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'Does Not Discriminate' Not the Same as Inclusion

Business schools produce the employees who will be responsible for instituting change. Students should know the expectations for diversity and inclusion in the future workforce.

Diversity and Inclusion in Management Education

Diversity and inclusion are topics that are currently making headlines in management education, and beyond. Just recently, Josh Bersin, principal and founder of Bersin by Deloitte, published a LinkedIn article titled “Why Diversity and Inclusion Will Be a Top Priority for 2016.” While his points relate specifically to industry research and practices, management education shares a symbiotic relationship with industry and therefore should always be keyed in to these insights. Because business schools are producing the employees who will be responsible for instituting change, students should know the expectations of the future workforce that will be placed upon them and should be prepared to address them with understanding and leadership.

But beyond the education-industry connection, business schools should also operate as models of diverse workplaces. Diversity and inclusion should be embedded in all aspects of the school’s operation: hiring and recruiting, mentoring teaching staff, creating dedicated groups for open discussion, training faculty and administrative staff in the value and best practices of diversity, and inserting diversity-related goals into the school’s strategic plan. As Bersin aptly notes in his article, “Diversity and Inclusion is a top-to-bottom busienss [sic] strategy—not just an HR program.”

Historical Challenges of Managing Diversity

While it’s easy to list action points, carrying them out can be far more complicated. Many institutions have for decades maintained policies that blatantly reject discrimination of student or employee applicants based on ethnicity, gender, country of origin, and other demographic factors. However, disallowing discriminatory practices is not the same as proactively encouraging diversity and inclusion in the student body and the workplace. On the other hand, variations of affirmative, or positive, action (depending on the country of origin) have proven to be troublesome to implement policy-wise in countries around the world. Recently the 2003 U.S. affirmative action policy for educational institutions has been challenged in a high-profile lawsuit. India has seen similar controversies over its caste-system preferences. These practices have been viewed by critics as “reverse discrimination,” a misnomer intended to describe discrimination against majority groups, a belief that may be grounded in a lack of cultural awareness and understanding.

That these policies are being challenged does not mean that diversity and inclusion as ideals are being challenged. Rather, institutions seem to want the freedom to implement diverse practices on their own terms, some of which they believe are even more inclusive than the policies in place. As Richard Kahlenberg writes in The Atlantic, in an article specifically focusing on racial and ethnic diversity, “Today’s debate isn’t so much about whether racial and ethnic diversity is an important and desirable goal. Most people of good will agree that it is. The debate, instead, has shifted to the questions of how universities achieve diversity.”

How to Promote a Culture of Diversity

So how does the shift occur from policies designed to achieve quotas to embedded best practices designed to achieve a culture of understanding and inclusion? Openly, and with “listening” ears. All stakeholders—whether underrepresented or highly represented—need to feel as though they have a voice in process and, just as important, need to be part of diversity education or training. Not everyone has the same ideas or understanding of diversity and inclusion, and so first gaining a common understanding of what these terms mean is essential to moving any initiatives forward.

In August, AACSB announced a partnership with the White House to infuse diversity and inclusion practices into business schools. These best practices, developed by business school deans in collaboration with AACSB and the White House, aim to promote a culture of inclusivity in the spaces of gender, ethnicity and origin, and socioeconomic background, among others. The four categories of best practices include the following:

  • Ensuring Access to Business Schools and Business Careers
  • Building a Business School Experience that Prepares Students for the Workforce of Tomorrow
  • Enhancing Career Services That Go Beyond the Needs of Traditional Students
  • Exemplifying How Organizations Should Be Run
Further resources on diversity and inclusion are available at