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A GMAC survey finds 83 per cent of respondent companies plan to hire graduates with an MBA or specialty degree.Don Bayley/Getty Images/iStockphoto

The Globe's biweekly business-school news roundup.

The 2017 job market for MBA graduates looks promising, according to a new survey of global employers, with a majority of companies planning to offer higher starting salaries than last year.

"There is continued optimism in the marketplace among employers in the hiring market," says Gregg Schoenfeld, director of research for the Graduate Management Admission Council, commenting on the results of its annual year-end poll that heard from 140 companies in 21 countries (but mostly in the United States).

The poll, conducted last November, found that 83 per cent of respondents plan to hire graduates with an MBA or specialty degree.

Of those planning to take on recent MBA grads, 58 per cent of companies in the survey expect to increase their base annual salaries in line with or above the rate of inflation. But 40 per cent of respondents plan to maintain 2016 salary levels, according to GMAC.

The poll represents an early snapshot of employer hiring trends, with a larger GMAC survey of company recruiters scheduled to be published this spring.

In the survey, companies report their top goals for 2017 are either to "overcome challenges," maintain their current position or grow. No matter their goal, however, most employers are poised to hire recent business graduates.

Mr. Schoenfeld says the survey responses offer some insights for graduates as they prepare for job interviews. For example, 74 per cent of companies expect to focus on improved performance and productivity this year, a 14 percentage point jump over 2016, while 48 per cent of respondents, a 10-point rise over 2016, see cutting costs as this year's priority.

"If I was job-seeking, I might want to focus on how my talents and skills can help them [employers] achieve their goals," he says.

One tantalizing tidbit from the survey, conducted just before and right after the U.S. presidential election victory of Donald Trump, is the unease of some employers over their hiring intentions given they are not sure about the policy directions of the new U.S. leader. Since the sample size is too small to draw conclusions, says Mr. Schoenfeld, "we have to keep monitoring this."

Male business students recruited for gender equity campaigns

In the fight for gender and pay equality, female business students are enlisting key allies: their male classmates.

Last spring, led by its Women in Leadership association, York University's Schulich School of Business was the first school in Canada to introduce Manbassadors, a gender-equality program that began at Harvard Business School and is gaining traction globally.

"There is a need for a shift in this conversation about gender equality," says Schulich MBA student Ivana Lochhead, a vice-president of male engagement with Women in Leadership association and a Forté Fellow scholarship holder.

"It is not only a women's problem," she adds. "To achieve change, men need to be engaged as gender advocates working with women who have been working for so many years to transform social norms and stereotypes that perpetuate discrimination and inequality."

Manbassadors provides a respectful forum for male and female students to discuss pay discrimination, unconscious bias and other gender topics. After almost a year of online conversations, the Women in Leadership association has scheduled an event for Feb. 3, with speakers from industry to examine the business case for gender equality and the role of men in promoting fairness in the workplace.

According to Catalyst, a U.S.-based gender equity advocacy organization, women earn an average of $4,600 (U.S.) less than their male counterparts in their first job after earning an MBA.

The response to Schulich's Manbassadors program has been "incredible" since its introduction last April, says Ms. Lochhead, with 225 student supporters currently.

One male ally who pledged early is MBA student Frank Paul, president of the Graduate Student Council at Schulich. He previously worked in the film and television industry in Vancouver and says he saw the job hurdles faced by female writers and directors. "They were being judged not on who they were as individuals but because the system established that [gender bias] as the unconscious norm."

In the Manbassadors program, Mr. Paul says he has learned how to discuss diversity in all forms and to test for unconscious bias in his role as a student leader. "Are we really being inclusionary?" he asks rhetorically. "Are we doing things that may scare off certain groups based on gender and race?"

Manbassadors organizers hope that today's on-campus discussions lead to changed behaviour in the workplace.

"Down the road, as we move into leadership roles, the same kinds of initiatives at the student level can really contribute and have an impact," says Ms. Lochhead, who aspires to become a consultant on workplace gender and diversity issues after graduating this spring.

Meanwhile, the U.S.-based Forté Foundation has developed a tool kit for business school students to develop their own Men as Allies organizations on campus.

"It allows for a healthy debate on these topics in a place where the penalties are low," says Elissa Sangster, executive director of Forté, of the value of gender-equity discussion groups at business schools. "It makes you ready to embrace some of these topics from a proactive stand."

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