How important is the inclusion of social justice in graduate management education? According to a recent survey snapshot conducted by GMAC, nearly two-thirds of prospective business school students agree that the social justice curriculum is Very important or extremely important. The findings suggest that the role of business schools in shaping future leaders who are motivated and prepared to create a more just society is more critical than ever.
Collins Dictionary defines social justice “as the principle that all members of society have equal rights and opportunities.” However, the killing of George Floyd and continued protests against injustice are a painful reminder that we have a long way to go to provide equal rights and opportunities to every member of society.
In a recent report, the Social Justice Index measured opportunities for social participation in 41 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries on six dimensions: poverty, education, the labor market, intergenerational justice, health, and social inclusion and non-discrimination. It found that in the area of social inclusion and non-discrimination, Norway, Canada and Spain are in the top ten, while the US, Korea, and Turkey are in the bottom five.
This issue of social justice becomes starker at the intersection of racial and economic disparities, which, in turn, demands reform of our social, corporate, and educational systems. Lily Zheng, in the Harvard Business Review, proposes a concept of Corporate Social Justice that goes beyond Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). She writes that “Corporate Social Justice is a reframing of CSR that centers the focus of any initiative or program on the measurable, lived experiences of groups harmed and disadvantaged by society…Corporate Social Justice is a framework regulated by the trust between a company and its employees, customers, shareholders, and the broader community it touches, with the goal of explicitly doing good by all of them.”
As a global association of leading business schools, GMAC has been a champion of diversity and inclusion in graduate management education (GME) for many decades. In addition, to investing in programs and partnerships to build a diverse candidate pipeline, the organization provides schools with timely and relevant research and insights. The Council released a report entitled Diversity in Graduate Management Education in March 2020 with the aim of providing data to assist with the development of perspectives and practices that advance diversity and inclusion on business school campuses.
In line with our continuing efforts to gather and share candidate insights with the GME community on relevant and emerging issues, we undertook a survey snapshot on how global demands for social justice are shaping expectations of prospective business school students. We asked them to rate the importance of including social justice in the graduate business education curriculum on a 5-point scale (1-Not at all important to 5-Extremely important). Nearly two-thirds (64%) of the respondents indicated that the inclusion of social justice in the curriculum is Extremely important or Very important.
Female candidates were more likely to report the inclusion of social justice in the graduate business curriculum as Very important or Extremely important (69%) than male candidates (61%). The sentiments for the importance of the social justice curriculum were stronger among international candidates—defined as those preferring to study outside their country of citizenship—and not just with reference to the US. Sixty-seven percent of international candidates, as compared to 60 percent of domestic candidates, rated the inclusion of social justice in the graduate business curriculum as Very important or Extremely important.
The findings from the poll align with research that indicates Millennials and Gen Z are more likely to be socially conscious. For business schools, it suggests that global GME candidates are not only aware of the injustice and inequality around them, but perhaps have an expectation that their learning experiences will prepare them to be change agents in their subsequent careers.
Warren Bennis and Robert J. Thomas, in their article Crucibles of Leadership, define a crucible “as a transformative experience through which an individual comes to a new or an altered sense of identity.” The inclusion of social justice in the business school curriculum would further strengthen the transformative power of graduate management education.
In addition to addressing social justice issues in GME by evaluating and refining the curriculum, prior research has also called for reforming existing social justice pedagogies in business schools. According to the Financial Times, “There is widespread agreement that business schools should do more to provide research and teaching for the next generation of students with a greater focus on sustainability, ethics, and social purpose….But there is no consensus of what that involves or how to measure it.”
In sum, the widening gaps in equal rights and opportunities call for including social justice in the fabric of business and society. The role of business schools in shaping future leaders who are motivated and prepared to create a more just society is more critical than ever.
This blog is co-authored with Sabrina White, Vice President of School & Industry Engagement, GMAC.