Increasing diversity in MBA programs is everybody’s work

There is a long history of evidence that students in diverse settings have improved outcomes academically and beyond. Universities are stepping up to promote diversity in MBA programs by drawing from a broad pool of applicants.

In short

Why diversity alone isn’t enough

Many MBA programs prioritize diversity in recruitment to improve their students’ experiences and to produce the diverse leadership businesses need. Businesses with diverse executive and management teams consistently outperform less diverse companies. Increasing diversity means accepting students with a wide range of characteristics, especially from underrepresented minority (URM) groups. 

Some characteristics like race and gender can relate to physical and visible differences. Others, like sexual orientation, religion, and ethnicity, can be invisible but still form an essential part of an individual’s identity. 

Noé Valdovinos, Associate Director for Diversity Recruitment for the MBA program at the University of Washington Foster School of Business, looks for a similarly broad range of characteristics among candidates. 

“When we think about underrepresented and minorities at the UW, we consider five ethnic minority groups, and that’s Black, Latino, Southeast Asian, Native American, and Hawaiian/Pacific Islander. In addition, what we also consider underrepresented are women, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, as well as veteran students.” (05:00)

Recruiting from a varied mix of MBA candidates is a great first step. However, a diverse population needs more to become a cohesive community. Diversity initiatives work best as part of a holistic effort to create an environment where individuals can thrive regardless of their background. Simply making choices to increase diversity without also creating an equitable and inclusive environment can negatively impact members of an underrepresented group. That’s why discussions about increasing representation increasingly refer to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

In an equitable environment, students have equal access to opportunities and an equal chance to succeed. In an inclusive environment, differences are welcomed, and everyone can participate and contribute. Together, they create a healthy environment for URM students and their peers. 

Organizations must truly integrate DEI into their culture to have a meaningful impact. As Noé says, “diversity is everybody’s work.” (03:00) Through the Fostering Diversity initiative students, prospective students, alums, outside organizations, faculty, and staff are encouraged to contribute to the Foster community.

Organizations increasing diversity in business education

Recognition of the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion in business education is not new. Initiatives led by schools, faculty, students, and corporations have led to diversity-focused organizations with decades of experience in the field. As part of his role, Noé works with several outside organizations as part of his MBA recruitment pipeline. (00:57)

The Access Foundation

Access fundamentally believes our world will change for the better if business leaders are representative of the broader population demographic. Access’ mission is to lower the barriers to graduate management education to make the boardroom look like the classroom. They offer free MBA admissions resources for URMs and women applying in the upcoming admissions cycle.  

The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management

The Consortium is an alliance of top-tier business schools and corporate partners whose mission is to enhance diversity and inclusion in global business education and leadership by reducing the significant underrepresentation of African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Native Americans. Prospective MBA students can apply for membership regardless of race, ethnicity, or gender as long as they are committed to increasing the representation of URMs in the business community. Members gain access to networking and financing opportunities and can apply to up to six member schools at a discounted rate. 

Forté Foundation

Forté’s mission is to launch women into fulfilling, significant careers through access to business education, professional development, and a community of successful women. Forté helps members attend business and leadership conferences, prepare MBA applications, and they have MBA fellowships as well. 

Management Leadership for Tomorrow

MLT envisions a world in which inequality is no more — where people of color have the opportunity to realize their full potential, and diverse leadership is no longer underrepresented. MLT runs programs to support URM students at all stages of the leadership path, from college and MBA prep to career development.

Reaching Out MBA

ROMBA aims to increase the influence of the LGBTQ+ community in business by educating, inspiring, and connecting MBA students and alums. What started as a conference of 100 LGBTQ+ students has grown into an organization that hosts global events and fellowship programs at dozens of universities.

Why is diversity important for MBA programs?

At the individual level, increasing diversity lessons the pressure on URMs to represent their group as a whole. At the school level, diversity increases the institution’s legitimacy by having society’s makeup reflected in its students. MBA courses are organized to give practical experience mimicking the work environment graduates can expect. A diverse student body prepares students for the diversity they’ll experience outside of school, and they can bring their DEI experience with them to the workplace. 

MLT released a report titled Voices from the Workplace: The Gap Between Minority Experiences and White Perceptions of Racism at Work. Their survey of hundreds of workers found that most white respondents underestimated the prevalence of racism in their workplace because they expected racism to show in explicit forms, like being called a racial slur. While the reality is that 95% of URM employees experienced workplace racism in far more subtle forms. The most common and subtle racist experience was being the only person of color on their team.  

Being the lone person of color on a team negatively impacts that person’s sense of belonging to the point that their ability to work suffers. This subtle sign of racism is easy for those of the majority population to overlook. Similarly, research on campus diversity found that minority students experience a diminished sense of belonging and work output when they are alone among majority peers. 

That unfortunate situation is unavoidable when there are not enough URM students, which is why DEI is an integral part of the MBA recruitment process. Support for URMs must continue are they are admitted, and ideally after graduation as well. 

Noé shares examples of Diversity Resources that include clubs like Diversity in Business that host events with diverse entrepreneurs and professionals, and others like the Foster Veterans Association to connect specific URM groups. While formal clubs and associations are great, something as simple as organizing a dinner can go a long way toward building a welcoming community. 

Diverse students become diverse business leaders

People are more likely to identify solutions to problems they have experienced personally, but the further they are from the dominant group, the more obstacles they face. Noé is a prime example, having grown up in a low-income household and being the first generation to attend college. He understands the power of education, and business education, in particular, to change lives.

“This is where you get to make life-changing decisions,” he says, “and also create access and equity in the decisions that you make once you go into the real world.” (09:01)

Overall, increasing diversity in MBA programs is a complex challenge. Thankfully, universities, recruitment officers, and the organizations they work with recognize the benefits of diversity to their communities. 


Reach out to one of our ambassadors if you want a first-hand account of how DE&I is integrated into the MBA program you’re interested in.

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