The word "diversity" in higher education in the US usually refers to ethnic diversity. In recent years, there have been many efforts to make schools more ethnically diverse, with very positive results. More students than ever before are coming from underrepresented segments of the population and are attending top schools. Of course business schools attempt to be diverse in other ways, with gender and geographical representation being high priorities. Non-US citizens have grown on average to about one third of most intakes in top US MBA programs and percentages of women average about thirty percent.
I believe that action to foster diversity in business programs are based on two primary groups of ideas, one related to fairness, i.e., non-discrimination, and the other to quality of the student experience, i.e., students learn more useful things when their peers are diverse. The fairness argument has been widely embraced by higher education and is part of the general consensus. The quality argument is heard more and more and is practiced in many business schools and it goes as follows: students will work in a multi-cultural and diverse business world and therefore they should work with and learn from diverse people in school. An analogous case is heard for giving our students a global educational experience starting with a student body that is multi-national and with a curriculum that emphasizes the world’s best practices. In my opinion, both of these quality enhancing assertions for diversity are widely accepted.
There are other forms of diversity such as economic status, educational backgrounds, sexual preferences, family histories, religion and more. Often, I believe that we assume that no significant discrimination along these lines is taking place in our schools. Perhaps a little reflection on these dimensions would prove otherwise.
Having said that, I believe that much of higher education has made tremendous strides in increasing the diversity of its student bodies, the fair treatment of students in school and the non-discrimination in career opportunities as students graduate. What happens after students enter the work force is another matter, where the results are more varied. For instance, when the "glass ceiling" for women in business is discussed, it refers to the fact that women are not getting to top business leadership positions in the same proportion as men, or even in proportion to their numbers entering employment. Lack of women role models at the top of businesses discourages other women from pursuing business careers aims at the highest levels. Here is a case where our low percentages of women applicants in the age and experience range at many of our MBA schools may be the result of something over which we have little control, i.e., the conflicts created in business when one attempts to balance the demands of career and family responsibilities. But we should question the conclusion that this is not part of responsibility.
Is the relative lack of gender diversity at the top of businesses our fault as business educators? Is the cause found in the practices of businesses or in the traditional role-playing expectations in society as a whole? I don’t have the answers, but it is certainly important that we discuss these issues and work with businesses toward solutions, not only in the case of gender but in terms of other forms of diversity.