculty, 51.3 per cent to be exact, are racialized.
That makes the Sobey School twice as diverse as Canada. Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University in Montreal, with 44.8 per cent faculty diversity, is similarly close to twice as diverse as the country. In fact, of the 13 Canadian business schools included in the ranking, eight are outperforming the country in terms of diversity, where at least one-third of faculty are racially diverse.
But there’s a caveat.
A 2016 study by the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America (TIAA) confirmed that while gains have been made in expanding faculty diversity, most of those gains have been off the tenure track.
When students demand the hiring of more diverse faculty, they don’t want superficial changes. They’re asking the school to make tenure commitments to ensure diverse faculty remain on campus.
That way, when students are sitting in the welcome lecture on Day One of an immersive MBA bridging program at a top business school and see diverse faces leading the classroom, their immediate reaction isn’t suspicion about how long that “diverse” professor will be in their role before they are forced out the door – but instead belief they’ve found a mentor with whom they can build a strong relationship.
Race was only one dimension of the diversity measures. The ranking also looked at gender.
A quick look at the numbers reveals a clear winner: The University of Exeter Business School, with 45 per cent female faculty. The lowest school in the ranking was the Faculty of Business and Economics at the University of Hong Kong with only 10.6 per cent.
Like the race measure, the data is most useful as a starting point – a baseline measure we can use to assess future progress.
Plus, we have plenty of data showing the dearth of women in business. Let’s at least let the effects of the Lean In movement, made famous by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg only four years ago, sink in before feeling we’re in a rush to find more.
Building on this year’s ranking, we should begin collecting data on other measures of diversity: people with various (dis)abilities, LGBTQ+, religion, newcomers, first generation immigrants, and more.
If next year’s data add nothing else but this information, we’d be in a much better position to evaluate diversity in business education.
That all said, I will say that from 30,000 feet, it is clear: Business schools are doing better than we thought on the diversity issue.
They’re doing this by proactively ensuring that diverse racial groups are represented among faculty. As the faculty diversity metric is gathered in future rankings, there will eventually be enough data to compare year-over-year changes and conclude whether business schools are getting better or worse in their commitment to diversity.
More importantly, this data will help us discern the most important questions at the core of diversity initiatives everywhere: How does faculty diversity in business education programs help students, staff and others feel welcome and included? In what way does faculty diversity contribute to one’s sense of belonging in business school?
It matters on Day One of any MBA program.