BOSTON — When the members of the Harvard Business School class of 2013 gathered in May to celebrate the end of their studies, there was little visible evidence of the experiment they had undergone for the last two years. As they stood amid the brick buildings named after businessmen from Morgan to Bloomberg, black-and-crimson caps and gowns united the 905 graduates into one genderless mass.
But during that week’s festivities, the Class Day speaker, a standout female student, alluded to “the frustrations of a group of people who feel ignored.” Others grumbled that another speechmaker, a former chief executive of a company in steep decline, was invited only because she was a woman. At a reception, a male student in tennis whites blurted out, as his friends laughed, that much of what had occurred at the school had “been a painful experience.”
He and his classmates had been unwitting guinea pigs in what would have once sounded like a far-fetched feminist fantasy: What if Harvard Business School gave itself a gender makeover, changing its curriculum, rules and social rituals to foster female success?
The country’s premier business training ground was trying to solve a seemingly intractable problem. Year after year, women who had arrived with the same test scores and grades as men fell behind. Attracting and retaining female professors was a losing battle; from 2006 to 2007, a third of the female junior faculty left.
The Tenure Pipeline at Harvard Business School
Harvard Business School says it wants to improve the gender balance among faculty members, but it is far from that goal without extensive hiring.
Sources: Harvard Business School; individual faculty members
Some students, like Sheryl Sandberg, class of ’95, the Facebook executive and author of “Lean In,” sailed through. Yet many Wall Street-hardened women confided that Harvard was worse than any trading floor, with first-year students divided into sections that took all their classes together and often developed the overheated dynamics of reality shows. Some male students, many with finance backgrounds, commandeered classroom discussions and hazed female students and younger faculty members, and openly ruminated on whom they would “kill, sleep with or marry” (in cruder terms). Alcohol-soaked social events could be worse.
“You weren’t supposed to talk about it in open company,” said Kathleen L. McGinn, a professor who supervised a student study that revealed the grade gap. “It was a dirty secret that wasn’t discussed.”
But in 2010, Drew Gilpin Faust, Harvard’s first female president, appointed a new dean who pledged to do far more than his predecessors to remake gender relations at the business school. He and his team tried to change how students spoke, studied and socialized. The administrators installed stenographers in the classroom to guard against biased grading, provided private coaching — for some, after every class — for untenured female professors, and even departed from the hallowed case-study method.
The dean’s ambitions extended far beyond campus, to what Dr. Faust called in an interview an “obligation to articulate values.” The school saw itself as the standard-bearer for American business. Turning around its record on women, the new administrators assured themselves, could have an untold impact at other business schools, at companies populated by Harvard alumni and in the Fortune 500, where only 21 chief executives are women. The institution would become a laboratory for studying how women speak in group settings, the links between romantic relationships and professional status, and the use of everyday measurement tools to reduce bias.
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A Painful Experience
At a graduation week reception, one student drew laughter when he referred to the two years as "a painful experience."Katherine Taylor for The New York Times
“We have to lead the way, and then lead the world in doing it,” said Frances Frei, her words suggesting the school’s sense of mission but also its self-regard. Ms. Frei, a popular professor turned administrator who had become a target of student ire, was known for the word “unapologetic,” as in: we are unapologetic about the changes we are making.
By graduation, the school had become a markedly better place for female students, according to interviews with more than 70 professors, administrators and students, who cited more women participating in class, record numbers of women winning academic awards and a much-improved environment, down to the male students drifting through the cafeteria wearing T-shirts celebrating the 50th anniversary of the admission of women. Women at the school finally felt like, “ ‘Hey, people like me are an equal part of this institution,’ ” said Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a longtime professor.
And yet even the deans pointed out that the experiment had brought unintended consequences and brand new issues. The grade gap had vaporized so fast that no one could quite say how it had happened. The interventions had prompted some students to revolt, wearing “Unapologetic” T-shirts to lacerate Ms. Frei for what they called intrusive social engineering. Twenty-seven-year-olds felt like they were “back in kindergarten or first grade,” said Sri Batchu, one of the graduating men.
Students were demanding more women on the faculty, a request the deans were struggling to fulfill. And they did not know what to do about developments like female students dressing as Playboy bunnies for parties and taking up the same sexual rating games as men. “At each turn, questions come up that we’ve never thought about before,” Nitin Nohria, the new dean, said in an interview.
The administrators had no sense of whether their lessons would last once their charges left campus. As faculty members pointed out, the more exquisitely gender-sensitive the school environment became, the less resemblance it bore to the real business world. “Are we trying to change the world 900 students at a time, or are we preparing students for the world in which they are about to go?” a female professor asked.
From left, Robin Ely, Nitin Nohria, Frances Frei and Youngme Moon, administrators at the school, pledged to continue their efforts to foster women's success in the program.Katherine Taylor for The New York Times
Nearly two years earlier, in the fall of 2011, Neda Navab sat in a class participation workshop, incredulous. The daughter of Iranian immigrants, Ms. Navab had been the president of her class at Columbia, advised chief executives as a McKinsey & Company consultant and trained women as entrepreneurs in Rwanda. Yet now that she had arrived at the business school at age 25, she was being taught how to raise her hand.
A second-year student, a former member of the military, stood in the front of the classroom issuing commands: Reach up assertively! No apologetic little half-waves! Ms. Navab exchanged amused glances with new friends. She had no idea that she was witnessing an assault on the school’s most urgent gender-related challenge.
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Coaching intended to encourage students to be more assertive in raising hands in class was off-putting to some.Katherine Taylor for The New York Times
Women at Harvard did fine on tests. But they lagged badly in class participation, a highly subjective measure that made up 50 percent of each final mark. Every year the same hierarchy emerged early on: investment bank and hedge fund veterans, often men, sliced through equations while others — including many women — sat frozen or spoke tentatively. The deans did not want to publicly dwell on the problem: that might make the women more self-conscious. But they lectured about respect and civility, expanded efforts like the hand-raising coaching and added stenographers in every class so professors would no longer rely on possibly biased memories of who had said what.
