Business schools should drive positive societal change, says AACSB’s new CEO

Caryn Beck-Dudley was recently appointed as president and CEO of AACSB and previously served as dean of the College of Business at Florida State University.

By Geetha Bai 

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The business environment is in a state of constant change, driven by demographic shifts, the global economic climate, societal change, and the birth of emerging technologies. At the same time, there is a growing need for businesses and society at large to become more accountable for their actions and this change needs to be led by a shift in how business schools develop their future leaders.

Businesses today are held to a higher degree of commitment to society, as they are forced to exhibit a greater sense of social responsibility and embrace more sustainable practices.

These factors are also impacting higher education. And this calls for business schools to respond to the changing needs of the business world by providing relevant knowledge and skills to the communities they serve.

In an exclusive interview with U2B, President and CEO AACSB International, Caryn L. Beck-Dudley shared insights on the important role business schools play in shaping the future and how business schools can make a difference in the world through positive societal impact.

AACSB is a non-profit global membership association for the business education industry dedicated to sharing knowledge and best practices that accelerate innovation in business education. It is the world’s largest business education association and celebrates more than 100 years of excellence in higher education.

AACSB’s mission is to foster engagement, accelerate innovation, and amplify impact in business education which shapes its accreditation standards for business schools.

Beck-Dudley most recently served as the seventh dean of the Leavey School of Business at Santa Clara University, a position she assumed in 2015.

AACSB – Fostering engagement, accelerating innovation and amplifying impact in business education

In responding to this shift in the business world, AACSB International (AACSB) is leading an effort to champion the diversity, equity, and inclusion agenda to create the next generation of great business leaders that embody all these principles.

Beck-Dudley, who took on the role of President and CEO of the association in June this year affirms that business schools have a lot of work to do to overcome some of the existing barriers that prevent them from truly becoming agents of change in terms of positive societal impact.

“AACSB’s new standards for 2020 make it very clear that diversity in people and ideas is pivotal in driving this change and AACSB has always championed diversity and inclusion in business school recruitment and hiring,” Beck-Dudley said.

She asserts that this agenda is dynamic and is influenced by geographical and cultural factors across the globe.

Diversity and inclusion will represent different things when examined under a global lens: The differentiating factors include historical perspectives, government regulations, ethnicity, gender, and even religious views.

AACSB’s 2020 standards will act to ensure that business schools across the world form and execute a strong commitment that adheres to these standards.

Ideally, Beck-Dudley states that business schools should aim to generate and foster a sense of belonging that makes people feel like they fit in, even if the environment has traditionally acted as a barrier to inclusivity.


AACSB’s collaboration on The PhD Project champions diversity in the academic field

In the context of business schools in the United States, inclusivity is more specific and Beck-Dudley cautions that US business schools have a lot of groundwork to cover to achieve equality and inclusivity in areas surrounding race and ethnicity.

As a response to this need, AACSB has been a strong supporter of academic diversity through its collaboration on The PhD Project: Business Doctoral Programs for Minorities.

Since its inception in 1994, The PhD project has increased the number of Black Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Native Americans earning a business PhD from 294 to 1,517.

Out of this number, 1,303 are teaching in U.S. colleges and universities today. This is a significant improvement that has positively impacted the PhD candidate pool by introducing more applicants from minority communities.

There is still room for growth in this area and Beck-Dudley states that business schools should apply strategies that can ensure a long-term, equal representation of minorities both in candidates and in faculty.

One strategy business schools can implement to improve its minority representation, as Beck-Dudley suggests is to increase its candidate pipeline by leveraging on The PhD project.

Beck-Dudley also recommends that business school deans personally reach out to talented individuals identified from minority groups and promote their programmes directly to these individuals.

The onus also lies in school deans to create an inviting and conducive environment that can support the growth of a more diverse candidate pipeline.


Business schools should remove barriers in their admissions process to create an equal and inclusive business education environment  

AACSB champions the idea that when business schools unlock access, reduce barriers, and intentionally devise strategies to engage disadvantaged or underrepresented populations, they create an environment of success and enhanced excellence.

In achieving its mission and vision, AACSB emphasises and models the values of quality, diversity and inclusion, a global mindset, ethics, social responsibility, and community in the business schools that it accredits.

Beck-Dudley highlights that as a response to the changes happening around us, it is becoming crucial for business schools to reevaluate their admissions process.

One of the changes that she highlighted was GMAT and GRE score waivers in the admissions process. This change largely brought about by the pandemic uncovers a deeper issue affecting the business schools’ admissions process – lack of access and racial inequality.

Beck-Dudley explains that the use of test scores in the admission process has been found to inadvertently encourage inequality – and there is some evidence of racial bias in this practice.

“Relying on test scores will only act to increase access for students who already come from affluent or academic families,”

Beck-Dudley adds, “Prospective students who do not have this kind of access, and cannot afford to pay for expensive preparatory tests and examination fees will be further marginalised.”

Test score waivers, already enforced by a growing number of business schools will also impact school rankings.

The schools that make it to the top of raking lists traditionally admit applicants with high test scores.

As we distance ourselves from the notion that high rankings translate to better schools, Beck-Dudley points out that a good business school should not be concerned with the quality or type of students it accepts into its programmes but rather, the quality of the individual that it produces through its business education programmes.

“A good business does not care about the input or the kind of students are admitted but rather what these students can learn and go on to achieve after they complete the programme,”

Beck-Dudley adds, “A high-quality business school will transform your life even if you do not come from privilege.”


The AACSB accreditation focuses on the societal impact of business schools to develop future leaders

As rankings should no longer be a focal point, prospective students and programme applicants should instead focus on accredited business schools whose missions are in line with their career plans.

Beck-Dudley says, “The application process requires some discernment form the prospective students – they have to ask themselves these questions: ‘What are my plans?’, ‘What industry would I like to work for?’ and ‘Where do I want to work?’”

It is also to important for applicants to find out what kind of relationship the school has with businesses and research as this would be a strong indication of their career prospects after they graduate.

The onus is also on business school applicants to build their network before enrolling in the programme by reaching out to fellow applicants and school alumni.

AACSB ensures that business schools that carry its accreditation have a mission that supports its local or rural community.

Prospective business school applicants should view an AACSB accreditation as a guarantee that the business schools will carry out programmes of the highest standards based on their missions.

Additionally AACSB guarantees that business school research, teaching, and outreach will have a positive social impact.

“The AACSB accreditation process will ensure that business schools have processes in place for continuous improvement,”

She adds that “AACSB ensures that its accredited business schools only employ qualified, high-quality faculty members with an even mix of theoretical academicians and practicing business people.”

This will ensure students and graduates will have both the backing a strong network and the skills to give back to society – all of which will enable them to go on to make a difference in the world.

“There are tens of thousands of businesses, communities, and governments that will benefit from students who are well trained and skilled in various areas and disciplines,” she offers.

Beck-Dudley adds that there is so much talent around the world, and through her work with AACSB, she believes that positive change is truly possible.