Reaping the Three Returns on Diversity
- by Ankur Kumar
Wharton MBA Admissions has long been focused on crafting a diverse class. We know the benefits of diversity—particularly, that diverse teams produce the best results. Indeed, at Wharton, we see this theory come to life: every year, we bring together students from countless professional and personal backgrounds to test this theory. The results are consistent, year after year: the diverse teams on which students find themselves in our program are more productive and have fewer blind spots; team members, most importantly, feel they learn more from each other’s differences.
Our motivations for maximizing the level of diversity in our class is more than just to optimize team output, however. Business schools, like business environments, seek to foster innovation. Innovation is the lifeblood of successful organizations, whether they are companies attempting to increase profit or academic institutions educating students and producing research. A key driver of innovation is, in fact, diversity.
Significant research and academic thought exist on the topic of how progress and innovation are less a function of individual geniuses than of diverse teams capitalizing on their individuality, yet one need not look further than the world of business to see the power of diversity in fostering innovation. Donald Fan, senior director in the Office of Diversity for Wal-Mart Stores Inc., addressed the topic of how diversity drives innovation in a widely publicized article in Diversity Inc. magazine from Aug. 31, 2011. In his discussion, he cites examples of how Wal-Mart, with 2.1 million employees globally, leverages diversity through various programs to spur innovation within the company. By promoting a more inclusive culture, Wal-Mart essentially creates an incubator for creative thinking through its various efforts.
Likewise, Wharton strives to create an environment that nurtures innovation through diversity. What may not be entirely evident at first blush is the breadth of diversity in Wharton’s class beyond the traditional measures. Wharton MBA Admissions works hard to attract applicants from various industries, countries and personal backgrounds. The result is diversity in dimensions that only become apparent when our students get to know each other. For example, more than two-thirds of Wharton students studied subjects other than business in undergrad; 41 percent has prior experience in the government, military or not-for-profit sectors; and 75 percent of this year’s first-year class fluently speak a language other than their native tongue.
The benefits of diversity go beyond inspiring better group results or fostering innovation. Practically speaking, the more diverse our network, the more advantageous it is for students and alumni. Our students will have long careers after business school, and it is nearly impossible for them to predict which industry they will work in in 30 years—or even in 10. Hardly a better investment exists than the largest business-school network in the world, with more than 88,000 alumni in nearly 150 countries spanning dozens of industries.
These motivations—improving group results, fostering innovation and strengthening our alumni network—inspire us to craft the most diverse MBA class possible.