Diversity leadership.

Diversity leadership

3 March 2022

The article at a glance

Diversity and business schools: leading the Way, or still some way to go?

Diversity and business schools: leading the way, or still some way to go?

Business schools need to take steps beyond recruitment to also create an inclusive and supportive environment for under-represented groups to ensure progress in racial, ethnic and gender diversity, says a new White Paper from the Wo+Men’s Leadership Centre at Cambridge Judge Business School.

Global efforts towards gender equality, recent discourse on inequalities from the pandemic, and discussion of racial matters have increased attention towards Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives (DIIs).

This White Paper study explored diversity and inclusion initiatives across leading UK and US business schools in order to understand what is happening, what is working, and what lessons can be learned.

“Although business schools as beacons of knowledge are strategically positioned to bring lasting change to the global corporate environment, they still face their own challenges when it comes to increasing diversity,” the paper concludes. “Top-ranking UK and US business schools have considerable international diversity, but this cannot be used as proxy for racial diversity.”

Business school diversity data has historically been limited

The paper notes that business school diversity data tends to focus on gender and country of origin, with limited information on ethnicity and even less on characteristics such as disability, sexual orientation or religion.

The paper recommends four key areas to improve diversity, beginning with the establishment of “dedicated DII (Diversity and Inclusion Initiative) personnel empowered by business school leadership, with appropriate authority structures and a clear remit”, reinforced by measurement and monitoring of diversity metrics.

Other recommendations – covering the four areas of establishing a diversity office, implementing systems and processes, a focus on people and culture, and integrating diversity into teaching include:

Diversity office icon.

Diversity office

  • Implement a dedicated diversity office, with appropriate authority structures and a clear remit, reporting to senior leadership.
  • Ensure a distributed leadership approach, with a mixture of faculty and professional staff, operating under official DII titles, with student-led initiatives, to achieve maximum impact.
  • Ensure that faculty members who ‘wear dual hats’ are appropriately compensated.
Systems and processes icon.

Systems and processes

  • Collect, track and report on diversity metrics; this is important for impact and to understand where to focus resources.
  • Communicate DII progress internally and externally. Communication methods, such as a website describing DIIs, should be visible and accessible; they need to clearly communicate DII vision, strategies, any action plans and their ongoing impact.
People and culture icon.

People and culture

  • Strive for transparency, accountability, clear communication and broad stakeholder buy-in; these are critical to business school culture in order to drive impactful DIIs.
  • Employ the services of diversity consultants where the resources to establish a DII are not available to drive change for impact.
  • Improve awareness of DIIs to all stakeholders through accreditations and effective training practices.
Teaching icon.


Embed diversity into teaching and curriculum and clearly communicate inclusive values.

White Paper looks at 22 top UK and US business schools

The White Paper – entitled Diversity Leadership: Business Schools don’t have ALL the answers either, they are trying to figure it out too – is based on a comparative analysis of diversity trends from 2013-2020, analysis of diversity websites of 22 top business schools in the UK and US, and 32 interviews of business school representatives – board, independent experts, academic and non-academic staff involved in DIIs.

The paper published by the Wo+Men’s Leadership Centre at Cambridge Judge was co-authored by Dr Bola Grace, founder of the firm Orishi, which provides inclusive innovation solutions and Visiting Scholar at the Wo+Men’s Leadership Centre; Dr Lionel Paolella, Associate Professor in Strategy & Organisation at Cambridge Judge; and Professor Jennifer Howard-Grenville, Diageo Professor in Organisation Studies at Cambridge Judge.

Bola is a Cambridge Judge Executive MBA alumna (EMBA 2019), and 2021 Women of the Future ‘Mentor of the Year award winner’.

Previous White Papers from the Wo+Men’s Leadership Centre

The new White Paper on Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives follows previous research from the Wo+Men’s Leadership Centre on a range of issues relating to workplace and management teams. Those studies included a White Paper on how too much “doom and gloom” over the lack of senior women in business can prevent meaningful discussion of what women bring to the table through greater representation; on how women and men use humour differently in the workplace, which represents a lost gender equality opportunity; and on the largely unaddressed phenomenon of the prospective motherhood penalty, or harm to the careers of women seen as potential mothers.

The new white paper notes that although business schools are strategically positioned to bring lasting change to the corporate environment, there is a “dearth of literature evidence” on DIIs specific to business schools.

“The research aimed to understand the diversity baseline and existing initiatives; identify barriers preventing business school DIIs achieving their intended objectives; document unintended consequences arising from DIIs; explore opportunities to promote positive outcomes whilst mitigating negative unintended consequences; and to provide recommendations on how to accelerate progress”

The need to prevent unintended consequences arising from diversity initiatives

The authors say that such unintended consequences can in some cases arise from “innocuous but deeply entrenched administrative processes – seemingly with no impact on diversity at all.”

Among the unintended consequences of DIIs identified in the paper are perceptions of unfairness including men feeling they are penalised for a lack of pay equality, tensions between groups, and the risk “that those who are passionate about change can become adversarial, militant, or oversensitive with a myopic single focus on a rush for action.”

Business schools examined in the White Paper are those in the UK and US that are ranked at the top of the Financial Times annual rankings of business education programmes.

The UK business schools included in the research were: Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford: Warwick Business School; Imperial College Business School; University of Cambridge Judge Business School; Cranfield School of Management; Henley Business School; London Business School; City, University of London, The Business School (formerly Cass); Durham University Business School; Alliance Manchester Business School; and the University of Edinburgh.

The US business schools included were: Harvard Business School; University of Pennsylvania: Wharton; Stanford Graduate School of Business; MIT: Sloan; Columbia Business School; University of Chicago: Booth; Northwestern University: Kellogg; University of California at Berkeley: Haas; Yale School of Management; Dartmouth College: Tuck; Duke University: Fuqua Business School.

Dr Bola Grace will be a panellist at the Cambridge Judge Women and the Future of Work: imagining a gender-equal world fireside chat, hosted by Professor Mauro Guillén, Dean of Cambridge Judge Business School, on International Women’s Day, 8 March 2022. Join the discussion.

International Women's Day.

Imagining a gender equal world

Cambridge Judge celebrates International Women’s Day with a ‘Women and the Future of Work’ event, the launch of a new thought leadership paper on Diversity Leadership and stories of our Cambridge women and their hopes for an unbiased future.

Access insight from Cambridge Judge on women