For most MBA students, the b-school journey often starts on a very stereotypical note. It happens in an instant… stressful competitive exams, interviews in starchy formals and then suddenly you’re in! Almost overnight, your bags are packed to leave home. That’s when the gravity of it all hits you. This is it.
For some of us, b-school marks our first time leaving the nest. For some others who have already been weathered by 9-to-5 jobs away from home, this is a definitive goodbye, because the minute you step into b-school, you know it is only you who is responsible for building your career.
Perhaps this realization is what keeps the fire burning for the next two years. However, on the flipside, the acute pressure of building one’s career and winning at life paradoxically makes us myopic. We often fail to see beyond CTCs and eminent alumni. It’s not entirely our fault either, because that’s how the best institutes of the country market themselves. But what our schools, (and by consequence, we) often forget is that there are many life lessons to be learnt from a b-school campus. And all of these skills can help us become better managers in the future.
One such immensely underrated learning is Diversity. Yes, ‘Diversity and Inclusion’, the much-abused mantra of many corporates, is something you must learn before you leave your campus for your desk job. When I first started studying at TISS Mumbai, we had endless rounds of self-introductions in class. By the end of the first week, I realized I had classmates from practically every Indian state, including the Andaman islands! In the canteen, I would hear more languages and dialects than I thought existed in India. The first few weeks, I struggled to understand accents, body language, anything remotely alien to my own culture. TISS is a campus that has gender-neutral hostels, celebrates different cultures throughout cultural activities and fests throughout the year. All around me, there was a wealth of cultural information and exchange waiting to happen. And what did I do? I ignored it all to focus on what’s ‘important’. Placements. CGPA. Exploring Mumbai, but only with people who kept me happy in my comfort zone.
How immensely stupid I had been! It only hit me once I went to my summers organization. Suddenly, I was working in an office that was a melting pot of different cultures, mindsets and social standing. I believe a good manager needs to be all pervasive. He/she must have enough capability and empathy to reach out to absolutely anybody in an organization. And how will one do this if one doesn’t know how to deal with diversity?
I encountered different types of diversity during my two months of the summer internship. There were often linguistic barriers: I conducted telephonic interviews where I could hardly make out a single word because I was simply not used to hearing a different accent. Similarly, I could see how conflicts would arise in the workplace because people belonged to different mindsets and we are often not inclusive enough to one another. One racist joke could make someone secretly resent you, thus hindering collaborations in the future. Often, policies and practices introduced higher up by management fails to include the concerns of the folks at the grassroot level, because b-schools often forget to teach their students how to think from diverse lenses. I could go on and on with examples, but the crux of the matter is, you can go nowhere if you are not used to working with different kinds of people and you can resolve no conflicts if you cannot show respect for a viewpoint diametrically opposite to your own.
But the good news is, it’s possible to expand your mind and be inclusive thanks to the diversity you are bound to encounter on campus. So make use of this to the fullest, even if it means missing out on some of the things you think are more important. A few things you might consider:
- For group work, team up with people who are very different from you. What inevitably happens everywhere is that people end up working with their friends each time. Break the spell and go pair up with someone with whom you feel you have nothing to talk about. Who knows, you may be starting a social revolution this way!
- Have your meals with students from different cultures and geographies. There is great power in sharing a meal together and if you do this for long enough, you will learn how to gain insights into people whose lifestyles are very different from yours
- Have more conversation with locals, especially with support staff in your college. This will give you a glimpse as to how the common man lives in the city outside the walls of your B-school. Who knows what new product idea or innovation you could think up this way! Also, it will keep you rooted at a time when big salary figures are all that’s clouding your vision.
- Talk, talk, talk! Even eavesdrop. Being an introvert, I know how difficult this is and I have never been able to do this effortlessly. But whoever can, stands to gain a lot.
And why should you go into so much effort? Because tomorrow when you walk into your future organization, you will make friends instead of alienating people. You will know how to read minds and body language. You will know better than to offend people with communal humour. You will know what works in the company and what doesn’t, because you will know the pulse of its people, much more than your counterparts would. And that’s how you will be more than just another manager!