They rounded out the case-study method, in which professors cold-called students about a business’s predicament, with a new course called Field, which grouped students into problem-solving teams. (Gender was not the sole rationale for the course, but the deans thought the format would help.) New grading software tools let professors instantly check their calling and marking patterns by gender. One professor, Mikolaj Piskorski, summarized Mr. Nohria’s message later: “We’re going to solve it at the school level, but each of you is responsible to identify what you are doing that gets you to this point.”
Mr. Nohria, Ms. Frei and others involved in the project saw themselves as outsiders who had succeeded at the school and wanted to help others do the same. Ms. Frei, the chairwoman of the first-year curriculum, was the most vocal, with her mop of silver-brown hair and the drive of the college basketball player she had once been. “Someone says ‘no’ to me, and I just hear ‘not yet,’ ” she said.
After years of observation, administrators and professors agreed that one particular factor was torpedoing female class participation grades: women, especially single women, often felt they had to choose between academic and social success.
One night that fall, Ms. Navab, who had laughed off the hand-raising seminar, sat at an Ethiopian restaurant wondering if she had made a bad choice. Her marketing midterm exam was the next day, but she had been invited on a very business-school kind of date: a new online dating service that paired small groups of singles for drinks was testing its product. Did Ms. Navab want to come? “If I were in college, I would have said let’s do this after the midterm,” she said later.
But she wanted to meet someone soon, maybe at Harvard, which she and other students feared could be their “last chance among cream-of-the-crop-type people,” as she put it. Like other students, she had quickly discerned that her classmates tended to look at their social lives in market terms, implicitly ranking one another. And like others, she slipped into economic jargon to describe their status.
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The efforts to help women were not restricted to the classrooms, but were also focused on after hours.Gretchen Ertl for The New York Times
The men at the top of the heap worked in finance, drove luxury cars and advertised lavish weekend getaways on Instagram, many students observed in interviews. Some belonged to the so-called Section X, an on-again-off-again secret society of ultrawealthy, mostly male, mostly international students known for decadent parties and travel.
Women were more likely to be sized up on how they looked, Ms. Navab and others found. Many of them dressed as if Marc Jacobs were staging a photo shoot in a Technology and Operations Management class. Judging from comments from male friends about other women (“She’s kind of hot, but she’s so assertive”), Ms. Navab feared that seeming too ambitious could hurt what she half-jokingly called her “social cap,” referring to capitalization.
“I had no idea who, as a single woman, I was meant to be on campus,” she said later. Were her priorities “purely professional, were they academic, were they to start dating someone?”
As she scooped bread at the product-trial-slash-date at the Ethiopian restaurant, she realized that she had not caught the names of the men at the table. The group drank more and more. The next day she took the test hung over, her performance a “disaster,” she joked.
The deans did not know how to stop women from bartering away their academic promise in the dating marketplace, but they wanted to nudge the school in a more studious, less alcohol-drenched direction. “We cannot have it both ways,” said Youngme Moon, the dean of the M.B.A. program. “We cannot be a place that claims to be about leadership and then say we don’t care what goes on outside the classroom.”
But Harvard Business students were unusually powerful, the school’s products and also its customers, paying more than $50,000 in tuition per year. They were professionals, not undergraduates. One member of the class had played professional football; others had served in Afghanistan or had last names like Blankfein (Alexander, son of Lloyd, chief executive of Goldman Sachs). They had little knowledge of the institutional history; the deans talked less about the depressing record on women than vague concepts like “culture” and “community” and “inclusion.”
If you were or are a business school student or professor, tell us about your experience in terms of the status of women on campus and in class.
In what ways do you think Harvard Business School’s experiment in gender relations will or will not change its students’ lives on campus and after they graduate?
At your workplace or in other aspects of your life, what efforts to promote women’s standing have proved most or least effective?
As the semester went on, many students felt increasingly baffled about the deans’ seeming desire to be involved in their lives. They resented the additional work of the Field courses, which many saw as superfluous or even a scheme to keep them too busy for partying. Students used to form their own study groups, but now the deans did it for them.
As Halloween approached, some students planned to wear costumes to class, but at the last minute Ms. Frei, who wanted to set a serious tone and head off the potential for sexy pirate costumes, sent a note out prohibiting it, provoking more eye rolls. “How much responsibility does H.B.S. have?” Laura Merritt, a co-president of the class, asked later. “Do we have school uniforms? Where do you stop?”
A few days before the end of the fall semester, Amanda Upton, an investment banking veteran, stood before most of her classmates, lecturing and quizzing them about finance. Every term just before finals, the Women’s Student Association organized a review session for each subject, led by a student who blitzed classmates through reams of material in an hour. Some of the first-years had not had a single female professor. Now Ms. Upton delivered a bravado performance, clearing up confusion about discounted cash flow and how to price bonds, tossing out Christmas candy as rewards.
Like many other women, Kate Lewis, the school newspaper editor, believed in the deans’ efforts. But she thought Ms. Upton’s turn did more to fortify the image of women than anything administrators had done. “It’s the most powerful message: this girl knows it better than all of you,” she said.
Breaking the Ice
One day in April 2012, the entire first-year class, including Brooke Boyarsky, a Texan known for cracking up her classmates with a mock PowerPoint presentation, reported to classrooms for a mandatory discussion about sexual harassment. As students soon learned, one woman had confided to faculty members that a male student she would not identify had groped her in an off-campus bar months before. Rather than dismissing the episode, the deans decided to exploit it: this was their chance to discuss the drinking scene and its consequences. “They could not have gone any more front-page than this,” Ms. Boyarsky said later.
