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Five Ways Business Schools Can Cultivate Better Leaders

They must foster leaders who are better equipped to serve the public good

Since the 1980s, economic inequality in the United States has been steadily increasing. Over the past two years, the COVID-19 pandemic and our collective response to it has made these inequities highly visible. Among many examples, workers designated as “essential” in various fields have been overworked, underpaid and often placed in dangerous situations. At the same time, knowledge workers have largely been able to operate from the safety of their homes and in many cases grow more financially secure.

As a social scientist, I’m interested in how this kind of inequality comes about, how individuals become members of the economic elite, and how they imagine and justify their social positions. One important way people build and shape their identities is through institutions such as schools and universities. And as income inequality has increased alongside wealth inequality, these institutions have taken on increasingly powerful roles in determining who is most likely—and least likely—to sit at the top of the income spectrum.

Not surprisingly, elite business schools train many of our economic elites. Many C-suite executives hold MBAs from these institutions, as do many investment bankers, financial services professionals, management consultants, tech workers, corporate managers and marketers who have an outsized influence on how the private sector runs. The MBA experience at these schools not only gives students access to recruitment for high-pay, high-prestige jobs, but also shapes their understanding of a businessperson’s or leader’s role in specific ways.

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