A Letter to the MBA Class of 2021: You think you have already been on a wild ride? Hang on tight. | Net Impact

A Letter to the MBA Class of 2021: You think you have already been on a wild ride? Hang on tight.

A Letter to the MBA Class of 2021 | Net Impact

Dear Graduate,

Congratulations. You have just survived the most bizarre educational experience in at least a generation. (At UCLA in the 1970s we didn’t go to class either; the administration had only one admonition: “do whatever you want, just don’t burn down the building.”)

Hopefully you have seen some upside to COVID-campus-life and are looking forward to putting your Zoom and Mural skills to work in a business setting to your liking. You deserve a job that makes use of your talents. And if you are still looking, I hope the reportedly robust job market will embrace you soon. 

But try to check your expectations at the door.  We are all in for a wild ride – in the workplace, and in the public square, and as the lines between the two continue to fade, it’s only going to get crazier. 

Here’s three trends that you will need to react to from the front lines:

1 – Few, if any, boundaries between work and life.  A decade ago, research on MBAs reported they were keen to achieve a better “work-life balance.”  That meant some boundaries on the on-call environment that technology enabled. We know this hasn’t improved during the Pandemic but you will be in a unique position to set some new ground rules if your company plans to keep you.

2 – The chorus of employee activism. The Amazon labor force in Bessemer, Alabama may have turned down unionization, but watch this space. You are joining the workforce at a time of remarkable change in employee activism and voice.  Your generation will define this space for years to come. 

Amazon reportedly is now the biggest recruiter of MBAs in the country. In 2019 over 8,000 Amazon employees broke new ground when they signed a letter to the CEO, followed by a shareholder resolution, that caused Jeff Bezos to redefine the company’s commitments on addressing climate change. And after the Bessemer vote, Bezos was quick to deny any kind of victory – instead he proclaimed that the company would become a global leader when it comes to workforce standards.  #GoogleWalkout ushered in #MeToo and a new era of activism on sexual harassment. Employees at Facebook sounded the alarm early on of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election at Facebook,  and employee activism drove Microsoft and many other companies to pause political spending in the wake of January 6th.  

And just in time.  We are facing threats to the environment and complications in the public square that now not only permeate the workplace, they have begun to define it. We need the extraordinary ability of your generation to connect the dots between the health of the business and the health of the society on which it depends.  Go forth, and hold your company to standards that will secure a better future for you, your children, and those on the other side of the cubicle with less job security or opportunity. 

3 – The opportunity to redefine success. By all accounts, this will be a complicated time, but also a generative one.  You are ground zero in defining the success of the firm – its purpose, how it will be measured, and whether the company’s culture will authentically embrace the commitments of CEOs on racial equity, economic opportunity and support for democracy and democratic institutions. 

But to assure real progress, you may need to dig deeper. 

You will need to pay attention to the stuff that makes for difficult conversations in board rooms – from tax avoidance to how the executive is paid to how the political spending is deployed and disclosed.  You will experience first hand and be in a position to give voice to the double standard that exists for those who work in the name of the company, but are not on the payroll –the growing number of “contract workers” who are behind the veil without the same rights or security.

No more. 

With your business acumen and analytical know how, you can help build a robust culture in your firm, your profession, your industry – one that adheres to the principles of sustainability and equity that your generation is known for. You will help connect the dots between the inside and the outside and communicate both the risks and opportunities in finding a better path forward.

By some accounts, like this research from Korn Ferry, the generation of CEOs stepping into the C-suite wants your help to create new norms. 

While it is possible that political chat has become too toxic and will be disallowed on company forums, climateand democracy and inequality and racial equity are now business topics. Reckoning with these issues is about quality business decisions and a new business consciousness that will stand the test of time. 

We know you have just been on a wild ride. We hope it has prepared you well. Find your allies. Give voice to values and embody an orientation to the future. Welcome to the workforce.  We have been waiting for you.

Judy Samuelson is the executive director of the Aspen Institute Business & Society Program - and author of The Six New Rules of Business: Creating Real Value in a Changing World.**

**Reviews: A gift for "any college grad going to work in business," - "Assign to all business and law school students on how the game has changed and will be played during their generation." 

Learn more about Judy Samuelson’s work by viewing her conversation with Yusuf George, Net Impact Board Member and Director of Corporate Engagement at JUST Capital, on “Creating Value in a Changing World” as part of Net Impact’s Reimagining Capitalism series.

This article was previously published by the author on LinkedIn.