Friday, December 5, 2014

Preparing for a Diverse Work World

Phil Miller, Consortium board member,
Assistant Dean, Univ. Wisconsin
Phil Miller is assistant dean for research programs at the Wisconsin School of Business, a Consortium school. He is also a 15-year board member of the Consortium and has been one of its most ardent, consistent supporters. Few have pushed harder for diversity initiatives at Wisconsin and for increasing the awareness of the business school than Miller. Wisconsin is like many large, well-known business schools.  The efforts to promote and maintain diversity among students and faculty are ongoing. They don't stop. Arguably, few have thought longer and deeper than Miller about how to improve diversity at schools like Wisconsin. 

Miller shared perspectives in a Nov. 14 edition of the Capital Times, the news journal based in Wisconsin.  He explained yet another reason why business schools must take a greater, more emphatic and visible lead in diversity: If business schools are not diverse, more than ever before, large, reputable companies will be reluctant to recruit there.   

The article mentions cases where companies like Procter & Gamble, General Motors and Alcoa halted their recruiting programs because the student population at schools like Wisconsin wasn't as diverse as it could be.  The companies stopped not only because schools didn't have meaningful diversity in its ranks (among students and faculty at undergraduate and graduate levels), but because they felt the students there would not be sufficiently prepared for a diverse workplace (or, just as much, a diverse customer base).

Think about it.  Companies, especially large, global institutions with international markets and customers, want evidence, too, that students are prepared to work for, work with or lead others that have different backgrounds and perhaps different perspectives and points of view.  

As companies expand, it's not just about America. ("This is not America's century," Consortium CEO Peter Aranda states in the same article. "U.S. companies used to be able to go someone, plant the flag and be better then everyone else. That is no longer reality.) It's about international talent, multiple markets and unique cultures. It's about an expansive, broad customer base that may be as unfamiliar to Madison, Wisconsin, as Wisconsin may be to them. Business schools, Miller says, must prepare students to do business anywhere and with colleagues and clients from around the world. 

Hence, when they roam non-diverse campuses, attend their corporate receptions and give presentations to students, companies have become concerned the students aren't ready for or accustomed to diversity.  

Wisconsin felt the pressure, needed to do something about it, and Miller has taken a lead there for many years. "Diverse perspectives enrich the education of majority students," he told the Capital Times.  

"Businesses drove us to change, not just to provide a diverse pool for their hiring needs, but also because so many majority students were not prepared to face a diverse work world," Miller said.  He has had many administrative positions at the business school the past 15 years. 

There has been noticeable progress at Wisconsin. In the undergraduate business school, the percentage of blacks, Latinos, Native Americans and Asians has risen from 2.7% to 7.3% in the last seven years, according to the article. 

The statistics are better at its full-time MBA program.  Its affiliation with the Consortium is a factor in better numbers, because the Consortium helps ensure a steady pipeline. In the current second-year class, 14% of the class is classified as minority; 14%, international.  In the current first-year class, the numbers are even better:  17% minority and 25% international. 

The school is also unique in offering special concentrations in such fields as risk managment, insurance, arts administration, investment analysis, and supply-chain management.  

The school, like others around the country, was swift-kicked to improve diversity on campus. But it quickly understood the premise.  Recruiters weren't going to show up on campus, and students who attended the school would be disadvantaged.  

And recruiters these days (at least those from global companies with global markets) want to be assured business-school graduates will thrive in a business environment with other professionals who were born elsewhere, who had starkly different upbringings, who were nurtured in different cultures, who likely speak different languages, and all of whom have invaluable perspectives and points of view.

Tracy Williams

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