Educational diversity is a key element of a strong organization

Funny story: My dad told me I could study anything except business. Now, I’m a banker. Believe it or not, I agree with his reasoning. At the core of his argument was the idea of educational diversity.

Then and now

Today’s university business school graduates have a great deal to offer in the modern economic landscape. In addition to core financial knowledge of accounting, finance, and information technology, they’ve learned strategic thinking, effective communication, and organizational behavior. They’ve gained exposure to diverse perspectives through collaboration with peers from varied backgrounds and explored issues with a global perspective.

The well-rounded attributes of today’s business graduates weren’t always the standard. Business school curriculum used to be heavy on statistical multiple regressions and financial analyses, and light on broad learning and critical thinking. It wasn’t until the booming postwar period that business schools improved their funding and became as dedicated to academic study as other university graduate programs, such as law and the sciences.

This narrow course of study in business schools had an indirect effect on my own education. My father spent time as a placement counselor at Harvard Business School in the 1950s and was so unimpressed with the communication skills of the new graduates that he forbade his children from taking business classes in college. We were instead directed to take liberal arts classes, in the hopes that studying literature and humanities would sharpen our critical thinking and prepare us for any career we chose.

Whether that approach was successful in my case is debatable, but it is clear that a background in humanities can be a benefit in today’s business world. The Harvard Business Review reports that employers increasingly believe broad-based learning and critical thinking are the best preparation for long-term career success. The emphasis on written and oral communication, working in groups, and the real-world application of skills and knowledge are all critical outcomes of a liberal arts educational experience.

Are you left-brained or right-brained?

Worldwide, there is an increasing emphasis on hiring applicants from diverse educational backgrounds for business leadership roles. Raj Kamal, senior lecturer at Edgewood College, says that business people need to use both sides of the brain to be successful. “We need the analytical and quantitative side to carefully identify and assess the facts, and the liberal arts side to take into account factors that are important but hard to quantify.”

I’m very fortunate in that I’ve worked for companies that support and value education, and I’ve been able to augment my on-the-job experience with professional courses and certification programs throughout my career. Many employers agree that giving employees the opportunity to take formal business classes to fill in more educational gaps and hone the skills needed in their chosen profession gives a company a versatile, smarter workforce with better retention rates. I can speak firsthand of the excellent MBA program at Edgewood College, but there are many opportunities for those with varied backgrounds and life experiences to supplement their education with formal business courses.

Communication and critical thinking

According to a 2018 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, employers rated written communication, problem-solving, and the ability to work in a team as the three most essential competencies of college graduates. These skills can be gained from a variety of experiences, and the more employees with diverse backgrounds a business has working for it, the more voices can contribute to problem-solving and new approaches for the success of the organization.

Sam Huntington is vice president – treasury management director at State Bank of Cross Plains (SBCP).

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