Everyone in Ms. Boyarsky’s classes knew she was incisive and funny, but within the campus social taxonomy, she was overlooked — she was overweight and almost never drank much, stayed out late or dated. After a few minutes of listening to the stumbling conversation about sexual harassment, she raised her hand to make a different point, about the way the school’s social life revolved around appearance and money.
“Someone made the decision for me that I’m not pretty or wealthy enough to be in Section X,” she told her classmates, her voice breaking.
Members of the class of 2014 gathered on the campus in May. The deans vowed to carry on the experiment they began with the class of 2013, but could not say how aggressively.Gretchen Ertl for the New York Times
The room jumped to life. The students said they felt overwhelmed by the wealth that coursed through the school, the way it seemed to shape every aspect of social life — who joined activities that cost hundreds of dollars, who was invited to the parties hosted by the student living in a penthouse apartment at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Boston. Some students would never have to seek work at all — they were at Harvard to learn to invest their families’ fortunes — and others were borrowing thousands of dollars a year just to keep up socially.
The discussion broke the ice, just not on the topic the deans had intended. “Until then, no one else had publicly said ‘Section X,’ ” Mr. Batchu said. Maybe it was because class was easier to talk about than gender, or maybe it was because class was the bigger divide — at the school and in the country.
That was only one out of 10 sessions. At most of the others, the men contributed little. Some of them, and even a few women, had grown to openly resent the deans’ emphasis on gender, using phrases like “ad nauseam” and “shoved down our throats,” protesting that this was not what they had paid to learn.
Patrick Erker was not among the naysayers — he considered himself a feminist and a fan of the deans. As an undergraduate at Duke, he had managed the women’s basketball team, wiping their sweat from the floor and picking up their dirty jerseys.
But as he silently listened to the discussion, he decided the setup was all wrong: a discussion of a sex-related episode they knew little about, with “89 other people judging every word,” led by professors who would be grading them later that semester.
“I’d like to be candid, but I paid half a million dollars to come here,” another man said in an interview, counting his lost wages. “I could blow up my network with one wrong comment.” The men were not insensitive, they said; they just considered the discussion a poor investment of their carefully hoarded social capital. Mr. Erker used the same words as many other students had to describe the mandatory meetings: “forced” and “patronizing.”
That week, Andrew Levine, the director of the annual spoof show, was notified by administrators that he was on academic and social probation because other students had consumed alcohol in the auditorium after a performance. (His crime: dining with visiting family instead of staying as he had promised in a contract.) He was barred from social events and put on academic probation as well.
That was just what students needed to believe their worst suspicions about the administration. Ms. Frei had not made the decision about Mr. Levine and worked to cancel his academic probation, he said later, but students called her a hypocrite, a leadership expert who led badly. Hundreds of students soon wore T-shirts that said “Free Andy” or “Unapologetic.”
“Daddy, why are the students hating on you?” Mr. Nohria’s teenage daughters asked him, he told students later.
A few days before commencement, Nathan Bihlmaier, a second-year student, disappeared while celebrating with classmates in Portland, Me. He had last been seen so inebriated that a bartender had asked him to leave a pub. When the authorities told students that Mr. Bihlmaier’s body had been dredged from the harbor, apparently after a fall, Mr. Nohria and Ms. Moon were standing beside them.
The first year of their experiment was ending with a catastrophe that brought home how little sway they really had over students’ actions. Mr. Bihlmaier had not even been the drinking type. In the spirit of feminist celebration, Ms. Sandberg gave a graduation address at the deans’ invitation, but during the festivities all eyes were on Mr. Bihlmaier’s widow, visibly pregnant with their first child.
Amid all the turmoil, though, the deans saw cause for hope. The cruel classroom jokes, along with other forms of intimidation, were far rarer. Students were telling them about vigorous private conversations that had flowed from the halting public ones. Women’s grades were rising — and despite the open resentment toward the deans, overall student satisfaction ratings were higher than they had been for years.
A Lopsided Situation
Even on the coldest nights of early 2013, Ms. Frei walked home from campus, clutching her iPhone and listening to a set of recordings made earlier in the day. Once her two small sons were in bed, she settled at her dining table, wearing pajamas and nursing a glass of wine, and fired up the digital files on her laptop. “Really? Again?” her wife, Anne Morriss, would ask.
Ms. Frei been promoted to dean of faculty recruiting, and she was on a quest to bolster the number of female professors, who made up a fifth of the tenured faculty. Female teachers, especially untenured ones, had faced various troubles over the years: uncertainty over maternity leave, a lack of opportunities to write papers with senior professors, and students who destroyed their confidence by pelting them with math questions they could not answer on the spot or commenting on what they wore.
“As a female faculty member, you are in an incredibly hostile teaching environment, and they do nothing to protect you,” said one woman who left without tenure. A current teacher said she was so afraid of a “wardrobe malfunction” that she wore only custom suits in class, her tops invisibly secured to her skin with double-sided tape.
Now Ms. Frei, the guardian of the female junior faculty, was watching virtually every minute of every class some of them taught, delivering tips on how to do better in the next class. She barred other professors from giving them advice, lest they get confused. But even some of Ms. Frei’s allies were dubious.
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Women on campus, many students found, were more likely to be judged by how they looked and dressed. Yet some questioned the school's aggressive efforts on gender equity.Gretchen Ertl for The New York Times
At the end of every semester, students gave professors teaching scores from a low of 1 to a high of 7, and some of the female junior faculty scores looked beyond redemption. More of the male professors arrived at Harvard after long careers, regaling students with real-life experiences. Because the pool of businesswomen was smaller, female professors were more likely to be academics, and students saw female stars as exceptions.
“The female profs I had were clearly weaker than the male ones,” said Halle Tecco, a 2011 graduate. “They weren’t able to really run the classroom the way the male ones could.”
