Graduate Management News

June 2015

The Newsletter of the Graduate Management Admission Council

Preparing Students to Lead an Increasingly Diverse Workforce

Reprinted from the GMAC “Many Voices, One Vision” blog to promote diversity in the graduate management classroom.


A 2012 report from the U.S. Census Bureau revealed that in 20-30 years the workforce will look dramatically different from today. What will it take to produce the best MBA managers and leaders for the future? Business schools provide great technical preparation for managing a business in regard to the course work needed to obtain an MBA. Business schools even provide practical experience and soft skills preparation to study teams. However, I believe there is something missing. It’s huge! 

Let me rephrase the question: What will it take to produce the best leaders for the future of business in an increasingly diverse workforce? Business schools appear to be missing an opportunity to educate students for this type of dynamic professional experience. I’m not talking about the organic learning experiences and opportunities that may or may not happen when students are working on their MBAs. I’m talking about purposeful curriculum enhancement and practical experiences around this particular dynamic. Can you imagine a school not talking about diversity workplace management as a core competency for their students’ graduation? 

I started thinking about this when the U.S. Census Bureau stated that for all children under the age of one, the minority actually is in the majority. It perplexed me that I wasn’t hearing business schools talking about this same phenomenon. I asked myself, “Are MBAs best equipped to lead in a future workplace demographic that will be very different from the one in which they have worked in the past?” Business schools are recognizing the importance of providing a more global education, and to a large extent, their efforts in this area do offer a cross-cultural experience. However, with the changing demographic in the U.S., that same effort needs to be made around domestic diversity. If business schools make significant changes, I believe in 20 to 25 years, we could see extremely capable leaders running thriving organizations with employees who know they are valued. There are several other issues that come into play in making that picture a reality, but a step in the right direction is to look at the curriculum and include purposeful educational experiences around diversity. 

It is imperative that students graduate with knowledge and a skill set that lends to successful future leadership. Here are a few ideas: 

  • Business Cases: Include cases that have scenarios taking place in the future with a very different workforce demographic. 
  • Courses: Beyond the Organizational Behavior course(s), add a Future Workforce course that allows students to think about trends and scenarios they may face in the future. This could include cross-cultural, interfaith, increased virtual commuters, and many other changes anticipated for the future of business. 
  • Guest Speakers: Find those companies that are operating globally and being recognized for workplace diversity practices and invite them to share with students. 
  • Seminars: Offer shortened courses that make workplace diversity a central theme. 
  • Practical Experiences/Field Exercises: Assign students to work/engage with companies that are minority, women, disabled and/or LGBT owned.

Purposeful curriculum development is a great start to making sure MBAs are ready to lead at their best in an increasingly diverse work environment. I would like to see business schools address this in strategic ways.

About the Author

Kelly SaulsKellie Sauls is the director of Admissions and Financial Aid at the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy at the University of Virginia.