MBA blog: The case for diversity

Jalpa Vyas explains how working in a diverse team has contributed to the development of her business skills

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The Independent Online

Jalpa Vyas, a British Indian environmental consultant from South London, had her first experience of working in a diverse team when she moved to the USA after finishing her undergraduate course at Brunel University a decade ago.

Although her first job on the American soil, where she worked as an environmental scientist for a nationally based consulting firm, did not offer an insight into the diverse American workforce, moving onto another job, in a smaller environmental management company, gave her an opportunity to become a part of a truly global team.

“This was a place where everybody was from somewhere else, whereas at my previous job, it was only me and one Latin American girl who stood out," Jalpa explains. Her new team consisted of people with different backgrounds: Irish, Russian, Latin American, Filipino, Polish, Egyptian, Greek etc. and she recalls feeling lucky to have become a part of a team with that sort of mixture.

Surprisingly, the first difference Jalpa noted in comparison to her old job was that this team was much more integrated: “At my new job, we were interested in each other, probably which is why we spent more time bonding. When people have different backgrounds, you make more effort to get to know them."

Jalpa soon found that working in a diverse team was easy and enjoyable: "We worked well together," she says, "although we were all different in terms of race, religion and culture, on the other hand, we were all similar and well-matched personality-wise."

As Jalpa soon realised, working in a diverse team was also beneficial for her professionally: "Since some of my team members spoke Spanish, I saw it as a great opportunity for me to improve the language. In my line of work, Spanish is quite useful as I regularly visit construction sites and often communicate with people who work there and speak Spanish as their first language. That makes a huge difference and it is so much easier for me to get their trust.”

Working in a diverse team improved Jalpa's communication skills as well. Although she experienced some difficulties in communicating with one colleague, she eventually managed to find an adequate approach and established a good working relationship with him: “I was always positive and used encouragement and motivation to complete the tasks with him.“ As a result, she says, she gained more confidence in a way she communicates and engages with people.

Following her return to London in 2011, where she enrolled in the MBA programme at Westminster Business School, Jalpa found herself again in a very diverse team of students coming from all over the world. Was that beneficial? 

“Absolutely," Jalpa says. “As an example, when we were analysing microfinance projects in the developing countries, our colleague from one Latin American country gave us a very insightful, first-hand account of the topic, which otherwise we wouldn't have had from reading business books or from the media. This way you get an emotional experience with the story; and stories like that you never forget. That's what you get in a diverse group," she says.

Out of all skills she developed as a result of her working and interacting with people with different backgrounds, Jalpa considers communication to be the most valuable: “I believe it to be a tool for progression. You can create opportunities for yourself and you can tap into a market you otherwise would not have been able to. Ability to effectively communicate with different types of people, without any unease, awkwardness or mistrust, is one of the top skills you can have in today's business.“

Adela Papac is an MBA graduate from Westminster Business School. In her role of a Global AMBAssador for AMBA, Adela has been working on developing and supporting business practices which drive a sustained and positive social change and create socially responsible businesses.