What is Power Distance and How Can It Help You Network in Business School?

What is Power Distance and How Can It Help You Network in Business School?

You may not have heard of ‘power distance’ but it will have an impact on your business school experience. We explore what it is and how to use it to network and reach your professional goals.

Did you know that a large part of a business program’s value lies in the networking you will do? What’s more, how you network and communicate will depend on how your business school facilitates that.

‘Power Distance’ in sociology describes the nature of relationships between those in authority and those lower down the ranks. How much can someone at the bottom challenge someone at the top? Or, in business school terms, how much can you openly challenge your professor?

Sociologists have scored nations based on whether they have 'high' or 'low' power distance (a PDI score). Malaysia, for example, has the highest power distance score in the world at 104. Whilst Denmark has one of the lowest at 18

At Unimy, we used power distance as a basis for studying business schools on a global scale. We call these different styles of relationship respectful vs. informal. It's helpful to know your own expectations about how students and professors should relate to each other. And even more so, to find out if your desired school fits your ideals. In time, you will want to know if the organizations you apply to work with fit your preferences too. Considering power distance is a part of cross-cultural awareness in education and business.


How to network successfully in different environments

When navigating cross-cultural communication, surprises can arise. There are bound to be differences between your home culture and a new international environment. But by developing your cultural awareness, you can use those differences to your advantage.

Cultures that have a high power distance usually look up to status, position, or age, and follow strict rules and hierarchies. Respect is paramount and knowing how to show it will help you. For example, addressing your counterparts with their formal titles might be necessary.

In cultures with a low power distance, it is normal to challenge or question those in power. People tend to be more self-reliant, and they value direct feedback. If you come from a high power distance culture and enter a business school known for its informal relationships, you may need to develop your 'voice'. Ask questions, give your opinion, and don't wait for permission to put yourself forward. (Cynthea Louis, MBA Glasgow '19, seized upon her chance to do exactly that when she came from Malaysia to Glasgow University.) During networking events, try to keep an open mind and remember that the tone and language used may be more direct.

Business schools don't always reflect their nation's level of power distance

So how do nations compare on power distance? And how about the business schools within them?

The United Kingdom

With a low Power Distance Index score of 35, the UK is “a society that believes that inequalities amongst people should be minimized.”

And what does Unimy’s Cultural Fit Index show in terms of respectful vs. informal relationships at UK business schools? At 30.06%, London Business School falls closer to the “informal” end of the spectrum. You can expect a friendly, free-flowing style of communication between professors and students. Cranfield School of Management offers an even more informal environment with a score of 25.88%. You are more likely to be able to talk with an academic supervisor spontaneously rather than adhere to strict office hours.



Compared to the UK, Singapore has a much higher PDI score of 74. Here is how Hofstede Insights describes workplace power dynamics:

“Power is centralized and managers rely on their bosses and on rules. Employees expect to be told what to do. Control is expected and the attitude towards managers is formal.”

According to Unimy’s Cultural Fit Index, Nanyang Business School in Singapore scores 34.95%. This falls closer to the end of the spectrum where schools facilitate more formal relationships marked by respect. This might suit you if you like to know where you stand, what is and isn’t allowed, and to have certainty about when and how to talk to your professor, for example.



If you need proof that culture fit is not an exact science, take a look at the Sofaer Global MBA at Tel Aviv University. According to Hofstede’s Power Distance Index, Israel has a very low score of 13 – even lower than the United Kingdom.

“With an egalitarian mindset, the Israelis believe in independence, equal rights, accessible superiors and that management facilitates and empowers. Power is decentralized and managers count on the experience of their team members”

However, the Sofaer Global MBA has one of the highest scores in respectful relationships (36.87%) in the Cultural Fit Index.


Moving between cultures for your business education will undoubtedly benefit your professional skills. The MBA Cultural Fit test is a good place to start your journey. It will help you discover your own preferences and find the business schools that fit. 


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