Graduate Management News

August 2016

The Newsletter of the Graduate Management Admission Council

Diverse Classrooms Create Transformative Leaders

For graduate business programs, diverse classrooms allow students to develop the awareness, knowledge, and skills they need to avoid an ethnocentric approach to management and thus allows them to become more effective leaders in diverse workplaces.

Business in the modern era is inherently global.  No longer is globalization a topic of one particular International Business course, but it is woven throughout business school curriculum.  As a result, students have been encouraged to learn more about the customs of other cultures in order to do business outside of their home country.  The practice of learning the traditions and customs of those you are doing business with has been accepted and embraced in the business world.  In doing this, we immediately recognize that cultural differences exist across geographic borders, but we must also recognize and increase our awareness of intra-national cultural differences.

Employers assume academic competency for students who have earned a degree but have placed an increased emphasis on the development of “soft-skills”.  In the 2016 GMAC Corporate Recruiters Survey, respondents ranked a candidate’s ability to fit within an organizational culture the most important trait, followed by the ability to work in teams, and the ability to make an impact.  In order to develop these skills and achieve success in a diverse and multicultural workplace, leaders within organizations must possess multi-cultural awareness, knowledge, and skills which allows them to understand and value the ways that culture influences different perceptions of the same problem and solution.  Development of Cultural Intelligence allows for the development of one’s self-awareness as well so that any assumptions and unconscious biases may come to light and no longer influence decision making in an unintentional way.

Having diversity in the classroom allows for students to be exposed to the perspective and values of other cultures.  It is a safe place to learn and practice the skills needed to work with people who are not like ourselves.  Working with people who are not like us allows us the ability to understand that our own truth is not the absolute truth and that our perspective is not the only perspective.  The ability to learn in a diverse classroom helps students understand that many factors affect decision making.  Popular research shows that race, culture, gender, nationality, and age all play an important role in how a person approaches a problem and makes a decision.  These traits (race, culture, gender, etc.) also influence leadership style and effectiveness.

Good, effective leaders are in high demand.  Transformational leadership has become the expectation.  Transformational leaders are aware of their own behaviors and how they affect others as they are also aware of the cultural implications of others’ behavior.  In order to be effective, a good leader understands the motivations of others are rooted in cultural values.  Without the opportunity to experience working with a diverse group of people, one may only rely on their own ethnocentric viewpoint which would yield poor results in a multi-cultural environment. 

About the Author

Rebecca Baer is director of MBA and Certificate Programs at Miller College of Business, Ball State University.