Preparing students and businesses for workplace diversity

The Pamplin College of Business launched a business diversity minor in fall 2008, expanding the college's teaching and research programs that prepare students for culturally diverse workplaces and contribute to greater understanding of the impact of diversity and multiculturalism on individual effectiveness and corporate competitiveness.

The minor, an 18-credit program for business majors who are juniors and seniors, was developed by Associate Professor of Management Mary Connerley, who also directs Pamplin’s Business Diversity Center, established last year to coordinate the college’s teaching and research programs in business diversity.


Diverse students in a classroom Students who complete the business diversity minor will develop a readiness and ability to take a leadership role in managing diversity and multiculturalism in their careers and workplaces.

National employment trends, says Connerley, show an increasingly diverse workforce. “Our graduates must be able to interact effectively with others from diverse backgrounds. Learning from others who are not the same and creating workplace environments where all employees are valued can be both a source of personal growth and a professional competitive advantage.”

While employers want leaders who value diversity, reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and other organizations indicate that college graduates are deficient in diversity or multicultural skills. “Thus, there is a discrepancy between what employers seek and what higher education produces,” Connerley notes.

The curriculum in the business diversity minor has been designed to give students a broad view of diversity and its impact on organizations, she says. “The minor is relevant for all business majors.”


Mary Connerley Associate Professor of Management Mary Connerley examined workplace diversity in her recent book.

The program has several distinct goals. “Our main goal," Connerley says, "is to develop our students’ awareness, knowledge, and skills related to workplace diversity so that these students are able to take leadership roles in managing and appreciating diversity and multiculturalism in their careers and workplaces.” 

The program aims to help students acquire “a vocabulary so that they can more effectively develop ideas around issues of gender, race, ethnicity, disabilities, age, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, religion, and cultural difference within a corporate context.” Another objective is to give students greater awareness and understanding of their own cultural values, attitudes, and beliefs and how these influence behavior and interactions in the workplace.

Completing the business diversity minor, notes Connerley, will help students not only to manage and lead, but also to interact with and follow others in a diversified workplace. The students "will be able to communicate with others in a culturally sensitive and respectful manner; evaluate applicants and employees fairly by understanding diverse values, attitudes, and beliefs; and generally work in ways that promote rather than hinder workplace diversity.”

While the program was in development, feedback was sought from various groups. As a result, the minor has been met with “great enthusiasm” by students, business leaders, and recruiters nationwide. "Executives often want to know," Connerley says, "why more business colleges are not offering a diversity-related minor.”

Connerley, who specializes in diversity, cross-cultural, and expatriate issues and various aspects of the staffing process, has received many teaching and research honors and awards, including five annual grants from the General Motors/United Negro College Fund Sullivan Fellowship Program that seeks to promote the corporate social responsibility principles developed by the late Rev. Leon H. Sullivan.


Diversity conference presenter speaks to a small break-out group. A presenter leads a discussion at a diversity conference organized by Pamplin students.

Last June, Connerley participated in the Sullivan Summit in Arusha, Tanzania. The conference, which was attended by many African presidents and several high-ranking corporate executives, discussed investment, infrastructural development, tourism, and environmental sustainability.''

Co-author of the book, Leadership in a Diverse and Multicultural Environment, Connerley, who serves on the Pamplin College’s diversity committee, will also share information with other business schools about the college’s experiences in developing its diversity programs. 

At the Academy of Management’s annual meeting in August 2008, Connerley participated in a professional development workshop on teaching diversity and “building a diversity minor” and presented the process of creating the minor. She will give a similar presentation at an innovative programs conference organized by AACSB International -- the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business -- this fall.

The college is making solid progress in building upon its long-term commitment to diversity, says Pamplin Dean Richard E. Sorensen. “We believe that this academic minor, which may be the first such offered at any university, affords a good way for our students to learn more about diversity issues in the workplace.” The objectives of the minor, he says, also reflect Virginia Tech’s Principles of Community, as well as the principles espoused in Pamplin’s own Diversity as a Core Value statement.

Diversity-related goals, Sorensen notes, have been part of the college’s strategic plan for a number of years. The college has sponsored a diversity committee of faculty and students since 1987, and in the fall of 1997, adopted the Diversity as a Core Value statement, written by the committee and discussed and approved by the college’s faculty and staff. More recently, the college created an award for diversity excellence to honor faculty for outstanding contributions to the college’s diversity programs.

The college’s student-led Multicultural Diversity Council has attracted corporate speakers and financial support, along with numerous student participants for its conferences on diversity issues.

  • For more information on this topic, contact Sookhan Ho at (540) 231-5071.

Business diversity minor


Diverse students in a classroom Students who complete the business diversity minor will gain an understanding of how cultural values, attitudes, and beliefs influence behavior and interactions in the workplace.

Learn more

For more information about Pamplin’s diversity programs, contact:

Mary Connerley, director
Business Diversity Center
28 Pamplin Hall
Virginia Tech
Blacksburg, VA 24061
(540) 231-7372


The fall 2008 semester marks the first semester the minor will be offered at the university.

Listen to Connerley talk about the new minor. (MP3 | 2MB)

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