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Sportspersons, spies & more women on rolls, IIMs & ISB aim to break B-school stereotype

Management colleges have long been seen as the playground of men and engineering students. But years of efforts to inject diversity into student pool appear to be paying off.

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New Delhi: Ajay Jayaram — one of India’s finest badminton players — wanted to stick to his passion after retirement, yet embark on a path that would fuel his career. So, at the age of 34, the shuttler decided to enrol in the Indian School of Business (ISB).

Apart from Jayaram, the latest batch of MBA (Master of Business Administration) students at ISB — one of India’s premier B-schools — comprises a National Award-winning actor and a former officer of the Intelligence Bureau (IB). 

A similar trend is visible at the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad (IIM-A) where the latest batch of MBA students includes professionals ranging from teachers to a chef and a nuclear scientist.

India’s management colleges have long been seen as the playground of men and engineering students. But years of efforts to inject diversity into the student pool appear to be paying off.

Talking about his decision to go for an MBA, Jayaram said he is looking to gain some experience as a corporate consultant or sports management professional.

“I take inspiration from Viren Rasquinha, who, after retirement, went on to pursue management studies and become the CEO of Olympic Gold Quest. I have spoken to him and I feel I, too, can continue to contribute to the sports fraternity with my skills and knowledge,” he added.

“I have been on campus for about four weeks now, and the classes are hectic, but they are very satisfying,” he said.

Vibha Kagzi, CEO of ReachIvy.com, a Mumbai-based management consulting firm, said diverse classrooms have become the need of the hour and Indian institutes are catching up. 

“Business schools were conventionally feeder schools for finance and consulting. Although they largely still do that, tech has now replaced them. At the same time, they also see the shift towards design- and art-based products, which need a diverse set of managers,” she added. “In order to remain relevant, business schools feel the need to increase diversity in their classrooms in order to bring out a set of managers who can run diversely skilled businesses,” said Kagzi.

She added that the foray of students from unconventional backgrounds into management courses will lead to a new generation of entrepreneurs who, apart from being skilled in niche fields, will also have management skills accumulated from the country’s leading B-schools.

“Professionals such as doctors, actors, social workers, government officers are now looking at becoming entrepreneurs in their niche fields,” Kagzi added.


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B-schools push for diverse classrooms

With the admission process in premier management institutes drawing to a close for the year, institutes say the fresh recruits include a much healthier mix of non-engineering professionals and women than earlier.

B-schools say diverse classrooms will help them “utilise their privilege” to mentor leaders who can improve society. 

Of the 397 students who have enrolled for the MBA programme at IIM-A, about 23 per cent are women.

Explaining the business school’s stance, IIM-A Director Professor Errol D’Souza said in a press statement issued last week: “It requires you to be aware of your biases, your prejudices, and understand that you are privileged. The fact that you are in an institution like this makes you privileged and therefore, you need to use those privileges wisely. 

“It requires you to have a sense of service, when you do something, it is not just for yourself, it is for your friends and family, and for the world at large. And that is the culture that we hope you will imbibe at this institute.”

Meanwhile, at IIM-Bangalore, women account for 35 per cent of students who have enrolled for the institute’s two-year MBA programme this year. 

“IIM-B has always had a good gender diversity. Our number of women students has always ranged between 33 and 35 per cent. We are an equal opportunities institute and our policies reflect this commitment,” a spokesperson for the institute told ThePrint.

IIM-Kozhikode, too, saw increased enrolment of women in its latest management batch — 46 per cent compared to 38 per cent last year.

More students from non-tech backgrounds

Students from non-engineering backgrounds make up 33.5 per cent of the latest MBA batch at IIM-A — up from 24 per cent in 2020 — which is a first, the institute said. And of the total strength of ISB’s class of 2023 (865), 43 per cent are non-engineers. The number was 32 per cent in 2020.

“We have always endeavoured to keep this number above 40 per cent,” the institute said in an official statement, adding that the window for admitting professionals with varied years of work experience has also been expanded.

“Though the average work experience of the class is approximately 4.5 years, candidates come with as little as 2 years and as much as 20 years of professional experience,” ISB said in a written response to queries by ThePrint.

Drawing on the many factors that have prompted this push for more diverse classrooms, Professor Ramabhadran Thirumalai, Deputy Dean (Academic Programmes) at ISB, said: “In a residential programme like ISB’s, one gets to live alongside people from different regions, social and cultural backgrounds, age groups, and even life stages. 

“When a group of bright young minds from different backgrounds works together on team-based projects, one will realise that a diverse group is more creative and critical in its thinking than one that conforms. That is why ISB emphasises building a diverse class.”

Thirumalai said rather than focusing only on a single aspect of the candidates, the institute consciously looks at a combination of criteria such as academic credentials, work experience, test scores, essays, awards and recognitions, and recommendations, among others.

He added, “We… look for multifaceted individuals who have done well in their work and who in turn can add to the diversity of the class and can participate in enriching and vibrant classroom discussions.”

A spokesperson for IIM-A said that the institute’s selection process is “purely merit-based”, adding that the goal is to bring together a talented and diverse class of students every year.

“The current Class of 2024 includes students from all over the country and the world from engineering, arts, commerce and science. The students’ diversity enriches the classroom and peer learning,” the spokesperson added. “Since their growth is purely organic, it is valuable to the institute. In addition to this, once they have joined the course, they are provided with additional help to bring them up to speed.”

(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)


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