I have been meaning to write this blog post ever since the US election results were announced but decided to wait several weeks to collect my thoughts. The elections were hugely divisive and regardless of result, the emotions of millions of people would have been running high the morning of 9th November.
There is a lot of handwringing about the failure of most pollsters and experts to forecast a Donald Trump victory. There is even more debate about what a Trump presidency might mean for America and the world. The answer is probably that it is too early to tell given Trump’s lack of track record in government and his unpredictability. But what I want to write about is the echo chamber that social media seems to have enveloped people today.
Over the years, I have added a high number of Cambridge MBAs as Facebook friends. It was striking how a very high percentage of the MBAs belonged to the Remain camp or were anti-Trump. That might not be surprising given that our MBAs are international and largely benefited from globalisation, or stand to benefit from the free movement of people. What did get me thinking was how this near uniformity of views squares with our aim of building a diverse class.
I have always said that a diverse class is not about collecting passports but to have people with different backgrounds who can provide different insights. And it is by bringing together these different insights into a classroom that will shape the Cambridge MBA graduate. However, when a very high percentage of Cambridge MBAs share the same beliefs, then it does call into question how diverse the class is, and more generally, how diverse is the MBA community.
I am not suggesting that all MBAs were in the Remain camp or anti-Trump. There might have been some who voted Leave or for Trump but chose to remain silent on social media in the runup to both votes because the echo chambers that social media creates can make the voice of the majority almost deafening to the minority. While it might not make immediate business sense to do so, I hope that Facebook and other social media giants could think of how to adjust their algorithms so that a wider plurality of views can be channeled into our newsfeeds even if it means lower average click rates. And to think of ways where more considered discussions based on facts and not fake news, can be carried out.
Ultimately, MBA programmes shouldn’t feel ashamed if they tend to admit students who share certain beliefs so long as they successfully go through the admissions process. On the other hand, we will have to think of how to create the conditions in our MBA programmes where the opposing views to these beliefs get a fair hearing, not out of a sense of tokenism but because MBAs need to be challenged and form their own views about business, society, and globalisation. I expect our Business in Society core class to have many such debates when the class is conducted in Easter term.