Take the popular second-year courses team-taught by Richard S. Ruback, a top finance professor, and Royce G. Yudkoff, a co-founder of a private equity firm that managed billions of dollars. The men taught students, among other lessons, how to start a “search fund,” a pool of money to finance them while they found and acquired a company. In recent years, search funds had become one of the hottest, riskiest and most potentially lucrative pursuits for graduates of top business schools — shortcuts to becoming owners and chief executives.
The two professors were blunt and funny, pushing a student one moment, ribbing another one the next. They embodied the financial promise of a Harvard business degree: if the professors liked you, students knew, they might advise and even back you.
As Ms. Frei reviewed her tapes at night, making notes as she went along, she looked for ways to instill that confidence. The women, who plainly wanted to be liked, sometimes failed to assert their authority — say, by not calling out a student who arrived late. But when they were challenged, they turned too tough, responding defensively (“Where did you get that?”).
Ms. Frei urged them to project warmth and high expectations at the same time, to avoid trying to bolster their credibility with soliloquies about their own research. “I think the class might be a little too much about you, and not enough about the students,” she would tell them the next day.
By the end of the semester, the teaching scores of the women had improved so much that she thought they were a mistake. One professor had shot to a 6 from a 4. Yet all the attention, along with other efforts to support female faculty, made no immediate impact on the numbers of female teachers. So few women were coming to teach at the school that evening out the numbers seemed almost impossible.
As their final semester drew to a close, the students were preoccupied with the looming question of their own employment. Like graduates before them, the class of 2013 would to some degree part by gender after graduation, with more men going into higher-paying areas like finance and more women going into lower-paying ones like marketing.
Ms. Navab, who had started dating one of the men — with an M.D. and an M.B.A. — from the Ethiopian dinner, had felt freer to focus on her career once she was paired off. She was happy with her job at a California start-up, but she pointed out that she and some other women never heard about many of the most lucrative jobs because the men traded contacts and tips among themselves.
This was the lopsided situation that women in business school were facing: in intellectual prestige, they were pulling even with or outpacing male peers, but they were not “touching the money,” as Nori Gerardo Lietz, a real estate private equity investor and faculty member, put it. A few alumnae had founded promising start-ups like Rent the Runway, an evening wear rental service, but when it came to reaping big financial rewards, most women were barely in the game.
At an extracurricular presentation the year before, a female student asked William Boyce, a co-founder of Highland Capital Partners, a venture capital firm, for advice for women who wanted to go into his field. “Don’t,” he laughed, according to several students present. Male partners did not want them there, he continued, and he was doing them a favor by warning them.
Some women protested or walked out, but others said they believed he was telling the truth. (In interviews, Mr. Boyce denied saying women should not go into venture capital, but an administrator said student complaints prompted the school to contact the firm, which he had left decades before.)
The deans had not focused on career choice, earning power or staying in the work force; they felt they first needed to address campus issues. Besides, the earning gap posed a dilemma: they were hoping fewer students would default to finance as a career. “Have the courage to make the choices early in your life that are determined by your passions,” Mr. Nohria told students.
Plenty of women had taken Mr. Ruback and Mr. Yudkoff’s classes on acquiring and running businesses, including Ms. Upton, who had delivered the crackerjack finance presentation. She counted 30 to 40 classmates planning search funds, all men except for a no-nonsense engineer named Jennifer Braus. The professors eventually decided to finance and advise Ms. Braus, hoping other Harvard women would follow.“Nothing succeeds like success,” Mr. Ruback said.
Ms. Upton decided to take a far lower-risk job managing a wealthy family’s investments in Pittsburgh, where her fiancé lived. “You can either be a frontier charger or have an easier, happier life,” she said.
Of all the ceremonies and receptions during graduation week, the most venerated was the George F. Baker Scholar Luncheon, for the top 5 percent of the class, held in a sunny dining room crowded with parents who looked alternately thrilled and intimidated by what their offspring had achieved.
In recent years, the glory of the luncheon had been dimmed by discomfort at the low number of female honorees. But this year, almost 40 percent of the Baker scholars were women. It was a remarkable rise that no one could precisely explain. Had the professors rid themselves of unconscious biases? Were the women performing better because of the improved environment? Or was the faculty easing up in grading women because they knew the desired outcome?
“To my head, all three happened,” Professor Piskorski said. But Mr. Nohria said he had no cause to think the professors had used the new software, and the subjective participation scores, to avoid gender gaps. “Sunshine is the best disinfectant,” he said, a phrase that he said had guided him throughout his project.
One of the Baker scholars was Ms. Boyarsky, the classroom truth-teller. Two hours after the luncheon, she stepped up to a lectern to address thousands of graduates, faculty members and parents. Of the two dozen or so men and only 2 women who had tried out before a student committee, she had beaten them all, with a witty, self-deprecating speech unlike any in the school’s memory.
“I entered H.B.S. as a truly ‘untraditional applicant’: morbidly obese,” she said.
The theme of her speech was finding the courage to make necessary but painful changes. “Courage is a brand new H.B.S. professor, younger than some of her students, teaching her very first class on her very first day,” she said. “Courage is one woman” — the one who reported the groping episode — “who wakes the entire school up to the fact that gender relations still have a long way to go at H.B.S.”
Nitin Nohria, the dean of the business school, greeting Brooke Boyarsky at the Baker Scholars Luncheon. The theme of her address was courage in making painful changes.Gretchen Ertl for the New York Times
And, Ms. Boyarsky continued, she had lost more than 100 pounds during her final year at Harvard. “Courage was then me battling the urge to be defensive — something I believe I had been for a long time about this particular issue — and taking a hard, honest look within myself to figure out what had prevented change,” she said.
Even before she finished, her phone was buzzing with e-mails and texts from classmates. She was the girl everyone wished they had gotten to know better, the graduation-week equivalent of the person whose obituary made you wish you had followed her work. She had closed the two-year experiment by making the best possible case for it. “This is the student they chose to show off to the world,” Ms. Moon said. For the next academic year, she was arranging for second-year students to lead many of the trickiest conversations, realizing students were the most potent advocates.
