What they don't teach you in business school
I commend top business schools for refocusing their curriculums, as recently reported, and I suggest two additional topics for them to include. My recommendations come from my experience as a worker in the private sector and as a doctoral student at Cornell University, minoring in business. I chose a business minor because I want to develop social programs which involve the public and private sectors. Because I am not studying at the business school exclusively to learn to maximize profits, I sometimes feel like the ''spy from human services.''
Two areas which need more attention in business school are the responsibility and accountability of decisionmakers to society and particularly to women in the economy. These are not ''skills'' areas like computers or people management, which make them difficult to include. These areas represent values and philosophies that guide decisions and policy, and which I believe must be addressed if we are to seriously examine national productivity for the long run.
Microeconomics is about the world of markets: supply, demand, and marginality. It is a required course for all business students. If we look at a supply and a demand curve for employees in a given sector, the intersection of the supply curve with the demand curve will simultaneously determine the number of workers hired in that sector and the wages they must be paid.
This model, allegedly neutral, does not expect all workers to gain employment. The model merely predicts how many will be hired at a given wage.
Currently, business students are not encouraged to be concerned about what happens to workers not hired. While government regulations and government programs are routinely criticized for interfering with the ''operation of the market,'' the question of what to do when the market doesn't work for some people is not considered a legitimate topic for microeconomic students. It should not be surprising that when a corporation decides to pull out of a community and leaves a lot of unemployed people, the managers of that corporation calmly walk away, knowing that the supply and demand curves for labor at a lower wage look better elsewhere.
I believe that the consequences of business decisions become public policy problems. Many business school faculty members do not agree that social consequences should concern managers making profit-maximizing decisions. The main lesson to be learned is that in a competitive industry a manager's job is to operate at the minimum average cost point, where marginal costs equal average costs in the long run.
Business students, trained with an anti-government-intervention bias, become government administrators and advisers having few creative skills to deal with the increasing economic complexity of our post-industrial, interdependent society; one where arbitrating between competing demands is the role of government.
As for women, their continuous increase in the labor force has been called the ''subtle revolution.'' The ''subtle'' appears lost on most business faculty.
More than 52 percent of all women are in the labor force. They are segregated into approximately 10 job categories, earning an average of 59 percent of what men earn. Only 2 percent of women workers earn more than $25,000.
Although more than one-third of current MBA (Master of Business Administration) candidates nationally are women, they represent only 5 percent of executives in the top 50 American companies. I am convinced that these statistics are not known by most business students, let alone faculty. Yet these same students will be managers making company decisions on job classifications, starting salaries, promotions, and other work components for female employees.
If assumptions and prejudices about women workers are not explored as part of business education, the ''people-management'' skills suggested by Everett Keech, vice-dean of the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Economics, become nothing more than people-manipulation skills to maintain the status quo.
As two-earner, two-parent families become accepted as the norm for families with children, business and government will be forced to examine their policies. Current policies are based on the previously accepted norm of father as earner and mother at home with two children. According to US Department of Labor statistics, this family type represents 7 percent of all families.
In 57 percent of families with children, both parents are also workers. Stress on dual-role workers is great, as they juggle working and parenting activities. Some suggestions to assist dual-role workers, though not given adequate attention, include day care, flexible time, and parental leave. Unfortunately, current management must contain a disproportionate number of men from the 7 percent category who do not appreciate the significance of the work-family conflict faced by most dual-role workers.
Across the US salary comparisons between men and women with comparable qualifications indicate that women are paid less than men for their work. The National Academy of Sciences reports, ''Not only do women do different work than men, but also the work they do is paid less, and the more an occupation is dominated by women, the less it pays.'' The Center for Philosophy and Public Policy asks an important question: '' . . . if the crucial importance of women's jobs in our society (e.g. nurses) suggests that these jobs are undervalued only because they are held by women, why should women be asked to change their choices, rather than asking society to change how it rewards those choices?''
Equal pay for work of comparable worth would be an important part of decreasing the wage gap between men and women. Its implementation would help to minimize inequities and make affordable a wider range of occupational choices for all wage earners.
Responsible business managers and business faculty must accept their role in public policy formation with regard to social issues (e.g. family concerns) and include it in their overall financial assessment for more realistic economic forecasts. Otherwise, economic and social concerns which shape public policies will continue to be fought over in the courts at great expense to both the public and private sectors.