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Gepubliceerd op: 6 november 2018
Functie: Director MBA Marketing & Admissions
Organisatie: Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University

Diversity: does it really matter?

Diversity is a buzzword we hear a lot in business. And intuitively we believe that diversity is desirable. But what about the hard facts?

In fact there is a substantial and growing body of research that demonstrates that companies with greater diversity in the workforce tend to outperform the competition.

Studies by McKinsey & Company and others reveal that more diverse companies attract more top talent, deliver greater employee satisfaction and report improvement in customer orientation. This leads to more competitive advantage, which in turn, leads to a virtuous cycle of higher returns. Their research suggests that these companies are 35% more likely to surpass the competition.

And those are very encouraging odds.

Building a corporate culture that is heterogeneous across factors like gender, race or sexual orientation means that business leaders benefit from broadened intelligence, insight and approaches to business problems. And as the global market expands and business boundaries blur or cease to exist altogether, the ability to draw on talent that is as diverse as the markets you target can give you a clear competitive edge. PwC report that in a survey of CEOs, a stunning 85% said that a formal diversity and inclusiveness strategy has significantly improved their company's bottom line.

But how does all this relate to you as a prospective MBA student?

Well, just as a business works better with diverse players, the MBA experience is exponentially enriched when you bring different minds, ideas, experiences and perspectives into the mix.

Brandon Kirby is the Director of Admissions for Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University MBA programs. And he is a firm believer of the importance of classroom diversity.

"We are driving diversity in our uptake as a key priority with all our MBA cohorts. The benefits of a diverse classroom are clear and the experience enriched, so that the impact endures long after graduation. Diversity as part of the MBA journey is a key differentiator in the kind of career you have and the type of leader you will become."

Kirby sees four major advantages to students.

The global mindset

Business today is inherently global.

And while globalization is no longer a stand-alone subject and is woven across the curriculum, it is one thing to gain an academic understanding of how our different cultures interplay and connect, says Kirby. It's quite another thing to live it first-hand.

"Global exposure begins the in the classroom. When you bring 35 nationalities together in this transformational setting, fire ideas at them and open up the dialogue, the learning is embedded organically and right from the start.

"Imagine bringing 35 different worlds together in one place. Men and women from distinct cultures, backgrounds, experiences, expectations and outlooks suddenly find themselves locked into the same journey. Now, ask them to look at the same issue, case study or conversation topic - the discussions are more far-reaching than the classroom. Students get the opportunity to view the world through the lens of their classmates, which is a huge value add."

Living the diversity of the classroom, says Kirby, prepares students for survival in the global economy. As they learn more about their classmates, they learn more about the world. The result is a global understanding of each other, and of business.

"Students develop a global mindset that prepares them to work in any kind of corporation or in any kind of business culture. They gain a broader perspective - a big picture take on business and its challenges - while providing the flexibility and the confidence to pursue their ambitions, wherever those ambitions take them."

Problem solving and decision making

The ability to approach problems and find innovative or effective solutions is a key differentiator in business.

A major function of the MBA classroom that is diverse across race, gender and culture is the interchange of ideas, experience and perspectives around business challenges. Exchanges that challenge ingrained thinking and push students out of their comfort zone, says Kirby.

"Whether you are debating an idea or tackling a case study, there's a richness in having diverse team-mates or friends bring different perspectives. Our cultural diversity at RSM, and the gender diversity that comes from an average 40% female intake, means that students are challenged to re-imagine problems, root a little deeper for answers, consider different solutions or tactics. And that builds into world-class problem-solving skills. There's no place for group think or herd mentality in the diverse classroom. Your solutions are clearer, and your decision-making is more robust because they have to be."

Cross-cultural leadership skills

Effective business leaders are those who are aware of their own behaviours and how they affect other people, says Kirby. In the global context, they are also sensitive to cultural differences, values and motivations.

"At the start of your career it's common that you only have your own ethnocentric experiences to draw on. That means that you might be less-prepared to work in or to manage multi-cultural teams. Being part of a diverse cohort exposes students to the knowledge, awareness and the skills to become effective and inspiring leaders in the diverse workplace."

In addition, being in the classroom with people from many different industries and job functions also allow students to learn about different personality types.

"It's not uncommon for us to speak with candidates who have only worked within a team of engineers or sales people. While the technical experience is there, many admit to struggling when stepping into leadership positions that require the managing a cross-functional team. Learning not only from culture, but also function is a critical part of the learning experience."

A global and diverse network for life

The ties and bonds of friendship that develop over the MBA experience endure long after you graduate. As each cohort joins the global alumni community, says Kirby, the class network is consolidated and expanded.

"The MBA is a life-changing experience. And you go through that with people from every corner of the planet, who have shared the same experience and been transformed in the same way as you - and by you. These bonds form a life-long global and diverse network that sustains friendships, shares opportunities and supports people as they progress through their careers and their lives. As a matter of fact, it's how I found my role here at RSM!"