AACSB’s Europe, Middle East, and Africa Annual Conference Embraces Cultural Diversity

AACSB’s Europe, Middle East, and Africa Annual Conference Embraces Cultural Diversity

AACSB's EMEA Annual Conference in Malta sparked valuable discussions about challenges and opportunities for business schools in this region regarding diversity on a global scale.

AACSB’s 2017 Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) Annual Conference showcased a diverse group of attendees who were keen to learn, network, and share. The conference is a great hub for hosting a diverse crowd in itself, but one main objective of the conference was to also understand what diversity means in the context of business schools in the EMEA region.

While many important topics for the region were explored, including social impact, developing win-win partnerships, and others, diversity and inclusion—and an open mind about these topics—seemed to permeate sessions and discussions throughout the conference. Several participants said they were there to learn, discover opportunities, and exchange ideas with like-minded peers. They were eager to attend multiple sessions and discover what kinds of challenges and opportunities other business schools in EMEA are facing today.

Marketing Across Regions

On Monday, two meetings were set up by the Marketing and Communications Council (MaCC) Affinity Group. The Focus Group Meeting in the afternoon was organized so that MaCC Affinity Group members could discover ways to internationalize the group’s work and make it more relevant to the EMEA region. The small group consisted of representatives from universities in Ireland, Hungary, and Romania.

Representatives from Hungary and Romania explained how, locally, their universities rarely encounter difficulties in student enrollment because they are well known. And as there are many organizations that would like to advertise and associate themselves with these schools, earned media and free publicity can be easily arranged. But when it comes to attracting international students, these universities face public procurement restrictions and governmental regulations that impede them from executing effective marketing strategies.

In order to develop a strong international presence and distinguish themselves from competitors, these schools work hard to obtain or maintain AACSB Accreditation. Furthermore, representatives stated that, in today’s digital age, they are finding it necessary to implement digital marketing strategies and develop creative online content to support those efforts. These participants perceive an event like the Europe, Middle East, and Africa Annual Conference as an excellent platform where they can learn about other schools’ challenges and exchange ideas on effective marketing strategies for their institutions.

Inclusion in the Academic Workplace

The conference was a powerful representation of many different cultures in the EMEA region, but do we also see this broad cultural representation in the workplaces of higher education institutions? How do we prevent shortlisting candidates based on assumptions? How do we stop prejudices during and before interviews and tackle unconscious bias? These questions were discussed during a concurrent session, led by Gloria Agyemang, head of the School of Management at the Royal Holloway University of London, and Maria-Victoria Calabrese, director of academic and government relations at ETS Global.

As Agyemang stated, we are all guilty of unconscious bias; however, this should not affect our work and learning environments or student enrollments. ETS Global designs tools aimed at preventing unconscious bias, which can be used by staff to consider qualified applicants from more diverse backgrounds. As stressed by Calabrese, it is crucial that the university’s administration encourage admissions staff to recruit a diverse body of business students, as they are well positioned to engage with students of all backgrounds and life experiences.

At the end of the session, participants teamed up to answer questions about diversity in their workplace. What, according to them, was the best way to overcome unconscious bias? This interactive part of the session resulted in a couple of recommendations. Some statements expressed by the audience were to make sure to talk about diversity in the workplace and help each other realize unconscious bias because everyone takes part in it; don’t exclude but include, and ensure that diversity also is reflected in the university’s faculty and staff; and finally, inclusive leadership is key, so decisions about hiring and admissions must take into account individuals of all genders, ages, cultural backgrounds, etc.

Building Solid Global Partnerships

The last plenary session, led by Nada Biaz, general director of Groupe ISCAE, and Hanane EL Kouari, head of the Africa and Middle East Network at IESEG School of Management, further explored internationalization and diversity. How do we build solid partnerships on a global scale and reinforce a win-win situation? As EL Kouari said, “We have to take into account the specific needs and expectations of local markets. Listen to your market, engage with your partners, and take time to get to know each other.”

EL Koauri stated that diversity is an essential element to consider when seeking a partner to globally co-operate with. According to her, you should not expect to succeed in an unknown market if you have not done your research; it is important to come prepared to a meeting with a potential partner. Several attendees jumped in during the question round, some stating that they often encounter cultural clashes because of unprepared partners. Other shared stories about how collaborations can crystallize when we take the time to understand each other’s background.

Discussing diversity and internationalization and the many other conference topics raised awareness of where schools in the EMEA region stand today. It was inspiring to see the eagerness of attendees to share stories and offer advice. From the exchange of knowledge to new partnerships to the gathering of creative minds across regions, the Europe, Middle East, and Africa Annual Conference resounded diversity, inclusion, and internationalization.