Graduate Management News

November 2014

The Newsletter of the Graduate Management Admission Council

Addressing the Challenges of Recruiting a Diverse Classroom

Achieving diversity in the classroom persists as one of the main hurdles for business school recruitment.


The goal of a diverse classroom as a vehicle for thought-provoking discussions and enriched experiences is widely accepted, yet in most cases we still see MBA cohorts dominated by Caucasian males. Although there has been some progress toward the diversification of the business school student body, we still face challenging realities that complicate this goal. Some of these – such as demographic, geographic, and socioeconomic factors – have been historically present, and there are no easy solutions to bypass them. 

Below are three key diversity challenges we face in graduate business recruiting and ways we can begin to address them. 

  • Demographics of Business: Gender inequality in the business arena, starting with enrollment in business school, is the byproduct of barriers that have hampered the efforts of generations of women to join the workforce. This situation is prevalent at all levels and it becomes more pronounced today as we look further up the corporate ladder and see only 24 women CEOs leading Fortune 500 companies. While a paradigm shift is necessary, business school recruiters can start by educating prospects about opportunities and resources available to them, and presenting a much needed update in expectations regarding gender roles and work-life balance. 
  • Geographic Location: Sometimes, location will play an extraordinary role in defining the challenges that business schools face when it comes to diversity recruitment. For instance, some regions are very demographically homogeneous, making the recruitment of under-represented minorities much more complicated due to the sheer low volume of diverse ethnic groups residing in the region. And, while ideally it should not be a deciding factor for choosing a business school, weather does end up influencing decisions, especially when candidates are choosing between comparable alternatives, one located on a warm sunny coast and the other buried in winter weather for more than half the year. 
  • Socioeconomic Factors: Typically, immigrant parents come to the United States seeking a better quality of life for their family, often with the ultimate goal of having their children become first-generation college graduates. Yet, pursuing higher education, through an MBA degree, for example, can be considered either out of the question or unnecessary. Plus, knowing the struggles that their parents went through, these first and second generation Americans may be hesitant to burden the family with additional student loans and related costs to finance their education. In these specific cases, researching and providing clear information on partnerships and resources to aid in their success during and after business school may be the best course of action.
The challenges of recruiting a diverse classroom have been present for generations and, while there are no magic formulas or one-size-fits-all approaches to overcome them, strategic thinking will definitely play an important role in making strides towards the goal of diversity. 
About the Author

Diana Sloan is the director of Graduate Marketing & Alumni Relations at the College of Business, Iowa State University