Breaking the opportunity gap

21 April 2021

Current Full-time MBA participant, Kwame Antwi, shares his quest to learn more about closing the opportunity gap for black people and how this journey has led to him creating Black in Business at WBS.

According to the Wall Street Journal, less than 10% of business school students in the US are black. The MBA, which serves as a major pipeline for talent into corporate America has been stagnant for African-Americans for over a decade.

The opportunity gap for blacks pursuing an MBA has been prevalent in the educational system for a while now, and it’s time to address some of the issues that are surrounding it.

A McKinsey Report shows that companies in the top-quartile of ethnic diversity were more likely to out-perform industry averages. Despite this indication, blacks in executive and leadership roles continue to lag behind in corporate America. There are currently four CEOs in the Fortune 500 of African descent, while only 7.8% of people in executive roles identified as black.

Through my experience as a black man in corporate America, I have learned how decisions are made, how upper management is hired, and how workplaces can be more inclusive. After my Undergraduate education, I quickly learned that everyone had their place in the corporate environment. Challenging the status quo proved to be a feat, and I began to realise most of my African-American colleagues had accepted their ‘place’. Although I was early in my career, I began to ask the tough questions on why there was no black leadership. Through my own research, I came to the realisation that many professionals in upper management positions at Fortune 500 companies earned their MBA’s from top institutions around the world, including our own Warwick Business School (WBS). This was my first incentive to learn more about the MBA, and the kind of opportunities it would provide for me. None of my peers, family or my network had an MBA or knew much about them. After a year of in depth research, I concluded that obtaining an MBA from a world-class institution will be part of the commencement of breaking barriers for a black professional looking to move up the corporate ladder.

The opportunity Warwick Business School has given me shows progress on diversity and inclusivity within business schools. The tools and capabilities that WBS presents to its MBA candidates provides endless possibilities, and most importantly, it has allowed me to see myself as a Change Maker. I’m now half-way through my course, and many thoughts about my career have come into play. Will the MBA finally help me break through the glass ceiling? Will it weaken the dominant stereotype of black professionals? I have no crystal ball for that but I know it will make an impact.

In my quest to learn more about closing the opportunity gap for black people, I realised that the lack of black leaders in the corporate world made it hard to envision myself at the executive level. How do you climb your way up when odds are statistically not in your favour? Merck CEO Ken Frazier, said African-Americans face accessibility gaps when we finally make it to the corporate world because of the lack of access to the kind of people in senior management who can make or break careers. Leaders in corporate settings have to invest in mentorship for minorities because without ample opportunities to communicate or learn from people in these positions, our future black leaders will continue to fight the uphill battle for a way forward.

In October 2020, I came across MBA peers at London Business School who had started a society called Black in Business. After speaking with fellow students at WBS, I took a leap of faith and created Black in Business at WBS. We are now one of eight business schools registered as part of this network. The primary aim of this initiative is to cultivate an environment that promotes the representation and advancement of black professionals. This movement consists of the top young black minds in the UK and EU area, and we hope to grow and pioneer a new wave of black leaders who will break barriers and provide opportunities for a new generation of business professionals.

Diversity and inclusions talks have improved, but without diversity at the top, young minority professionals may continue to stagnate in their career trajectory.

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