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Why Your MBA Class Is Not As Diverse As You Think

Over-emphasis on the GMAT and a lack of research into the multicultural marketplace are among the reasons, says head of leading US diversity organisation

By  Julian Godfray

Wed Apr 4 2012

Since 1966, one organisation has been working to promote diversity in US business schools and companies. The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, now entering its 46th year, is an alliance of leading American business schools and corporations, and the country’s pre-eminent organisation for promoting diversity and inclusion in American business.

So how does The Consortium work? Its 17 educational partners offer over $20 million in fellowships through The Consortium to students who, in addition to having excellent academic credentials, have demonstrated a commitment to championing diversity in their lives.

There are many different ways this can be achieved, from working with organisations fighting for racial and economic equality to mentoring young people in need.

“I launched a website which was aimed at increasing the awareness of baseball amongst inner-city youth,” says Eugene Watt, The Consortium’s Student Liaison for Darden. “The percentage of African Americans in baseball has dropped from 30% in the 1980s to 10% now. My goal was to be the liaison, to really increase inner-city youth getting back into baseball, as much as they love basketball right now.”

The Consortium then connects its MBA students with corporate partners, easing their passage into the business world and encouraging diversity in the workplace.

Getting a fellowship through The Consortium isn’t easy. Last year there were over 1000 applicants, and only 341 were successful.

BusinessBecause was lucky enough to chat to Peter Aranda, CEO of The Consortium, about the organisation’s work, and the need to promote diversity.

Aranda is The Consortium’s first CEO to have been a recipient of a fellowship himself. Under his stewardship, The Consortium’s operating budget has grown significantly, and a number of high-profile business schools and corporate partners have joined the fold. As such, he’s uniquely qualified to talk about the subject.


Peter Aranda, CEO of The Consortium

The Consortium supports successful students before, during and after business school. Prospective students attend an Orientation Programme before school starts, where they “learn about what it is to be a successful MBA student, what it is to be a successful ambassador to our organisation, and why that’s meaningful”, says Aranda.

The other big advantage for students of this Orientation Programme is the corporate side - students get early contact with the 80 corporate partners of The Consortium, including big names such as Citi, Target and Microsoft.

The benefits of this early interaction with potential employers are huge. “In many cases our students will leave the Programme with an offer in their back pocket for a summer internship a full year away,” Aranda says. “It relieves some of the stress on an MBA student. They can focus all their energy on academics and learning what they are supposed to be learning, instead of fretting about getting that summer internship.”

Whilst studying, Consortium students can tap into two support networks: other current students, and the 6,000-strong network of Consortium alumni – professionals ready to offer support and careers advice. “I think that is a huge advantage over the life of their career, not just while they are a student”, says Aranda.

Despite the efforts of The Consortium, however, minorities are still under-represented in business schools, and consequently in American business. Aranda has some suggestions for why this is the case, and what can be done to change the status-quo.

The first problem is, according to Aranda, that business schools over-emphasise a candidate’s GMAT score. This can marginalise those from lower socioeconomic classes, who cannot afford the necessary tuition and practice to get the highest scores.

“I think one of the problems is that collectively – the students, the schools, the companies that do the hiring – we have confused the GMAT scores with an intelligence test. And it’s certainly not; it’s an aptitude test, meaning that if you practice at it, if you receive training or education, you can actually improve your score pretty significantly. If someone has a 570 or a 770, it shouldn’t matter all that much to us. Both of those scores tell us that a candidate can successfully complete the first year core curriculum.”

Aranda also believes that schools’ curricula should change to focus more on diversity issues in order to prepare students for the increasingly globalised business world. “It’s important that, irrespective of what country you go to school in, or where you earn your degree from, you have to be trained, educated, and adept at doing business in a multicultural environment.

“If you’re developing products for niche markets that are divided based on things relating to ethnicity or cultural identity, you have to have the tools to understand how to do that. And I don’t think our schools are doing an adequate job of preparing students.”

Business schools themselves need to put diversity on the research agenda: “we’re not granting tenure to faculty members who do research in that area, and the knowledge is not being created and therefore not integrated into the curriculum. I think that’s a fundamental challenge or opportunity that we can pursue to enhance diversity education”, Aranda argues.

Business schools can also make more effort to reach out to younger students from minority backgrounds, and show them that pursuing an MBA is an option for the future. Aranda believes that, “If you’re coming from a socioeconomic space where you don’t know anyone in your family or community who has pursued their MBA and is a successful manager in a large business, then you don’t really know what that is. I think there’s an opportunity to educate pretty young people about the MBA in a way that is different from historical perception”.

Diversity is something that is beneficial to both schools and businesses. According to Watt, “Outside of diversity of skin colour, it is diversity of thought and background that really matters. MBAs are dominated by bankers and consultants, but they all seem to think alike. Having a wide range of thoughts really helps enhance the classroom experience”.

Similarly, Aranda states that for businesses, “Diversity is not a minority problem; it is an American opportunity.”

The Consortium is proud of its success in increasing the pipeline of multicultural and other executives committed to diversity. But he says, “We want to do more than level the playing field. We want to awaken business leaders to the role our graduates can play in helping companies survive, and thrive, in an increasingly multicultural marketplace.”


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