The administrators and the class of 2013 were parting ways, their experiment continuing. The deans vowed to carry on but could not say how aggressively: whether they were willing to revise the tenure process to attract more female contenders, or allow only firms that hired and promoted female candidates to recruit on campus. “We made progress on the first-level things, but what it’s permitting us to do is see, holy cow, how deep-seated the rest of this is,” Ms. Frei said.
The students were fanning out to their new jobs, full of suspense about their fates. Because of the unique nature of what they had experienced, they knew, every class alumni magazine update and reunion would be a referendum on how high the women could climb and what values the graduates instilled — the true verdict on the experiment in which they had taken part.
As Ms. Boyarsky glanced around her new job as a consultant at McKinsey in Dallas, she often noticed that she was outnumbered by men, but she spoke up anyway. She was dating more than she had at school, she added with shy enthusiasm.
“I am super excited to go to my 30th reunion,” she said.
Brent McDonald and Hannah Fairfield contributed reporting.
A version of this article appears in print on September 8, 2013, on page A1 of theNew York edition with the headline: Harvard Case Study: Gender Equity.
How you and others responded.
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Describe your experience in terms of the status of women on campus at business school. (70)
How will Harvard's experiment in gender relations affect students' lives? (34)
What efforts to promote women’s standing have proved most or least effective? (28)
If you were or are a business school student or professor, tell us about your experience in terms of the status of women on campus and in class.
70 READER RESPONSES
Attended Business School
Gender is one problem; race is yet another. First year, we had 3.5 blacks in our MBA Section out of nearly 90 students at HBS. Our Section had no black professors. Second year, there were many classes with no blacks. Period. Getting called on to participate in class was not so much of an issue, but getting someone to build on a black person’s comment, which bolstered your grade, was a glaring problem. With no critical mass, comments made by blacks were simply ignored until they were repeated by a white student.
Kudos to HBS for recognizing the issue and working on it. It takes way more than 3 years to address issues of this nature and the fact that they are trying will give other business schools and hopefully companies the courage to tackle it as well. Too bad the author did not present the voice of more students who get the importance of this work (and you know there are many) but I guess that would not lend to the kind of salacious journalism she was aiming for.
I am a Stanford GSB grad from a decade ago. The description above seems completely foreign. The top three people who spoke most in class (as voted by their peers) were all women. We had Women In Management support groups that gave us a space to talk about families and careers. I never felt lesser or discriminated against by the administration, faculty, or my peers. Yes, there were social activities but there was no more pressure to be involved in Happy Hour than there was to go volunteer. People who came from privileged backgrounds - in true Silicon Valley style - tried to play it down. There were plenty of strong female professors and I had both male and female mentors. I guess maybe my time at the GSB was a gender utopia compared to certain industries and the top echelons of business.
"If your only tool is a hammer, all your problems look like nails". Why the major focus on gender? I am tired of being compared with other white males just because I am one. We are not monolithic in thoughts, words and deeds!!! We have this great diversity of people with talents yet so many feel compelled to categorize primarily by race and gender. Let's get past this stereotyping and onto the real qualities of people and what who really are. View others as individuals and truly consider each person unique. Then, by definition, we have never met anyone like this person……..or any other person.
As a Stanford GSB alum from decades ago, reading this article brought me close to tears. We knew the challenges we were facing, and we met them, from demanding more women professors to speaking out in male-dominated discussions to competing for jobs in off-limits professions. We believed we would change the world,yet the women profiled in this article seem even more hesitant about making waves than we were! Having spent a few years in MBA admissions, I can tell you that one of the key factors in favor of acceptance is athletic leadership. So if the atmosphere at top MBA programs is influenced by an undercurrent of macho chest-beating, that may be why. But don't just blame admissions. The development office exerts of pressure on admissions to accept the kinds of students who traditionally have made the biggest donations to the school: affluent white males. The cycle continues.
HBS should also offer some sort of training to the old-timer male faculty. How much female students participate in class is closely related to how the faculty treat their comments. Are the students being cut off or encouraged to speak longer and make their point? Research shows that men in traditional marriages, with stay-at-home wives, are more dismissive of females in the work place. If you look at the HBS faculty, and especially at the older male faculty members, many of them have those traditional marriages with stay-at-home wives. Would be interesting to check whether they are equally encouraging of female students in their classes.
I attended INSEAD in France in 2002. At that time INSEAD was 25% women in the MBA class. My husband joined me and was one of TWO men who came to the school with their female partners. At first I was annoyed and worried about how few women were attending the school, but soon I realized that the women students were much more qualified than most of the men, and they were not shy about speaking in class either. Interestingly -- and I think this may have been somewhat a feature of the school being in Europe-- it did not feel that the men in the class looked down on the women. However, I know many women friends who definitely felt discriminated against in US business schools. I hope this has improved over the last decade but I'm pretty sure we still have a long way to go!
I'm a female HBS graduate from 2005, and I don't identify with the gender issues represented here. My section was very supportive, and overly arrogant behavior was always put in check by social shaming ("sky deck awards"). A handful of students didn't speak up much,but most had English as their second language. I also don't remember secret societies. Yes, we were segregated a bit by class but no worse (and probably better) than my college and high school experiences, and I'm from a lower wealth group. I look back on my time at HBS now realizing how amazingly fairly I felt treated as a woman. Now that I'm moving up in my career, I can see a distinct change in how I am treated as a woman (a la Lean In).
