The study, led by the Association of MBAs (AMBA) in partnership with Hult International Business School, asked over 120 current and future MBAs what extent should we stop talking about ‘female’ or ‘BAME’ leadership and instead talk about just leadership?’
Respondents thought progress had been made on diversity and equality issues generally, but there was much further to go.
“There is still a long way to go in the fight for equality in the workplace,” said one response. “I believe it is too early to start talking simply about ‘leadership’ and could have the adverse effect of normalising a situation which is still largely uneven.”
Yet there were calls to approach leadership initiatives differently.
“We should forget about gender and ethnicity and focus on individuals who exhibit the necessary traits of a leader,” wrote one BAME female respondent. “I do not dispel the fact that females and [the] BAME community experience issues but my opinion is, focus on developing people with the leadership skill set regardless of race or gender.”
Another respondent said: “This constant navel-gazing, seeing every issue through a feminist or BAME perspective, distracts from identifying the best and most talented candidates for the job.
“Also it creates inverse prejudice for example allowing wealthy middle-class females and BAME candidates a leg-up on aspirational, better-qualified candidates from poorer backgrounds who do not meet those criteria.”
Commenting on the findings, Tariro Masukume, membership manager at AMBA, said: “The report's findings show that MBAs believe organisations should be acting in a responsible way, with clear themes emerging such as MBAs calling for transparency in business, going beyond CSR incentives, and for business strategy to consider all stakeholders, with several respondents citing environmental concerns.”
The importance of developing environmentally friendly business strategies, valuing ‘thoughtful and bold’ leadership and being flexible when meeting challenges such as coronavirus were also highlighted as critical points for development.
The survey also asked respondents about the threat of AI in the future working world.
Respondents emphasised the ways business will need to change to accommodate new technologies, something which has been encouraged by our switch to remote working.
“Soft skills will become more important than technical skills that can be replaced by technology,” one respondent said.
Yet some were less hopeful about the possibility of adapting due to the threat AI poses to jobs.
Katherine Easter, chief people officer at the Pension Protection Fund (PPF) said the results chime with what's been going on within her organisation.
She said: "I don’t feel there has to be disagreement with ‘the best candidate for the role’ vs prioritising increasing diversity. The best candidate for the role is the person that brings new skills and perspectives to the team and to delivery.
"The role of digital in providing brilliant customer service has been an important addition to our organisational strategy. We are engaging employees to rethink the role of technology in our processes and reinforcing the idea that if we let technology support customers who can help themselves, that allows us to develop stronger skills in working for customers who have more complex needs that require the personal touch."
Masukume added: “This report confirms that MBAs are optimistic about the future of work, ready to take on the challenges of generating a positive effect through business, while also grasping the opportunities that technical innovation is bringing.”