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Today's MBA Programs Need Diversity-Here's Why.

In business, diversity is not just a word: it is a reality.

In 2020, most of the people under 18 in America will be non-white. By 2045, the entire US population will be “Majority Minority”. And of course, the employees and consumers that drive the economy have always been 50% female. Yet, of the CEO’s directing Fortune 500 companies only 4% are women, only 1% are Black, and less than 1% are openly gay.

Diversity in business leadership is increasingly critical for business success: leadership diversity means better awareness of the complex demands of consumers and employees, builds stronger cultures for success, and is foundational to innovation to meet those needs.

Given these realities, diversity in MBA programs is critical if we hope to reap the benefits of engagement, innovation and creativity in the future. As a leading example, Bard's MBA in Sustainability—based in New York City— is one of the few MBA programs globally that is more than 50% female.

The program is also unique in its inclusive and collaborative culture, not the cut-throat learning environment that is stereotypical of business schools. What makes Bard different? And how are other MBA programs responding?

Keep reading for more on how the landscape of MBA programs is changing.

Why Diversity Matters In Business

Many recent analyses have documented how leadership diversity is financially beneficial long-term for companies. A study performed by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) found that diversity increases the bottom line for companies, stating that "increasing the diversity of leadership teams leads to more and better innovation and improved financial performance." Another study also found that by hiring women for upper management positions profits increased and mission-related objectives - such as eliminating poverty, hunger, and tackling climate change - were more effectively accomplished. Companies that have more diverse management teams have 19% higher revenue due to innovation. 

Diversity is a crucial part of today’s MBA program — and should be a crucial part of all sustainability masters programs. When programs are comprised of students from a wide range of backgrounds, experiences, and places, the classroom learning experience is enhanced as students are challenged by those bringing different perspectives. Students gain cultural fluency, and a comfort in working with people about whom they may harbor subconscious prejudices. Diversity in a classroom also leads more frequently to debate, and out of debate, innovation is born. This attitude of innovation is one that will drive the changes in sustainability that our world really needs.

Diversity in background challenges all members of the group to constantly evaluate and reevaluate, to continue innovating and improving based on what's fair and right for all stakeholders. MBA programs that are diverse produce business leaders who are better prepared to lead mission-driven companies and sustainable business initiatives for the 21st century.

The Bard Case Study

From its inception, the MBA In Sustainability at Bard has had incoming classes that were more than half women. Overall the gender balance has been around 60% women, the opposite of almost all other MBA programs.  Based in New York City, Bard also draws faculty and students from a diverse set of ethnicities, geographic and professional backgrounds, and sexual orientations.

Bard’s program is one of the top MBA’s in the world that fully integrates a focus on mission-driven business and sustainability into a core MBA curriculum. Because of our central emphasis on the inseparability of sound business practice, sustainability, and social justice, our MBA students are able to explore in conversation, classes, and projects, the multi-faceted types of solutions that are required to do what is profitable by doing what is right for all stakeholders.

The program also features a strong focus on collaboration and partnerships as the future of business. Bard students “win” when they need to, but the focus of sustainable business is on building businesses that are in business to solve social and environmental problems.

The low residency structure and the part-time option of the Bard MBA are also attractive to women students who are juggling careers and parenting. Classes meet one extended weekend per month, and on-line twice a week. So moms from Texas and Minneapolis can (and do) fly into NYC once a month for classes, while still completing a full, 60-credit MBA. In fact, two students have given birth to children while in the MBA program, and neither of them missed one of the weekend residencies!

Bard’s MBA community is also highly intentional about building an inclusive culture. Early in the program students created a student council that meets monthly, surfaces issues of concern to students. and makes recommendations to management about how to continuously create a more welcoming and inclusive environment. In 2018, graduating MBA students created a special fund to support continuing diversity among guest speakers in the program.

Slower Progress Nationally

Historically, MBA programs have been largely comprised of white males, and this sense that MBAs are hotbeds of male-dominated professional development continues today. As recently as 1959, Harvard Business School did not admit women to their MBA program

It has only been in the last few decades that strides have been made to incorporate greater racial, ethnic, and gender diversity in mainstream MBA programs. By 2017, the top business schools were enrolling just over 40% women. Business schools have also been diversifying internationally: at top schools, 30-40% of the students are international. And at these schools, some 15% are non-white US citizens. Schools outside the top 10 tend to have less gender, cultural and ethnic diversity.

There are several organizations that exist to empower minorities to thrive in MBA programs. For example, the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, promotes diversity and inclusion in business by awarding merit-based, full-tuition MBA scholarships to minority MBA students. Reaching Out MBA is a non-profit organization dedicated to connecting, empowering, and supporting the LGBTQ MBA community. The Forté Foundation is an organization that works to launch women into fulfilling and significant business careers, through motivation, education, and networking.  

Bard’s Commitment to Diversity

At Bard, we are committed to diversity because we are working to build to a better, more equitable future, and because we know that our students - the future leaders in business and sustainability, will be their best, brightest, and most effective when nurtured in an inclusive MBA program. To truly improve social and environmental conditions, we need the investment of thought and perspective from diverse viewpoints.

We stand by our commitment to creating a welcoming and inclusive space, where future sustainable business leaders can grow and be challenged. By tapping into the broad sets of skills, abilities, experiences, and perspectives that our world offers, businesses can drive positive social change.

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About the Author

Eban Goodstein

Eban Goodstein

Dr. Eban Goodstein is an economist and the Director of the MBA in Sustainability and the MS and MEd programs at the Center for Environmental Policy at Bard College. He is known for organizing national educational initiatives on climate change, which have engaged thousands of schools and universities, civic institutions, faith groups, and community organizations in solutions-driven dialogue. Goodstein is the author of three books and numerous journal articles focused on climate change, sustainability and green jobs.