The Diversity Factor In B-school Admissions: Fickle Fad Or Novel Necessity?
#Throwback – Although this was published originally in 2014, the topic of diversity in a B-School is still debated across various forums.
Like an obsidian creature rising from the depths of the ocean to destroy all in sight, the spectre of gender and background diversity based marks added to the final conversion criteria of numerous B-schools these days is causing many an aspirant to tremble. More than one voice has been raised at the seeming injustice of not converting a seat at your favourite B-school at the nth attempt by dint of a rash decision made in your choice of graduation or because of your gender. There have been many complaints about the impact such a practice may have on the quality of students at some of the Holy Grails of learning in the land and the accusers call it a breach of meritocracy.
While the debate on whether the practice is fair will not abate any time soon, aspirants should resign themselves to the fact that diversity is not just a fad and they had better learn to live with it. And not just for B-school admissions. Many of the top organizations in the world are now stepping up their attempts at diversity-based hiring to promote a healthy mix of different ethnicities, regional backgrounds and of course gender in their workforce. And the purpose of this article is to give you an idea of how maintaining diversity is important and why B-schools may not be so wrong in wanting to broaden the pool from which they select students.
For starters, it needs to be reiterated that the format of entrance exams such as XAT or CAT tends to favour engineering students. And as long as these exams focus extensively on complex quantitative and logical aptitude questions, that will not change. So unless the orientation of these exams is altered – a very good example is the Decision Making section in XAT which tests a candidate’s ability to make managerial decisions in difficult situations – students from other streams will definitely find it difficult.
The next point is that a B-school tries to be an abstraction of the corporate world and focuses extensively on project-based learning rather than a lot of classroom sessions and long exams. You’ll be doing a lot (and I mean a LOT) of projects and most of these projects will be done in groups. And here is where the diversity actually comes into play. Different people bring in different ideas, differing perceptions may lead to conflicts in a team but it encourages critical thinking, forces you to examine different strategies and different ways to solve a problem. And people with different backgrounds also bring varied expertise to the table. While engineers may prove pivotal in understanding and explaining the technical intricacies of situations regarding the manufacturing or IT industries, people from commerce and finance backgrounds are versed with the nuances of accounting or financial management (which can really bamboozle engineers at first) and people with humanities’ degrees in psychology or sociology are attuned to the softer skills of managing your human resources. Of course these are purely indicative and there is no reason why an engineer may not be excellent at the psychological aspects of dealing with employee relations or a sociology graduate not be a finance whiz. The point to be made is, you’ll need to focus on a hundred different aspects of business and you will need all the help you can get.
But perhaps the most important reason diversity can help is the simplest one – to help you get along better with people. Those who have prior work-experience can relate to this point to some extent. In your respective organization there will be many people you don’t see eye to eye with. It could be the person with whom you share a cubicle or it could be your boss. But you need to learn to put aside your differences and work together as a team. So also in a B-school, you may not always get to choose who you work with in your class assignment groups. There are many student committees on campus that do everything from deciding your mess menu, getting your faulty light-bulbs replaced, organizing seminars and talks by industry stalwarts and getting you placed in your dream job. These committees often work like project teams in organizations: with limited resources, a crazy workload and strict deadlines. And just like in an organization, you may not like all the members on your committee but you have to learn to co-exist.
As future business managers, we have to learn the art of managing people ranging from our superiors and colleagues to our subordinates. And this task is made a little easier if we have the ability to understand and appreciate the inherent differences in people. There can be no common yardstick to measure the behaviour and the proclivities of people. The one-size-fits-all approach no longer works. And there is no exact empirically proven formula to get this balance right. The best way we can learn is through practice. And these long, hard-working months you spend in a business school provide you the perfect opportunity to do just that. So grab it with both hands. Go interact with the teeming diaspora. Meet as many people from as many different cultures that you can, work with them at close quarters. And I believe – and it is my personal experience – that you will find many of your preconceived notions and stereotypes melt away.
Nadeem is an alumnus of XLRI, Jamshedpur (Class of 2015 ).
Some stories on a similar note-