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Recap

2003 GMAC Annual Conference Recap

The 2003 GMAC® Annual Industry Conference, themed “Focus: The MBA Value Proposition,” was a successful union of practical information and thought-provoking discussion about graduate management education. The conference took place in Dallas, Texas, from June 19 to 21.

The conference provided sessions on two “tracks,” “Getting the Right Things Right” (focusing on tactical issues) and “Creating the Future” (dealing with long-term strategic and philosophical issues). Session topics included the impact of MBA grads on corporate performance, women’s experience in business, coordinating Web and print communications, affirmative action in admissions, part-time program design and marketing, the effect of budgetary constraints on doctoral programs, and the validity of the GMAT for underrepresented minorities. The “Creating the Future” track also featured an interview-style session with Stanford professor Jeffrey Pfeffer, whose article questioning the value of the MBA incited a furor in the graduate management education industry last year.

Keynote Addresses

Keynote addresses by two prominent authors and lecturers encouraged conference participants to think in new ways about the ethical dilemmas they face in their jobs and lives and to integrate their true selves and emotions into their work.

Rushworth M. Kidder, founder of the Institute for Global Ethics and author of the recent book How Good People Make Tough Choices: Resolving the Dilemmas of Ethical Living, discussed the meaning and importance of ethics in a talk entitled “Ethics and the Bottom Line.” Kidder impressed upon the audience the risks of failing to build a better ethical framework within which to live and work.

We are not less moral as a society than in the past, Kidder argued, but the power of technology has outpaced the development of ethical structures within which to police its use. One unethical input in a networked system can cause damage unimaginable only 50 years ago, he said. Witness the Chernobyl disaster, caused by reactor employees “experimenting”; the collapse of Barings Bank, brought on by a single unscrupulous trader; and the havoc wrought by the teenagers in the Philippines who wrote the Love Bug virus, which caused roughly U.S. $10 billion in damage.

“Ethics is what you do in the dark when no one’s watching,” Kidder said, and the risks are so great that if we can’t find better ways of policing ourselves, government will rush in to regulate our behavior.

In the midst of these technological advances and the risks they pose, cheating is on the rise. Kidder cited several studies showing that cheating among high school students is rampant and that high percentages of graduate students cheated as undergraduates to try to get into their graduate programs. In the graduate study, conducted at Rutgers University in 1992, graduate students in education were the least likely to have cheated as undergraduates—57% of them said they had. The highest percentage of admitted cheaters was in graduate business school—76% of these students said they had cheated. “How do [business] schools make good choices in admissions when it is a statistical certainty that three-quarters of applicants have cheated?” Kidder asked.

Offering some hope for a more ethical global society, Kidder revealed that his organization’s studies have found a core set of values shared across cultures, genders, and religious and linguistic differences. These values include honesty, fairness, responsibility, respect, and compassion. People in different cultures might practice these values differently, but no longer can we blame ethical breaches on cultural differences. Kidder’s research makes it seem possible that we may someday operate within a shared system of ethics that might help us to better navigate the most difficult ethical dilemmas—those that involve two positions that are both supported by strong moral arguments.

Kidder’s talk was followed by a discussion period during which his audience shared the meaning and importance of ethics and the possible application of stronger ethical frameworks in their own schools.

Margaret Heffernan gave the second keynote address, entitled “Whole People, Whole Lives: The Impact on Business.” Heffernan, an author, TV and film producer, and CEO of ZineZone and iCast corporations, shared some of her observations and experiences, as well as what she has learned about women in the workplace while researching a forthcoming book on the topic.

Women’s experiences in business differ from men’s, simply put, and women often do not speak out about their negative experiences because they are afraid of blacklisting and reprisals. Women are less likely than men to be involved in bribe-taking and other scandals, but they are also vastly less likely to make it to the top of management. The number of women in executive positions in the United States doubled in the past five years, but women still make up only 20% of the executives; Anita Roderick, founder of the Body Shop, calculated it would take 500 years at the current rate to reach parity.

Women are leaving corporations in droves, Heffernan said, in large part because the culture of large companies discourages women from being themselves in the workplace. They are asked to be tough, emotionless, and often unethical creatures at work and to be nurturing, caring, charming people at home. Often, they must fire people and handle cutthroat mergers and acquisitions at work and then go home to be a caring spouse, a sympathetic friend, or a loving parent. Such bifurcated lives cause stress—women long to integrate their work and home selves and bring their life skills to bear at work, but these skills are not typically valued in the corporate world.

It’s not that men are less sensitive than women, or that women somehow have a stronger moral compass, either, said Heffernan. It is simply that men—particularly older generations of men, who are most often in positions of power in business—have been raised to be two different people. They have been taught, traditionally, to devote the majority of their energies to their careers and to give whatever is left over to their families. They have been taught to compartmentalize their personalities, being tough and single-minded at work and more emotional at home. Psychologists call it splitting, she explained, and it doesn’t cause men the stress it causes women, because it’s what men have been raised to expect. Until recently, that is.

Heffernan finds that younger generations of men are spending more time at home and more energy on their families and relationships. They are looking for balance in their lives, including emotional balance. Some of these men are finding that they share women’s discomfort with traditional corporate culture. They are also learning from their experiences as parents that the skills women learn as mothers and caregivers are directly applicable in the workplace—management of the seemingly unmanageable, flexibility, decision-making on the fly, modeling leadership and integrity, making good decisions, improvisation, stamina, patience. Heffernan said that Volvo mandated paternity leave and found that fathers came back better managers.

Heffernan advises companies to stop rewarding those who work 100-hour weeks and start encouraging employees to find more balance in their lives, for this makes healthier, happier, more productive employees, male and female. She also encourages companies to start taking seriously the skills and abilities people learn from their family roles.

To business schools, she says, Don’t work students to death. Allow them some time to explore and enjoy the world around them, for work takes place in the world. Help them to embrace emotion, for work is emotional, just as life is. She says schools should integrate the community with their campuses through social outreach, community projects, and open architecture and make their campuses family friendly. Students should have the support of family and friends in their pursuits, not have to give up their lives to get an education. Students should talk to each other, for “talk saves lives,” Heffernan says. And they should be forced to do some kind of grunt work, because every manager should know what it is like to “be at the whim of discontinuous management.”

Read for Yourself

Look on the GMAC Annual Industry Conference page in the Career Development section of www.gmac.com in July for downloadable PowerPoint slides from Rushworth Kidder’s keynote address and other conference materials.

Hear for Yourself

An audio CD set of the two keynote presentations and four “Creating the Future” sessions, was available for U.S. $24.95 until July 1. To inquire if any CDs are still available for order, send an email to Tacoma Williams at williams@gmac.com.

Join Us Next Year

The 2004 GMAC Annual Industry Conference will take place in Boston, Massachusetts, June 17–19. Remember to visit the Career Development section of www.gmac.com for details later this year.

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