This work is vital in the current business climate, not only from an ethical standpoint but a business one.
Research has backed up the value of having diverse perspectives in the workplace, meaning business schools must also be welcoming environments for underrepresented groups in order to remain relevant.
The Kogod School of Business at American University (AU) is one example of a school actively engaging in this work.
In 2017, in response to national discourse on the continuing presence of racism on many US college campuses, American University put into effect its plan for ‘inclusive excellence’.
Based on analyses of campus survey data, external consultations, and meetings with over 1000 faculty, staff, administrators, students, and alumni, the plan aims to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion at every level of the university—an ongoing project that will help AU ‘live up to its values’ as a school.
At Kogod, this translates to increased resources for initiatives that promote inclusion. The school offers an Inclusive Leadership Award for students and faculty who champion inclusive business practices, as well as grants for student organizations and individuals to host events that promote inclusion.
These initiatives quickly moved the business school closer to its goals—the following year, the Princeton Review ranked Kogod third overall for ‘greatest opportunities for minorities’ and fourth overall for ‘greatest opportunities for women’.
A support system in the world of work
Abinmbola Ojo-Uyi (pictured, image her own) was a dual degree student at Kogod from 2013 to 2017, studying law while she was earning her MBA, and she says that she felt supported by students and faculty alike.
“I was actually pregnant with my first child at the time,” she recalls. “I felt the administration was extremely supportive, along with my classmates.”
She felt a strong sense of community among her MBA classmates from minority backgrounds, a bond which persisted after graduating.
“We try to keep in contact, especially the minority classmates from my class at Kogod. We have happy hour once every other month—we have dinner next week scheduled to keep in touch, actually!” she says.
This sense of camaraderie was not only personally enjoyable but a professional asset, as many of Abinmbola’s classmates went down similar career paths.
“Quite a few of us went to Deloitte, so we keep in contact at work as well,” she says. “That connection has helped—especially graduating and navigating into the workforce. It’s been an extra support system.
“I have people I know at similar companies where they are maybe experiencing the same challenges that I am. It’s helpful in getting a different perspective.”
Benae Mosby (pictured, image her own), another Kogod MBA grad, had a similar experience.
“I was in a cohort of about 20–25 students, all professionals with full-time jobs for the most part,” she recalls. “In that group there were four of us who were black, and we obviously formed very tight-knit relationships because we could relate to each other. We shared a lot of the same kinds of workplace experiences and experiences in grad school.
“In terms of support and inclusion as far as my own identity goes, it came from those relationships and relationships with a leader at the university who was a black woman who helped me get experience and exposure to other black MBAs.”
Benae advises that there is still work for Kogod—and business schools more generally—to do in terms of racial inclusion, particularly in terms of diversity among professors. For instance, across all universities and disciplines in the United States, only 6% of college professors are black.
She notes that the area of diversity in which Kogod really excelled was international inclusion—an important aspect, given fears among the public of the US becoming more isolationist.
“They’re very strong from an international perspective, bringing international students into the fold and exposing us to international study opportunities,” says Benae.
“If you want exposure to international business, it’s a great place to be.”
Benae travelled to China for two weeks with her cohort and says that the level of preparation and respect for the culture that the school provided was “superb.”
This sentiment was echoed by Abinmbola, who highlighted the university’s strong alumni network overseas. “Anywhere you go you’ll find an AU alum—I just think that is unmatched,” she says.
Clearly, by doing the work to create a more inclusive environment, business schools deepen the impact that an MBA can have on individual careers, resulting in better outcomes not only for students from minority backgrounds, but for business schools and the business world at large.
*Featured image used under this licence