Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is a collection of policies and programs within an organization designed to encourage representation and participation of people across all racial, ethnic, gender, religion, and ability backgrounds. DEI has become increasingly important to organizations in recent years, and this is reflected in its elevation within MBA programs. In the United States, all top programs have woven DEI principles into their courses and experiential learning programs, and some schools have also done so in their concentrations, majors, and certificates.
With the increased attention being paid to DEI principles both across the United States and around the world, tomorrow’s business leaders need to understand how to encourage and promote participation among diverse groups of people—not just those who historically have had an easier time rising to the top of companies.
In the past, elements of DEI were included in human capital– or organizational behavior–focused classes. However, MBA programs now integrate DEI teaching across their core and elective curriculums as well as throughout any specializations they offer so that future leaders across all functions understand why it’s important that their organizations have diverse representation and participation—it’s a moral imperative, and it improves the bottom line. One study by Boston Consulting Group found that diverse management teams can raise revenues by 19%. Diversity in an organization also leads to more creative ideas, stronger satisfaction and retention, and a stronger brand in the marketplace.
Weaving DEI into MBA Teaching
These are some of the different ways that DEI is integrated at top MBA programs:
- Northwestern Kellogg: At Kellogg, students can choose majors and pathways to specialize in their fields of interest. The DEI Pathway offers students resources and training on integrating empirical research and DEI best practices into their leadership.
- London Business School (LBS): LBS’s approach to weaving DEI throughout the curriculum has included an exercise for first-year MBA students as part of an “Intro to Organizational Behavior” module. The instructor wanted to spark conversation around the gender pay gap in the United Kingdom, so students were asked to decide how they, as corporate leadership, would disclose their company’s pay gap.
- Georgetown McDonough: Georgetown’s MBA curriculum includes multiple courses focused on DEI, such as “Innovation Through Inclusion” and “Power and Politics,” which are designed to help students understand and practice inclusive management skills as well as to better understand racial equity.
- UNC Kenan-Flagler: UNC provides many opportunities to develop a DEI toolkit starting with the Inclusive Blue orientation and the “Inclusive Leadership” course in the first year. Electives including “Management of Workplace Diversity,” “Experiencing Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace,” and “Leading Diverse and Inclusive Organizations” allow students to continue building their DEI approach to leadership and management.
Taking Collective Action on DEI
Reflecting the amplified effort to integrate DEI into MBA programs, ten top business schools participated in the DEI Academic Conference in 2019 hosted by Columbia Business School and sponsored by CBS, Harvard Business School, and INSEAD. The two-day conference brought together leading scholars to discuss their ongoing efforts to translate DEI research findings into tangible classroom tools so that future leaders are prepared for the diverse environments they will face. (Subsequent conferences have been conducted virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic.)
MBA students are also taking action to integrate DEI into their lives and work. Inspired by recent movements around racial injustice, students from six business schools gathered for the first annual DEI Summit at Harvard Business School in 2021. Drawing more than 1,000 students from 20 countries, the event explored how MBA students can help advance DEI principles in both their lives and their future careers.
In addition to weaving DEI best practices throughout their curriculums, most top business schools have created action plans to support DEI initiatives internally across their programs—from recruiting a diverse faculty and student body, to developing inclusive global leaders, to building relationships with inclusive employers.
Integrating DEI into the Application Process
Along with adding DEI best practices to student learning and faculty experiences, top MBA programs are now evaluating DEI fluency during the application process:
- Northwestern Kellogg: Kellogg asks recommenders to cite examples of how the applicant has dealt with diversity:
Kellogg has a diverse student body and values students who are inclusive and encouraging of others with differing perspectives and backgrounds. Please tell us about a time when you witnessed the candidate living these values. (300 words)
- Columbia Business School: CBS introduced a new essay prompt on the topic for the 2021–2022 admissions cycle:
The Phillips Pathway for Inclusive Leadership (PPIL) is a new co-curricular program designed to ensure that every CBS student develops the skills to become an ethical and inclusive leader. Through PPIL, students attend programming focused on five diversity, equity, and inclusion skills: Creating an Inclusive Environment, Mitigating Bias, Communicating Across Identities, Addressing Systemic Inequality, and Managing Difficult Conversations. Tell us about a time you were challenged around one of these five skills. Describe the situation, the actions you took, and the outcome. (250 words)
- MIT Sloan: Sloan asks all candidates who are invited to interview to submit an additional essay on the topic:
The mission of the MIT Sloan School of Management is to develop principled, innovative leaders who improve the world and to generate ideas that advance management practice. We believe that a commitment to diversity, inclusion, equity, and well-being is a key component of both principled leadership and sound management practice. In 250 words or less, please describe a time when you contributed toward making a work environment or organization more welcoming, inclusive, and diverse.