The Keys and Obstacles to Developing MBAs of Color


The U.S. Census reports that the number of Blacks has grown by 19% and Hispanics by 56% in the past decade. While this may imply an increase in the availability of diverse candidates for the American workforce, in fact, the opposite is true. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that there will be about 500,000 new management positions opening every year. However, there are only about 250,000 new graduates entering the workforce each year. The gap will only continue to grow as baby boomers begin to retire and there will be fewer workers adequately trained to replace them.

Corporate America continues to demand more talented business leaders even as it faces a limited pool of candidates. Demographic trends suggest that the issue isn’t really a labor shortage, but a skills gap. Simply, the number of people in the pipeline who are prepared with the right academic and professional experience needed to compete in the 21st century workforce need to be increased.

Understanding The Problem

So how is it possible to stem the tide and increase the number of minorities achieving an MBA and becoming prepared for management positions in corporate America?

To truly understand the challenges involved, it’s important to address the issues in the early stages of the pipeline. The real crisis in the country’s high schools bears significant implications for the MBA pipeline to corporate America. Just take a look at these statistics:

According to a study done by the Manhattan Institute, only 51% of all Black students and 52% of all Hispanic students graduate from high school. Yet while that is a startling statistic, even more challenging is that the same study indicates that only 20% of all Black students and 16% of all Hispanic students leave high school academically prepared for enrolling in a four-year college. This tends to explain why, despite the growth in numbers of people of color in the country; they continue to lag behind in significant growth in high school and college attainment.

While the numbers of students enrolling in college continues to grow; there remains a major problem regarding college retention and graduation, especially among minorities. Nationwide, about 39% of all African-Americans who enter a four-year college go on to earn a diploma at the same institution within six years, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Even if Black students who transfer to other colleges or take more than six years to complete their degree program are included in the figures, the overall graduation rate for Black students is still under 50%. As a four-year college degree is, of course, an essential prerequisite for a MBA degree, it has a definite impact on the college-retention rate on the pool of candidates prepared to pursue an advanced degree.

Last, while there has been an increase in number of minorities entering business school over the past five years, the numbers are still limited, with African-Americans and Hispanics representing only about 15% of GMAT test-takers. While there is strong interest in business among Blacks and Hispanics, many students lack adequate preparation to succeed in business school. A recent study conducted by the Diversity Pipeline Alliance reveals that African-American and Hispanics feel that they don’t know enough about business in general. In addition, many students who are interested in being an entrepreneur don’t see a MBA degree as necessary to their career success.

Repairing The Situation

With these points in mind, what’s the best way to address these challenges and ensure that we have enough workers to meet the growing demand of corporate America?

  • First, there needs to be a focus on early college readiness among high school students. Corporate America cannot afford to have such large numbers of students not being prepared for college success. Increasingly, the jobs of the future require more education to succeed and it must be ensured that students are ready to make the transition from high school to college. To do so, it’s necessary to create a structured framework for students so that they get full access to the right courses needed to enroll in a four-year college.
  • Second, career preparation in high school is also needed. Research shows that many students make decisions about their career before they graduate high school. It is essential; therefore, to provide students with relevant career advice so that they can make more informed choices about their career path. Additional information also needs to be provided to influencers such as parents, teachers, and counselors, all of whom play a major role in guiding young people.
  • Third, there needs to be an even more intense focus on increasing college retention among students of color. Research shows that as many as 50% of students fail to graduate from a four-year college even after six years. The future business arena cannot afford to lose so many students in the educational pipeline and it, along with schools and teachers, needs to provide more comprehensive support to make sure once students enroll in college, they in fact graduate.
  • Fourth, college students need better career preparation. Although the majority of students enter college with ideas about career choices, they often lack the best resources among faculty, college advisors, etc., to help them prepare for those fields. For example, too many students lack a proper understanding of how to best prepare for a business career, with most of them believing that you need a business degree to purse a career in business. An answer is to create a comprehensive career-mentoring program that engages students as early as senior year in high school and guide them throughout college with necessary advice. More access should be given to internships and career mentors to help students prepare the work world.
  • Fifth, students need to be better informed about the field of business and how the MBA degree can enhance their professional life. There are many misconceptions about business and it’s only through a coordinated, industry-wide effort of corporations and educational institutions that a difference can really be made.

The future of America’s workforce is inextricably linked to the success or failure of its Black and Hispanic students along the educational pipeline. If what’s desired is a robust pool of MBA candidates to meet the growing need of corporate management ranks, there has to be an early investment made to ensure that students succeed in high school and college so that they can truly be prepared for the 21st century workforce.

Resources Available To Help Students Prepare For An MBA:

Karen Johns is the Executive Director of the Diversity Pipeline Alliance,SM a national network of leading organizations who share a mission of preparing people of color for leadership and management in the 21st century workforce.

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