Business school recruitment: disrupt to diversify

A genuine commitment to championing greater equity, diversity and inclusion in business education demands a paradigm shift, says Arnold Longboy

Arnold Longboy's avatar
London Business School
31 Jan 2023
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Business school diversity requires disruption

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Having followed our graduates’ contribution to business and public life over many years, it’s unsurprising that I put up a robust defence of business education. It’s true, however, that all too often business school graduates have not reflected the socio-economic diversity of the wider world.

The sector is not alone in facing this challenge. Institutions across the board continue to grapple with how to ensure their C-suites reflect diverse backgrounds and viewpoints. As a key pipeline through which future business leaders are equipped with the skills to lead, business schools have a unique opportunity – and a responsibility – to be part of the solution. But a genuine commitment to championing greater equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in business education demands a paradigm shift.

Consider socio-economic diversity. There’s no prescribed path – you can’t just buy a list of disadvantaged young people to market to and hope for the best. Recruitment strategies must break new ground if we’re serious about overcoming decades of inequality. That means standing back, throwing out the “rulebook” and being genuinely creative about how you might reach people who have never considered a business education before.

The process begins before someone even considers your school or a business education at all. That is the time to reach out – earlier and wider – to identify and engage exceptional individuals with the benefits business education has to offer.

Start by taking stock of where you are. Embrace a growth mindset and encourage those around you to do so, too. Even when the drivers behind your EDI strategy enjoy broad support, the shifts required to realise change can face resistance. It’s all too easy to set targets while forgetting the team members responsible for delivery. Ensure your recruitment and admissions teams have the skills to deliver on your strategy and buy in to the vision. Define – collectively – what EDI means for your institution. Understand not only what “success” looks like, but why your key measures have been chosen – and talk about that inside and outside your organisation.

Even with a solid foundation, business schools are unlikely to succeed on their own. When your goal is to reach out earlier and wider, do not underestimate the power of partnership. Goodwill won’t get you very far if you can’t find the individuals you want to attract or they can’t afford to attend your programme.

Not only is the right partner likely to have more experience in EDI, they are also likely to have access to networks of potential candidates that traditional marketing may have trouble reaching. At London Business School, organisations such as the 93% Club and SEO London advocate for people from under-represented backgrounds and help us connect with individuals who may never have considered business education.

Candidates from under-represented or disadvantaged backgrounds may also need additional financial support to accept an offer at your school. Historically, UK institutions have not enjoyed the same culture of philanthropic giving as their US counterparts, so greater access to needs-based scholarships will form a critical part of any EDI strategy.

Pursue partnerships with individuals and organisations who share a similar EDI vision to your own and recognise the transformational power of education. Through our Forever Forward campaign, London Business School aims to double the number of scholarships offered over the next five years. To support this ambition, we’ve partnered with the Laidlaw Foundation, a relationship that funds 20 scholarships each year through the Laidlaw Women’s Leadership Fund. The programme has an explicit aim to increase the proportion of women in senior leadership roles in business and on executive boards globally. Recipients must demonstrate financial need. These types of initiatives take time to establish but their ability to transform lives makes them a worthy investment.

Tap into your current student body and alumni networks and invite them to also play an active part in your EDI journey. These groups are your biggest champions. Work constructively with them to identify and engage prospective students that traditional marketing activities may miss. We collaborate with student affinity clubs to introduce prospective students to our community. Flagship student-led conferences, such as those delivered each year by our Women in Business Club and Out in Business Club, send a signal to prospective students from under-represented backgrounds that business education is for all.  

Prospective students are also set up for success when interviewed by someone who shares a similar background. They are likely to be more relaxed, more engaged in the interview process and better able to visualise a future with your school. This is never more important than when recruiting candidates from under-represented backgrounds. We involve alumni at the interview stage, pairing prospects with former students from similar backgrounds to help them put their best foot forward.

Think about ways to reach new audiences earlier in the pipeline, too. Graduate business schools often focus their recruitment efforts on students already enrolled in undergraduate university courses or professionals in the workforce. Consider introducing business education and your school even earlier and make the case for how business can be a force for good. Next summer, we will offer a long-weekend summer school on sustainability, where young people and people who weren’t considering business education can sample the business school experience first-hand.

There is no easy way to transform business education into the wholly diverse and inclusive sector we know it can and should be. Realising your EDI goals takes time and effort but with the right partners and a willingness to achieve, real progress towards greater diversity and inclusion can be made.

Arnold Longboy is executive director, recruitment and admissions, degree education at London Business School.

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