Grading B-Schools On Their Diversity Efforts

by on May 6th, 2013

Late last year, Nicole Lindsay was working as a consultant for an organization that wanted to strengthen its website’s diversity content. To prep for a brainstorm, she surfed through more than 175 websites, including those of 140 U.S.-based graduate business schools.

What Lindsay found surprised her. More than 80 of 140 (nearly 60%) of the business school websites failed to devote a single page devoted to diversity, nothing to encourage interest or applications from under-represented minorities or women.

She recalls that her first thought was ‘These schools don’t want diversity.’ “Maybe they would prefer to have more women and minorities given a choice, but they could exist without it,” says Lindsay, a Darden MBA who had once been in charge of diversity admissions and student affairs for the Yale School of Management. “Setting the quality of such a page aside, I felt that even a poor diversity page would acknowledge, at some level, that the school had a desire to engage women and under-represented minorities as students.”

Grading the schools on four categories

The result of that experience, following years of work in the diversity space, is a new report card that grades the top 56 U.S. business schools on diversity. Lindsay says she spent about eight weeks compiling the results of her study, called “The MBAdvantage Report,” and another four weeks writing the final report. The benchmarking studies compares schools’ efforts and Based in Stamford, CT., she currently runs DiversityMBAPrep, an initiative to increase gender and ethnic diversity at top MBA programs.

Each school received an overall grade based on separate A to F grades in four key areas: web and social media, activities and outreach, school leadership, and diversity recruitment results. Though the grading was systematic, it also was by its very nature subjective–based on Lindsay’s assessment.

As a result, the school report cards are likely to be highly controversial. Harvard Business School receives a grade of C from Lindsay, even though the school’s MBA program is headed by the first woman in its history. In fact, for diversity of school leadership, Harvard is given a lowly grade of D. Rivals Stanford Graduate School of Business and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School fare much better. Both schools earned B+ grades, but also received D grades on school leadership as well.

The only school to earn a grade of A+ in the study was Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management, garnering straight As in all four categories. Lindsay noted that Johnson’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion pages captured a strong sense of community, with “great pictures, content, and resources.” She found “excellent detail on ways for diverse candidates to connect with the school” along with “strong female representation among the Dean’s senior staff. One of the eleven schools with 20% or more women on its Advisory Council.” And when it came to actual results, she said Johnson displayed “excellent transparency with strong diversity recruitment results.”

A dozen of 56 top U.S. schools got A grades

All told, a dozen schools were awarded grades of A. They include Babson College, Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School, Chicago Booth, Duke University’s Fuqua School, Emory University’s Goizueta School, and UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business (see table for complete list on following page).

The only school to receive two F grades, in web and social media and school leadership was Boston College. Lindsay noted that BC’s Carroll School got the flunking grades largely for not making any diversity activities or outreach apparent on its website and for having a mission statement that failed to incorporate diversity.

Of the top 56 business schools, only half a dozen got either a grade of D or D+ for their overall diversity efforts: Boston College, Georgia Tech, Northeastern, Thunderbird School of Global Management, UC-Irvine’s Merage School, and the Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina.

Some irony in the D-grades results

In some cases, it’s ironic that some of these schools were singled out by Lindsay. The Moore School, for example, is one of the few business schools in the world endowed by a woman, Darla Moore. Georgia Institute of Technology’s Scheller College of Business is the only prominent business school whose dean, Steve Salbu. is openly gay. The percentage of female students at Wharton (42%), Harvard (40%) and Stanford (35%) exceed those at A+ Cornell (32%). Interestingly, the big three also appear to have a greater representation of minorities than Cornell. Wharton reports its “minority enrollment” at 28%, Harvard at 24% and Stanford at 20% versus a 14% number for “under-represented minorities” at Cornell.

Cornell's diversity and inclusion webpage

Cornell’s diversity and inclusion webpage

Lindsay says her assessments were based on much more than simple stats. “It would have been easy to assess MBA programs just by the numbers, simply evaluating them based on their percentage of women and minority students, but that misses the complexity of this work,” she writes. “Diversity recruitment is not done in a vacuum, and getting a candidate to apply to your MBA program, gain admission, and then accept has multiple layers and challenges.”

Regardless, there are limits to glean very much from a school’s website. Lindsay, for example, found that 34% of the business schools assessed have a diversity admissions representative, with 11 of the 19 schools denoting the person on their websites. “Eight other schools provided me with the specific assistant and associate directors of admission who were responsible for diversity or women’s outreach,” she says. “Even for the schools that included this information on their websites, I had to dig to find it, often going through the staff bios or admissions blogs to determine who, if anyone, managed the school’s diversity outreach efforts.”

In most cases, says Lindsay, the D graded schools failed to have “significant diversity content on their websites. They were a lot less likely to outline events targeting under-represented minorities or clubs and partnerships. They didn’t work with Forte Foundation to increase female enrollment or other organizations that help with minority recruitment. Those were the biggest drivers. Schools could opt not to give additional information and in a few instances that probably hurt them. They’re probably not that low but they are not presenting themselves in a way that the school leadership does not have a central focus on diversity.”

‘Culpability for the lack of diversity in MBA programs is not shared by the schools’ 

Most business schools, she says, claim that it’s difficult to attract women and minorities to MBA programs. “Some of the most often-cited reasons: minorities have low GMAT scores, minorities want too much scholarship money, women are in their prime childbearing years when MBA programs most want them,” says Lindsay. “There are hints of truth in each of these challenges. The problem is that culpability for the lack of gender and ethnic diversity in MBA programs continues to be placed on the candidates themselves and not shared by the institutions, which have significantly more authority to change the landscape than they currently utilize.”

Lindsay says it’s not about “ill intention, but often poor results and lack of awareness on effectively recruiting women and minorities that had led to this industry-wide complacency. Many MBA programs had expended substantial resources on diversity initiatives over the years with little to no results in return. For many, cracking the diversity recruitment code became wishful thinking versus a business strategy.”

While several top schools, most notably Harvard Business School and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, have made significant gains in female enrollment, there has been much less progress on the minority front. “The result has waned around minority recruiting,” says Lindsay. “To put out dollars and not get results year after year is frustrating and hard to explain. They say, ‘We haven’t figured this out.’ And when you are in line with your peer schools, you can say this is a bigger issue than business schools can tackle. There just aren’t enough (under-represented minorities) in the pipeline.”

As for school leadership, Lindsay found that the median percentage of woman on the dean’s senior staff was 38% (average was 37.9%). There were five schools (9%) that had no women on their senior leadership team. Of the 11 schools with less than 25% women on their senior leadership team, their Overall Assessment score was a 5.7, while for the 11 schools with the highest percentage of women, all above 55% women, the Overall Assessment score was a 6.7.

“Gender parity is the goal,” maintains Lindsay. “Diversity is not served by having all women on the school’s senior leadership team; however, within this framework, I did not penalize a school with a higher percentage of women. Five schools had more than 65% women, with two having more than 75% women on the senior leadership team. There was no team of all women. There are twelve schools led by a dean who is a woman or under-represented minority.”


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