Promoting diversity in business education is not without its challenges, particularly in the current sociopolitical climate. The ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have intensified imbalances among candidates, with one of the hardest-hit groups being Black professionals.
Almost a quarter of African Americans (23%) were laid off during the pandemic - compared to just 15 percent of white Americans - and they were also more likely to have canceled or changed their education plans as a result.
To support graduate management education (GME) providers as they navigate this changing admissions landscape and ensure that they keep delivering the diverse classes that best serve businesses, we’ve launched the Diversity Insights Series. The upcoming report in this series breaks down data from the latest Prospective Students Survey (PSS) to bring recruitment professionals actionable insights.
The latest in this series is our African American Candidates research report. Here are five key insights from the report:
1. African American candidates express entrepreneurial ambition at a higher rate than their non-underrepresented peers
One of the first key areas in which Black candidates differ from non-underrepresented populations – who include candidates from Asian American and non-Hispanic white backgrounds – is in their motivations for pursuing GME.
Black candidates are more than 10 percent less likely to aim for a salary increase after their graduate management program, and are also less likely to aim for a promotion or people management.
One factor that may account for this discrepancy is that Black applicants are more entrepreneurial than non-underrepresented populations (non-URPS). Almost a third say they want to become an entrepreneur or be self-employed post-GME compared to just under one-fifth of non-URP.
This is a significant gap even when compared to other underrepresented minorities. For example, Latinx candidates also express entrepreneurial ambition at a higher rate than non-URPs, but this is still only 23 percent, almost 10 percent less than Black candidates.
Given that 75 percent of Black-owned businesses struggle to pay their expenses compared to 63 percent of white-owned firms, funding and investment opportunities may be a key area fomenting competition for top African American talent, and recruitment professionals would do well to highlight these strengths when promoting their programs.
2. They are already well-researched when they enter the GME pipeline
Secondly, African American candidates tend to be more experienced than their fellow candidates, in more than one way.
PSS data show that African Americans are less likely than non-URPs to enter GME before they turn 22 (12% vs 21%), and they tend to be older overall: 24 percent of African American candidates we surveyed are over 40 compared to just 7 percent of non-URP.
As well as being older, African American candidates are also better-researched than other segments. While 60 percent of non-URP candidates are still in the consideration stage, less than half (47%) of Black candidates say the same. Forty-five percent report already having completed a lot of research on their prospective programs, and they are less likely than non-URP to have done no research at all.
Like non-URPs, the most popular trigger for Black candidates to apply to business school is that they had always planned to at this point in their career. Interestingly, however, they report this trigger at higher rates than both non-URPs and Latinx candidates: at 60 percent versus 50 percent and 51 percent respectively.
This suggests that African American candidates show higher levels of research and longer consideration timelines before actively applying. This may impact the kinds of marketing messages that recruitment professionals push to Black candidates – for instance, using more urgent messaging to interrupt their already late-stage decision-making process.
3. Program choices conceal career stagnation
As we have just mentioned, PSS data show that African American candidates tend to be older than non-URPs; however, they aim for similar courses to their counterparts despite the latter being younger on average.
When we look more closely at pre-GME seniority among Black candidates, we can see what may influence this. Despite being more experienced, Black candidates are equally likely to be in entry- or mid-level jobs, evidencing career stagnation.
For recruiters, this means bringing a critical eye to an assessment of candidates’ resumes and understanding the external barriers in place when it comes to professional advancement.4. Gaps in Black students’ networks can be a hindrance on the road to business school
Similarly to Latinx students, Black candidates placed greater weight on the advice of friends and family in their search for the right program.
However, this may hold candidates back from hearing about a breadth of programs, as Black students are less likely than white students to have large numbers of family members who have been educated to a college level. This will impact not only their level of familiarity with GME but their access to firsthand information about the application process.
One way that schools might counteract this is by incentivizing the students and alumni already active in their networks to discuss their programs with their friends and family. Barbara Coward, founder and principal of MBA 360 Admissions, believes that these kinds of personal stories mean more to Black candidates than promising statistics in a class profile.
“A story of someone who was admitted who looks like you or comes from the same background will move the needle more than any percentage bump year-over-year,” says Barbara. “Relatable stories rather than numbers inspire and drive action.”
5. Workplace discrimination may factor into enrollment triggers and program choice
Another key area of difference for Black candidates is in their greater openness to online and hybrid learning. In 2020, 32 percent said they were willing to adjust to online learning compared to 26 percent of non-URP and this held steady in the testing year 2021, with 31 percent of Black candidates being willing to consider hybrid formats compared to 16 percent of non-URPs.
This may be linked to the fact that Black professionals are also more likely than both non-URPs and Latinx candidates to be prompted to consider GME by a recent problem at work: 14 percent of Black respondents reported this compared to 12 percent of Latinx candidates and 10 percent of non-URPs.
Workplace discrimination could well be a factor here. Nearly 60 percent of women and men of color have experienced the “emotional tax” of coping with discrimination in the workplace, and hybrid working can help to mitigate its effects.
Indeed, a study by Future Forum found 86 percent of Latinx and 81 percent of Black knowledge workers said they preferred remote and hybrid work compared to just 75 percent of white knowledge workers. The same study also found that job satisfaction among Black workers increased when they were able to choose hybrid work arrangements.
It is possible that African American students are applying these experiences to the decision-making processes for business school applications. Recruitment professionals might therefore consider foregrounding anti-racist initiatives and curricula they have in place in their programs, as well as support networks for professionals of color.
Stay Tuned to Learn More
To discover additional trends among African American candidates in the testing year 2021 – including standardized test scores and funding plans – look out for the upcoming release of our African American Candidates Research Brief.