My experience in the class of 1980 could not have been more different than what was described here. Lots of women raised their hands. People, including women, didn't worry much about what they wore. There was no Section X. Judging success based on whether women become CEOs or make making money the most important objective, misses the opportunity for people to make different decisions. Many women, especially those who have kids, recreate their careers many times during their lives. This may mean that they make less money, but the HBS education has supported many of those moves. It has given us the skills to do many different jobs, and the ability to work less than full-time when needed and still make a good incomel
The problem at Harvard Business School is being combatted at various business schools and financial institutions around the country. At Wharton, as a women, I see other women feeling similar pressures. Having the administrating engage in this conversation and provide opportunities for balance is critical. At Wharton, the administration attempts to do so by arranging for small-group dinners, having sporting events for both genders, and grading based on class participation. But I think the most important factor may be having faculty (male or female) who understand the situation and encourage equal participation. We still have a long way to go, but it's good to hear there is attention on this.
London Business School. Highly multinational (only 8% from UK, 10% from US, balance from elsewhere). Sure, scions of royalty and ultrawealthy were widely represented (for one, girlfriend Pippa Middleton was not quite up to snuff for his family). Students were a bit older than those at HBS. As a result, a bit more mature. The LBS experiences strikes me as equally vivacious with a fraction the childishness. Grades less important (at least to me). You graduated from the London Business School - who cares whether with Distinction? If there was a less subjective element to the grading system at HBS (stenographers?), women would consistently do great, no? Just base grades on hw, test scores, projects. The heavy class participation weighting seems akin to face time at work, or butt snorkeling the boss. Easy fix, but made difficult by heaping red tape atop a weak foundation, at HBS.
Before going to HBS, I worked in fashion where women's opinions are taken seriously regardless of seniority or degrees (reverse age and gender bias at work). I was shocked to find so many men, as stereotyped in this article, are taken MORE seriously than women in HBS classrooms. HBS gave me a taste of real world experience outside of fashion. I am also very disappointed, 10 years later, realizing so many women i met at HBS are not doing much with business or society. For their defense, i believe their industries do not accommodate working moms well. As for myself, I am doing the same thing in fashion, but I was able to meet my future husband at HBS who works in finance and makes 100x more than me.
I was at Kellogg in 1994 and did not see the kind of gender-based intimidation that is described in this article. Good Lord, is it possible that women have lost this much ground in 20 years? I am aghast. The smugness and sense of entitlement that is described in the wealthy male students and business recruiters would make any woman in her right mind leave. Your loss, Highland Cap Projects. The remarkable women you turn away will use their powers for more worthy causes in the world.
There were echos of this in my own business school class but nothing nearly so dramatic. I was a female leader of my class and had the opportunity to partake in meaningful conversation with our school administration. On the whole we were profoundly aware of women's limited participation in class, fear of standing up for themselves, and eagerness to choose all-female groups when given the chance. And in the social realm, there was a clear distinction between the best female students and those who were most successful with male peers.
MBA Pacific Coast University 2005, with credit for life-long learning. What I found in my studies was that women are competing for jobs but are not creating them. Though men shank me and insult me, only men provide me with opportunity. Women can only insult me and deprive me of opportunity. Only men, and only a small fraction of them, take the risks that create industry and opportunity. Women can only serve as mere functionaries in man-created structures. When an organization becomes feminized, priority shifts from efficient and profitable production of goods and services to development of labarynthine rules for the comfort and security of women. Ossification and organizational death are inevitable.
I was HBS 2001. There were some challenges being a woman at the time -- really the common issue of how hard it is for ambitious women to be seen as smart, assertive AND likable -- which is only exacerbated when 50% of your grade depends on your assertiveness (eg speaking "with impact" in class which sometimes felt like a full contact sport). However this article seems to exaggerate the issues and simplify the rich, multi-pronged HBS experience greatly. I suspect that isn't due to a difference in the school but rather the writer's own perspective, agenda and need to create a "compelling story". this article
As an HBS female grad several years back, I didn't really feel like I related to the more major problems for women cited in this article. My personality is naturally relatively assertive and I'm an external processor, so classroom participation was never a problem for me. In addition, for religious reasons, I don't drink and don't believe in sex outside of marriage, so even though I loved the social scene, some of the problems associated with it as articulated in this article didn't affect me too much. However, there did seem to be this "men's club" where the wealthy men congregated, but that was a big turn-off for me--so I just stayed away from that crowd and instead made friends with others, so many of which are lifelong friends.
chair and professor of finance -- in my shop, recent hires, mostly women, making more $$ than tenured profs. Another suble dimension to the problem is that many women are foreign, of different cultural backgrounds. Their demeanor is less "in your face." The real problem is too much male testoserone and not enough professional civility. Regarding the tenure issue, Harvard needs to be more progressive with the tenure clock for women with family responsibilities.
I have only been a female business student for a few weeks, but Harvard administrators' observation that female students feel that they have to choose between being fully assertive in the classroom and being socially accepted really resonated. I think it's too facile, though, (not to mention a bit insulting) to equate "social success" to finding a mate. I'm in a committed relationship but I still feel pressure to improve my social standing. What's the point of business school if I don't build a network of close friendships with my classmates?
HBS is a reflection of New York's Finance industry culture. Many of the students come from there, and go to work there after graduation. Many of the donors are from there, as are some of the instructors. I applaud the Dean and faculty for actively changing the culture. Clearly it's been a bumpy road. Too bad the finance industry isn't a partner in making these changes.
I'm a male and one of those exalted Baker Scholar's you refer to. Smartest person in my class was a women, also a BS. Dumbest person I met in my class was a woman. Worst teacher I had was a male with zero personality and less experience. Second worst was a woman with the same skill set. Best were men with biz experience at levels few women had. Many years and miles later I conclude that not only is this initiative hogwash, but that anyone pedigreed by HBS and fails in biz should have done something else for a living.
We still have a lot of work to do. It's a uphill battle- I find with the recession of 2009-11- we've had much regression- "boy's clubs" are back more than ever. I am a very sucessful business woman- graduate from McGill- over 20 years ago. McGill has helped me in many ways but you always have to prove yourself- all my counterparts are male and it seems that they have it much easier than me.
