Slowly, Top B-Schools Gain in Diversity

Business schools have been actively recruiting minorities for years. Many have been teaming up with organizations to educate young people in underrepresented groups about what they can get out of an MBA. Have these efforts worked? The answer is: sort of. In the last 10 years, top business schools have increased the number of enrolled minority students, but the gains have been modest and not every school improved, according to a Bloomberg Businessweek analysis of the schools' self-reported enrollment data.

The analysis showed that 18 of the top 30 U.S. B-schools in Bloomberg Businessweek's 2010 ranking of full-time MBA programs have increased the number of underrepresented minorities (excluding Asian Americans) on campus, raising the average from 9.3 percent in 2000 to 13.4 percent in 2010.Six schools fared worse, one's minority enrollment was flat, and five programs did not provide sufficient information regarding one or both years to determine if they had gotten better or worse.The Johnson Graduate School of Management (Johnson Full-Time MBA Profile) at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., showed the most dramatic increase, having increased its enrollment of underrepresented minorities from 5 percent in 2000 to 21 percent in 2010.

Still, more must be done to improve representation at graduate business schools, says Nancy Sims, president of the Robert Toigo Foundation, a nonprofit group founded in 1989 to help increase diversity in the finance industry. As part of the organization's mission, Toigo educates minority members about the merits of getting an MBA and provides financial support for minority candidates who qualify, says Sims.

"[The research] is an important and ongoing reminder of the need and imperative of continuing to promote diversity," she says. "For the young people who have gone through these schools as Toigo fellows, they are all phenomenally successful. The real key here is giving them the chance to develop their talents with an academic brand."

Almost 1,000 young men and women have participated in Toigo and are still working in finance across all the field's sectors, from investment banking to real estate and private equity, says Sims, who adds that a dozen or more have significant influence over the placement of capital within the U.S. Sims recently spoke with Bloomberg Businessweek reporter Francesca Di Meglio about the Toigo Foundation and how to motivate minorities to sign up for business school and pursue careers in finance. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation:

What goals are you setting for 2011 and beyond?

Pre-MBAs are wondering what opportunities still exist in finance and if it is the right time to step out of [jobs] and into school. Organizations such as Toigo cannot do enough to put ourselves in front of that prospective talent pool. We are contemplating how we can expand some of the outreach we've been doing over the last few years—attendance at conferences, hosting webinars, innovative programs—to find ways to position ourselves better in the media so that people are aware that we exist and also of the merits of the MBA and the talents and successes of our alumni. Our efforts begin with a population that we call pre-MBA, two or three years away from starting an MBA program. I also think more energies can be spent at the undergraduate level, when more of these ideas are taking shape. We could educate them so they can make informed decisions about internships and courses they should be taking to pursue a career in finance.

What obstacles are standing in the way of getting more underrepresented minorities into finance and MBA programs?

Every organization aiming to address this faces resource constraints. We want to keep the process high-touch, so one of the things that Toigo is going to do is engage our alumni in outreach.

Millennials today as a group are starting to have a work/life profile that is very different from those of the MBAs who graduated 10 years ago. Therefore, making the decision to go to business school is important but so is deciding which one to attend, especially if you have family obligations such as children. We're starting to have more conversations about which schools might be best, based on life priorities and ultimate goals. How to put all those pieces together requires a lot of coaching and counseling to get someone to a comfort level.

What should business schools be doing to become more diverse?

The one thing that I hear the most about is the continued effort to increase the [minority] faculty representation on campus. Of course, that's variable by school. Having an academic experience that also allows for messages to come from those who mirror the population of the class is important. It's the same principle that exists when you talk about leadership in corporations. I would not necessarily have criticism of the schools we partner with because I know many of them actively engage in diversity recruiting and events. Certainly, our Toigo alumni who attend those schools have been brought in to assist in a variety of ways.

Some schools have more flexible wait-listing procedures and I find that many more minority students fall into the wait-list category. The question might be: What is the process of moving that group a little more quickly into the decisionmaking process. What happens to many of them is that they have their hearts and sights set on a particular institution and if they're wait-listed, they won't go to business school. They then return to their jobs. Who knows when they'll reapply? It's a lost applicant.

Which schools are doing best and what's their secret?

I do not know the methods. What I can tell you is that schools such as Harvard Business School (Harvard Full-Time MBA Profile), for example, have always had a very strong, diverse class.As you grow those numbers—within the Harvard class, there must be 22 Toigo fellows, which is very strong for us and is followed closely by University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School (Wharton Full-Time MBA Profile) and Columbia Business School (Columbia Full-Time MBA Profile)—you start to build a very strong population within the campus. All those schools have vibrant conferences that they host every year. There's a lot of energy that surrounds coming to the school but also being a part of it as a student and subsequently as a graduate.

What are some things schools with less diversity can do to improve?

When I talk to schools about participating with the Toigo Foundation, one of my first questions is: Can you give me a sense of the landscape of employment of your graduates within finance? Aside from ethnic considerations, that's most important. Second, does the university communicate both on its website and through the people who represent it that there is a welcoming community and a place for diverse candidates to come into the institution and to be successful and establish leadership? Many of our Toigo fellows are leaders of committees—and one was even president of the student body—so I think people want to be in an environment where they know they have a chance for leadership and can grow.

Sometimes the institutions focus on the one area for which they are known as a trade-off for not bringing in all the other disciplines that one could actually experience during [an] academic career. If for example, you are a school known for real estate but you have a great entrepreneurial program, that one candidate of color who might want to go to your school doesn't know about that as well. The schools have a responsibility to give the broadest marketing of the disciplines they have available.

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