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Why is diversity at a business school so important?

Published On: 13 Oct 2011 | Last Updated On: 29 Nov 2011

In a tightly integrated and increasingly flat world it is evident that countries or organizations cannot afford to operate in silos anymore and need to engage the world at large. This is particularly true when India finds itself at the epi-centre of a phenomenon called globalization. A method by which organizations hope to remain nimble and innovative is by having a diversified workforce which brings new and fresh perspective to problem solving. Organizations that have stratified and looked inwards have died. It is as simple as that. The industrial world is strewn with live examples, of organizations that refused to change and were doomed, from behemoths like Air India to the cloth mills of Mumbai.

In this larger context, “Diversity" has become a recent buzz word among business schools. It is a definite competitive differentiator in the western world and in India B Schools are beginning to take cognizance of this parameter.

Historically, graduate business schools have been an experience dominated by individuals who had access to education, wealth, opportunity and in India the urban kids. Echoing nations B Schools too have recognized the importance of an inclusive culture and in driving home that point look to diversify not only their student base but also their faculty list.

Student and faculty diversity!

India is blessed to be a diverse and multicultural society where a fair amount of diversity amidst the student body occurs by default, but the same cannot be said of the faculties.

Business Schools in India are still dominated by males which is sad considering the number of woman entering the workplace, particularly in large urban centres like Bangalore. This is true for minorities as well. Business Schools need to proactively engage these sections and allow them greater representation as faculties.

It is also important that Business Schools are adequately represented by faculty with a wealth of industrial experience as well as academicians capable of cutting edge research.

Diversity of gender, race and the rest!

What does diversity bring to the table?

Diverse student bodies serve a variety of purposes. First, diversity in the classroom creates a more realistic and robust the academic experience. Class room discussion which has a diverse flavour adds to simulating real life scenarios rather than being text book driven. It also on occasion gives an opportunity for a minority point of view amongst a larger audience. It improves decision making.

Learning is B Schools is never just faculty driven or the top down model of class room lectures. A great deal of learning happens between peer groups of students as they go through the grind together. It is like a life boat crew rowing through a storm together. The experience is in sharing the experience. Just hanging in there and seeing it through creates bonds, encourages leadership and brings ideas to the fore. In this context the greater the diversity of the peer group the greater would be the learning and prepare students for the real world. This is particularly true in the Indian context where a great many students step into a Business School without Industry experience.

Indian Business Schools are seriously deficient in diverse age groups. This means that there is very little real life work experience being brought into the class room. The situation can be partially rectified if the faculty brings industrial experience. However this does not happen too often due to various reasons leading to a dearth of real learning.

Another group that is under represented in Business Schools are the Armed Forces. Considering that management education has drawn very heavily from the forces it is tragic to see very few Armed Forces personnel being admitted to B Schools. This sector experiences management at levels, very early in their career, that managers in the corporate world hope to have at an advanced stage. A case in point would be a young naval officer commanding a state of the art ship, manned by a highly trained and crack crew, in a difficult situation.

Old dogs and New Tricks!

Cultural Sensitivity or Culture Quotient today ranks on par with IQ and EQ. It is an understood fact today that the soft side of skills play a fundamental role in business success and being culturally sensitive to a person from another culture is extremely important. Most schools teach stereotypes under Cross Cultural Management. Clichés, which may have long been lost in time and a global world, still, do the rounds. B Schools are better served in making their future managers culturally sensitive by having diverse sets of students in the class or better having diverse sets of faculty on board.

In looking at diversity it imperative not to get confused with international linkages and diversity. While these linkages can aid diversity in the Indian context it is imperative that B Schools look to be inclusive and mirror our diversity in society.

After all its all about learning and change. Old dogs and new tricks.

The author, CAPT. A.Nagaraj Subbarao is an associate professor at alliance university, school of business, bangalore, India

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