I was a female Baker Scholar at HBS in the early 80s. Because I was about 5 years older than the average student, I wasn't there to date. I also had extensive experience testifying before legislative committees so class participation was not intimidating.
MBA Stanford 1961. Two women in my class, both Asian. They weren't pushy. But what strikes me about the article is the jungle nature of HBS as a whole. I might have been moderately successful there but thank any and all gods that may or may not exist that I didn't have to experience anything like it. Sounds like the locker room at an athletically-oriented prep school...
Dean Norhia's sunshine disinfection proverb is misapplied. I taught political science in the MBA program of a major research university for several years, with no sun shining on students' gender identity when I graded their exams. This gender obscurity protected me and my grades from any dean who might be infected with a zeal for a politically correct grade distribution.
I am a current member of the HBS community, and I am absolutely appalled at the shock-value this author is trying to manufacture out of thin air. HBS is a remarkable institution that has a boatload of impressive females (and males), almost none of whom (can't speak for everyone) would rather think about finding a mate than advancing her career. From my experience, the men treat the women as equals and do not degrade them as this article suggests. I feel as though many of the quotes and videos featured in this article are completely taken out of context to prove a desperate author's point.
Let's be clear about why there are so few women faculty at HBS - They are forced out after being denied tenure (or told not to go up for tenure). Most do not "leave" the school of their own volition. As a woman faculty member for over 20 years at top business schools, I know that women at many top schools find that women are disproportionately denied tenure -- no where so much so as Harvard Business School.
HBS. I definitely felt like HBS was a frat house in many ways. Many people felt lots of pressure to drink as it was often the only way to socialize. That, or take ridiculously expensive trips or go out for fancy dinners. And the arrogant behavior of many finance guys could turn your stomach. I saw very few professors nip that in the bud. It was kind of nauseating and I opted out a bit socially, knowing that the 30 year olds encouraging me to do a keg stand were probably trying to "relive" a college experience they never actually had. I am heartened that the administration is trying to do something about it. I think they need to start with the admissions process. If you let in a lot of jerks, you'll have a jerky atmosphere.
The advancement of women on campuses and in the business world is every bit as complicated as this article reports. But it's helpful to recognize the advances. My niece this summer had the courage (chutzpah, really) to go to NYC, believing she could compete in that market. With the assistance of her university alumni group, she succeeded. I told my daughter the job offer I had to do public relations for a Madison Ave. agency--and the professor (in 1970) who was a former Business Week editor would give me the details --at my apartment after midnight. "Didn't you report that to someone?" she asked. "Who would that be--it was well known what he was doing." I've chosen to teach in the emerging markets--and I draw out the young women's participation very deliberately so they can potentially be leaders in their countries.
I was a graduate student in another field at Harvard when the FIRST CLASS OF WOMEN were admitted to the B-School, and I remember the celebration when one of them had the HIGHEST GRADES in the whole first year class. Harvard College would not tolerate these overtly sexist, retro attitudes ("unapologetic" indeed!) among its undergrads so it should not tolerate them among its B-school students, if only because it will make them lousy leaders and reflect badly on Harvard. Harvard abolitionist professors did not think they had to prepare students to tolerate slavery just because that's what the outside world was like. Harvard is supposed to lead and to educate, so this change is way overdue.
I feel so fortunate to have attended the Simmons Graduate School of Management, in Boston, where all the students were women. I earned my MBA in much more pleasant circumstances, where I could concentrate on my studies and not on social politics -- surely the dreadful environment at HBS described in the article was detrimental to learning. Also, as only women were present, there could be frank discussions of the challenges women face in business and how to deal with them -- difficult to achieve, I would think, if men were present.
The challenge of MBA programs is that they've traditionally addressed the needs of the majority. As a minority, it's tougher to find the right support to thrive. I was a female business student at the Darden School of Business (UVA) pursuing an entrepreneurial career. 30% of Darden were women, and <1 a="" access="" adapt="" am="" an="" and="" are="" as="" attract="" become="" best="" business="" ceo="" class="" classes="" darden="" definition="" diverse="" double="" employees="" ensure="" entrepreneur.="" entrepreneurs.="" entrepreneurship="" essentially="" ever="" fortunate="" grown="" had="" has="" helped="" her="" his="" i="" if="" in="" increasingly="" is="" it="" its="" just="" me="" meet="" mentors="" met.="" minority="" more="" my="" need="" needs="" of="" or="" p="" programs="" recent="" responsibility="" retain="" s="" school="" schools="" students="" success="" talent.="" than="" that="" the="" they="" thrive="" to="" unique="" want="" was="" were="" years.="">1>
I've seen the same progress in the Business School at the U of U which is now approaching 50%. Also in Law School and Medical School. In my opinion, the world is better off for this progress.... Amazing what happens when you reduce the "testosterone" in the decision making function! My wife was one of those "minority" of college graduate women back in the 1950's and my life has been many times better since she "allowed" me to marrying her as opposed to some my friends who married the "drop-outs"... I find it very reinforcing that she would rather talk about current economic affairs in the world instead of the latest "cookie recipe" in collegiate and professional social gatherings. We both retired early thanks to her pretty equal contributions. And, yes, our college educated kids (and their like educated spouses) have wonderful marriages and carriers. Talk about happiness!.. :)
Professors want to believe they are "gender-blind" even when their actions hide, or reinforce how privilege works. For example, if you almost always turn to a man to answer a question, why would a woman raise their hand? No one needs to get rejected so convincingly. Yes, we hurt ourselves in the long run but it's a saving act in the short-run. So often, issues of gender (or race, or class) are treated as a problem of individuals, which masks the inherent bias of society and acts like a break on action. Issues of gender bias cannot be defined as personal; they are inherently structural. Based on everything I've experienced, I'd argue this is a huge step forward as it relates to both human capital and the economy.
