The Impact of Business School on Student Attitudes toward Diversity in the 21st Century Workplace

By Eisner, Susan | Transformations, March 31, 1999 | Go to article overview

The Impact of Business School on Student Attitudes toward Diversity in the 21st Century Workplace


Eisner, Susan, Transformations


The Impact of Business School on Student Attitudes Toward Diversity in the 21st-Century Workplace

Introduction

In 1995, the federal Glass Ceiling Commission reported results of the first national study of the impact of affirmative action on the United States workplace. They found that a "glass ceiling" blocking the career progression of women and people of color exists due to exclusionary corporate practices perpetuated through stereotypical views, primarily by white male middle managers. The implications of the findings are magnified given demographic trends. The majority of the Twenty-First Century workforce will be women and people of color, whose career progress and workplace contributions are impeded by this institutionalized corporate culture. By early next century, America's workforce is expected to be predominantly female and less than 40% white males. Although women hold only a small fraction of the most senior positions, they already hold 48% of all managerial jobs and nearly 53% of professional positions (Barneby and Kelly, 1997).

Corporations are investing millions of dollars in diversity management programs for their employees; by 1995 one out of two American companies had such programs in place (Caudron and Hayes, 1997). Today's business schools are educating many of those who will, after graduation, participate in corporate diversity management programs. Given the relationship between workplace attitudes and practices identified by the Glass Ceiling Commission, it is important to understand the attitudes of our business school students toward the diverse workplace they will enter. Many colleges and universities have already targeted multicultural education as part of their mission and curricular efforts. To accomplish that goal well, educators need to identify and attend to factors affecting student attitudes.

Many studies have examined the impact of education on student attitudes toward diversity. Smith (1993), Lopez (1995), Villalpando (1994), Astin (1993), James (1995), and Titus (1996) are among those reporting a positive correlation. Their research discusses relationships between race, gender, and college student attitudes. Interpersonal and institutional factors explored by their research include class activities and discussions, racial/cultural awareness workshops, socialization with those of different races and ethnicities, appreciation for and commitment to achieving diversity, opportunity to address diversity, and integration of values such as equality and justice into the curriculum.

Much of the literature bases its findings on student opinions toward affirmative action in higher education. By exploring the impact of education on student opinions toward - and preparation for - diversity in the workplace, this paper seeks to contribute to the field and to provide information that may be useful in the development of curriculum and pedagogy.

The Research Questions

Faculty in the School of Administration and Business (SAB) at Ramapo College of New Jersey designed a comprehensive survey to investigate a number of relevant questions: what attitudes do those taking business school courses have toward the multicultural workplace, what factors influence these attitudes, and what specific characteristics both inside and outside of the classroom have the most impact? See Appendix A for the survey instrument. The purposes and comprehensive results of the Ramapo College pilot study are presented in Appendix B.

Two hundred and twenty-nine students taking classes in SAB were surveyed in 1997. The gender and ethnicity of students sampled are close to that of the workforce: respondents are 56.7% male and 43.3% female, 71.6% white and 28.4% persons of color. The sample is diverse in years of education, academic discipline, family income, and type of work experience. Almost 74% of those who responded have been employed for more than 4 years.

Survey Results

Data from this survey report a positive relationship between the college experience and business school student attitudes toward - and preparation for - the 21st century workplace.

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