A Year Later: Is the AACSB Advancing Diversity at Business Schools?

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Business schools are lagging behind when it comes to diversity. Specifically, underrepresented populations account for only 16 percent of the U.S. graduate management education pipeline, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council. But the problem isn’t just at the graduate level. 

Sarah Gardial
Sarah Gardial

Sarah Gardial, dean of the Tippie College of Business at the University of Iowa, says that even when her university is doing a good job attracting a diverse freshman class, the business school typically doesn’t see a similarly diverse group of incoming students.

[Above: Alumni and affiliates of The PhD Project participate in the AACSB’s Aspiring Leaders Seminar in July.]

And, Gardial says, this lack of diversity isn’t isolated to her school. Just last week, she received an email from the dean of another business school desperate to track down affordable resources to help his staff create a diversity strategy. Although these resources exist, not all universities can afford them. This leaves a gap, one that Gardial thinks the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) — the accrediting agency for business schools — can fill.

Last August, the AACSB appointed its first chief diversity and inclusion advocate, Christine Clements. In the year since her appointment, she has made steps forward. The organization’s website

Christine Clements
Christine Clements

now includes a diversity and inclusion section with articles and videos on business-school-specific strategies to advance diversity and inclusion; best practices for expanding opportunities for women in business, developed by a coalition of business schools with the support of the White House; a list of signatory schools that have pledged to abide by these best practices; and some diversity statistics on AACSB member schools. According to Clements, the AACSB also added additional questions to its accreditation process that provide the organization more information about the diversity of a school’s faculty.

Read: A Conversation with the AACSB’s New Diversity Advocate

While Gardial believes these are good first steps, she thinks the AACSB should take on a stronger leadership role. It has the potential to reach out and bring academic and industry professionals together to lead these conversations, she says — a powerful combination.

Although some business schools are doing a great job attracting and supporting diverse faculty and students, industry is still ahead of academia in this area. Because businesses look to schools for a pipeline of future leadership, Gardial says companies are eager to join the conversation, and she believes they can offer valuable perspectives.

“I still think there are people who are waiting to understand why diversity is so important,” she says. “It’s not just how you do it; it is getting people’s hearts and minds engaged in the ‘why.’ It’s not about affirmative action. It’s not because this is the moral thing to do. It is truly because we will be a better college of business when our faculty and students reflect the world in a better way.”

Anise Wiley-Little
Anise Wiley-Little

Anise Wiley-Little, chief human capital and diversity officer for the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and author of Profitable Diversity: How Economic Inclusion Can Lead to Success, agrees that colleges of business have to start having these conversations about diversity. Last year, Kellogg held a chief diversity officer summit that brought together 143 corporate, higher education, government, and nonprofit chief diversity officers and chief human resource officers.

“We want to be the place where diversity practitioners go to learn their craft,” says Wiley-Little.

She says that she hasn’t needed to use any of AACSB’s diversity resources because Kellogg’s staff is highly experienced in attracting and supporting diverse faculty and students. This lack of contact with AACSB has given Wiley-Little pause.

“As it begins to build its efforts around diversity,” she says, “since we have such a deep expertise, there might be places where there are synergies, where we can share.”

Gardial would like to see more sharing as well. She says there’s no substitute for peer-to-peer discussions and trading of best practices; this is something she hopes to see AACSB support through dedicated daylong professional development sessions on topics like attracting and retaining diverse faculty and students. “I guarantee you schools would show up for that,” says Gardial. “They want to be in on those conversations.”

Tom Robinson
Tom Robinson

President and CEO of AACSB Tom Robinson agrees that the organization has a key role to play in the conversation about diversity in business schools, and he acknowledges there is much work to be done. He says that AACSB needs to increase the breadth and depth of its partnerships and encourage more schools to commit to following the best practices advocated by the organization for engaging women.

As part of its new diversity efforts, the AACSB will be speaking “more loudly — and more often — on issues of diversity and inclusion, as well as other aspects of social responsibility,” Robinson says.

According to Clements, among AACSB’s plans are a Best Practices 2.0 document that will apply the concepts from the White House’s original best practices document to business schools around the globe, increased data collection and analysis, and more diversity-focused sessions at conferences.

“In order to have an impact,” Clements says, “[diversity] needs to be part of everything we are doing.”●

Alice Pettway is a contributing writer for INSIGHT Into Diversity.