University of Winnipeg researcher Dr. Katherine Breward is leading a study to better understand, and ultimately improve, the experience of people with disabilities in MBA programs.
She has partnered with the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) and researchers at the University of Toronto to launch what is thought to be the world’s first research study on disability in global MBA programs.
The study begins with an online survey asking current, former, and prospective MBA candidates who identify as having a disability to share their experiences in five areas: pre-admission, academic, social, recruitment, and post-graduation.
“There is currently no information available about the number and experience of people with disabilities in MBA programs so this survey is an important starting point,” she said.
Improving best practices for disability accommodation
Breward hopes that the results of the survey will help the research team generate a list of best practices for disability accommodation during every phase of a traditional MBA program: from information gathering and applying to the program right through to on-campus recruiting for post-graduation employment.
“Many major business schools have expressed strong interest in implementing our findings since the desire to recruit a broader range of students is there, but the implementation strategies are unclear to them,” she said.
GMAC processes most MBA applications in Canada. They are strong supporters of the project and committed to making adjustments to the application process based on survey feedback.
“I believe this study will be a great enhancement to what we offer schools in terms of industry knowledge regarding diversity trends,” said Kendra Johnson, GMAC’s Director of Disability Policy and Services.
The idea for this project began years ago when Breward spent a year working as a community educator in a psychiatric hospital in Ontario.
Accommodation leads to thriving employees
“During that time I was able to see first-hand how capable people with psychiatric conditions are and how stereotyped and stigmatized they were when seeking employment,” she said. “I met several people with conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder who, despite being under active treatment on a long-term basis, thrived when employed by understanding employers who accommodated their simple needs. Their stories were eye-opening.”
The desire to recruit a broader range of students is there, but the implementation strategies are unclear to them.
Dr. Katherine Breward
This experienced inspired her to specialize in issues related to disability and labour market access and equity.
“MBA degrees are often required to access certain types of well compensated, highly respected, and prestigious employment,” she said. “If more students with disabilities graduate from said programs there will be a larger pool of candidates to draw from. While this group still faces stigma, that should result in more people with disabilities achieving leadership positions.”
Breward believes that an increase in visible representation will de-stigmatize disability, reduce stereotyping, and put more knowledgeable and disability-aware people in positions to influence resource allocation and policy development.
Breward is an Associate Professor in HR with a focus on non-conscious prejudice and discrimination in the workplace and diversity management. Her research is centered around labour market access for historically disadvantaged populations, with a particular focus on best practices in disability accommodation. She examines concrete methods for fostering labour market justice at multiple levels ranging from how to develop genuine empathy for “the other” in individual workers right up to institutional policy-based solutions to systemic inequity.
This study is being conducted with the support of the disability rights advocacy group Access to Success and CIBC, who are lead sponsors of the initiative. Breward encourages all current, former and prospective MBA students to participate in the State of Disability Inclusion in MBA Programs 2020 Survey. The results of the survey will be published in 2021.