Pulling Rank

Want to address systemic racism at business schools? Let’s start with M.B.A. program rankings, write seven business school scholars.

September 8, 2020
 
iStock.com/Matjaz Slanic

Following the horrific police killing of George Floyd, corporate leaders flooded our inboxes with emails espousing their commitment to equality and racial justice. Justifiably, these emails provoked healthy skepticism because they were generally silent about the topic of systemic racism. One reason corporate leaders struggle to get beyond the platitudes when they talk about racism is that the business schools that trained them have failed to equip them with the tools to recognize and dismantle systems of oppression in our economy.

By sidestepping the question of how corporations perpetuate systemic inequality by disadvantaging underrepresented minorities (URMs), we, the administration and faculty at business schools, bear responsibility for perpetuating those institutional biases. If we are to be part of the solution, M.B.A. programs must radically change who, what and how we teach about the global economy. Even if these kinds of changes are implemented locally by individual programs, for there to be systemic changes, we believe that business schools need powerful incentives to collectively commit to educate the next generation of business leaders to be antiracist.

To this end, we propose that the five major annual M.B.A. rankings -- U.S. News & World Report, Forbes, Businessweek, the Financial Times and The Economist -- include demographic and curricular metrics of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in their program evaluations. The M.B.A. rankings have a significant impact on the priorities of business school leaders by contributing to an institution’s reputation and revenues from both students and donors. Thus, deans allocate substantial resources to improve their programs based on the M.B.A. ranking metrics.

If all five major business school rankings were to include as metrics 1) the proportion of URM students and faculty at an institution, 2) the gap between URM and non-URM student satisfaction survey scores as an indicator of inclusion, and 3) measures of curricular content and research activity that are relevant to issues of equal opportunity and access to all members of our society, then business school leaders would be collectively incentivized to invest in improving on these metrics. Creating a collective incentive like this relieves the burden of accountability from the shoulders of the leaders of individual institutions by rewarding a race to the top.

To be fair, most business schools already compete with each other for “qualified” URM candidates. On what basis is quality determined? Here, the rankings also affect business schools’ behavior. Most rankings include standardized test scores of admitted M.B.A. students in their algorithms. To maximize this measure, schools avoid admitting students who would otherwise pull down their average Graduate Management Admission Test scores. However, standardized test scores are an example of institutionalized racism due to the racial gap in educational opportunities and access to expensive test-preparation services. And they are not even predictive of M.B.A. performance! As such, we also recommend that the rankings eliminate average standardized test score of admitted M.B.A. students from their algorithms. Doing so would free business schools to ascertain candidate eligibility on a broader set of criteria that do not systematically disadvantage URMs.

Not only would changing the ranking algorithms in these ways encourage all schools to think creatively about expanding the pool of “qualified” URM candidates, but the metrics around student satisfaction would also induce schools to improve on the quality of the URMs’ experience once they are in M.B.A. programs. The curricular metrics would also create accountability for teaching about systemic racism and antiracism practices more explicitly throughout the core M.B.A. curricula, thereby increasing the capabilities that our future business leaders might have in thinking about these important issues.

The five major rankings publications do not consistently assess these kinds of criteria, but not because they couldn’t. The Financial Times and The Economist currently factor in the gender and international composition of faculty and students. Businessweek surveys students and alumni about the campus climate. The Financial Times considers how much international and corporate social responsibility content M.B.A.s get in their business school courses. If these ranking algorithms already include gender composition, international course content and campus climate in their metrics, then these kinds of holistic metrics for URMs also should be given consistent and considerable weight.

We hope these publications will appreciate the opportunity they have to move the needle by creating a powerful incentive for all business school leaders to implement antiracism and other DEI actions. We also encourage collective action among stakeholders to pressure the rankings publications to adopt the changes we suggest. These changes would go directly to the heart of dismantling the systems of oppression that disadvantage URMs in almost every aspect of our global economy.

We need more than well-meaning emails to make real progress on these pressing issues; we need institutional and systemic reforms. Let’s pull a lever that we know actually influences business schools’ behavior -- create an incentive for business schools to admit and train truly diverse and inclusive leaders who are committed to leveling the playing field throughout the economy.

Bio

The authors of this piece are Miguel Unzueta, of the University of California, Los Angeles, Anderson School of Management; Modupe Akinola of Columbia Business School; Corinne Bendersky of UCLA Anderson School of Management; Rosalind Chow of Carnegie Mellon Tepper School of Business; Tanya Menon of the Ohio State University Fisher College of Business; Laura Morgan Roberts of University of Virginia Darden School of Business; and Ashleigh Shelby Rosette of the Duke Fuqua School of Business.

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