I recently graduated from Michigan Ross. I know much of the wild social scene existed there, but I didn't see the gender issues described in this piece. Of course, I have a child, so I skipped most of the partying. Many of my favorite classmates were women.
i am female graduate of HBS from the mid 80's. in terms of career coaching for the more junior female faculty - bring in Prof Regina Herzlinger as a role model. she had the attention and respect of all students in the section. and had a commanding presence coupled with a keen sense of humor. she pulled out the best in us - and yes, was intimidating. would be terrific to figure out how to 'bottle the secret sauce' of her style and ability to teach (and lead / mentor).
Wharton, 1980. A significant proportion of our class was women, and a significant portion international. Admission was by application only; no interview; so gender could possibly be unknown until we showed up. A wonderful learning environment, stressful, of course, but nothing like the nightmare described in this article. I was inspired by many professors, and there were women as well as men. I wish the consequent workplace had been as egalitarian as Penn was.
Stanford MBA. Female. I think business school teaches life skills to succeed and be a leader. Large part of that is finding your footing among adversity, difficulty, and threats to self-esteem (intellectual, physical etc.). Confronting those challenges and learning how to pull yourself up and make yourself shine is one of the true tests, and benefits of these top schools. If the school makes it easier for us ...we are robbed of the real education.
I was Class of '86 at UVa's Colgate Darden B School, went into investment banking, am now a COO and consider myself an ardent feminist. Wall Street was appalling. Darden, surprisingly, in retrospect, equal with classmates supportive and civil. Odd.
I question whether "professional," that is "trade," schools should exist at universities, their academic caliber being so low. As to making changes regarding grades given to women or minorities, most faculty will do whatever administrators want to avoid any threat to tenure and promotion; I've given D's and F's to terribly inept students, only to have the grades changed to B's by administrators such as "The Dean of Minority Affairs." There usually isn't any practical reason to stand up for what you as a professor believe to be right. Let the administrators let in the school, let them graduate, whomever they will.
This article provides a (sadly) accurate portrayal of my experience as a member of the HBS Class of 2013. If HBS is truly committed to training "leaders who will make a difference in the world", perhaps they should consider selecting from their nearly 10,000 person applicant pool students who don't require such comprehensive gender equality education to begin with.
In the 1959 Northwestern U. MBA program we had no women students or Professors. There has been progress.
I graduated from the Cornell Business School 30 years ago. We had 130 men and four women. One of the women was a nun. The others dated and were paired off early in the program. We had one female professor in Marketing. Definitely a male environment. I wonder how well the women did after thirty years, and have no idea.
I am a student at the masters level in McGill's Faculty of Business (Desautels), in Montreal, Canada. I am glad, and proud, to report that none of theses shenanigans happen here. While we do have more men than women, all of us are equal, and participate equally in every activity, be it related to classes or fun.
I went to business school in France in a French school -- Groupe HEC -- and while the men had a fit when us 13 women out of our class of 99 (of mixed nationality, majority French) planned a dinner together excluding them (they thought we were going to talk (only) about them), my contribution was considered as valuable, I don't remember there being any gap in gender class participation rates. In fact, the obviously brightest person in our class (and the most assertive) was a woman -- and the men found her attractive for that. Reading that HBS has such a, excuse my French, crap atmosphere is very disappointing.
I graduated from Tulane with an MBA in 1973 at the grand old age of 24. Five women started with me in a class of approx. 125. We were soon down to just 2. I had a serious boy friend in law school so it was easy to deflect approaches from my fellow students (who were also always willing to help me with my homework). In marketing, our mid-term consisted of analyzing a Harvard case study about a helicopter manufacturer. It was very technical. Many of the other students had strong engineering backgrounds, many of these also military. For me with a liberal arts degree, it may just of well have been Greek and I did very poorly. But I could have hugged my marketing professor. The final was a Harvard case study about marketing sterling flatware. Right up my alley! The engineers were not pleased.
This piece confirms and enhances virtually every preconception I've held about the shallowness and utter absence of intellectual curiosity among HBS students in particular and MBA students in general. Many years ago I turned down an opportunity to attend HBS and opted instead to pursue a PhD in history. In terms of earning capacity, I have sometimes regretted that decision. But reading this article (as a now 50-something male), I realize the wisdom of my decision. The women portrayed in this article appear even more vapid than the men -- dressing for classes and drinking in excess the night before an exam. My brilliant 17-year old daughter's social maturity and emotional intelligence is so beyond that of these silly post-adolescent boys and girls.
I stopped reading where the discussion shifts to social status and the dating life of female students. If female Harvard students consider their dating life and social status as more important than their academic and professional success, go back to the kitchen! Let's forget the entire discussion of gender equity if young women can't get their priorities straight. that being said, as a science professor at a major research university, I am flabbergasted about the chauvinism and climate portrayed here at the Harvard business school. Definitely some issues to deal with.
I agree that class was the bigger divide than gender when I was at HBS. Maybe I just felt it more, coming from a lower-middle-class background and a nonprofit career, but the gap between the school-endorsed "student budget" and the actual cost of feeling included was astonishing. More than once I heard "the difference between a good experience and a great experience is only $20,000." But gender did rear its head occasionally, I suppose. After graduation I was told by two male classmates that they had discussed it among their (male) friends and had ranked me among the top 5% of our female classmates in terms of career potential and intellectual prowess. That they also both tried to sleep with me was to be considered a compliment. I asked where they ranked me among all of our classmates - male and female - and declined the sexual encounters
I was an international female student at Wharton, and my experience could not have been better. Colleagues and professors were genuinely interested in the intrinsic merit of your thoughts, and did not discount or magnify their merit based on their delivery style. There was great latitude for different styles when it came to expressing ideas. Based on comments I heard from colleagues (and frankly based on this article too) it seems that HBS has helped create and magnify this same problem they are now trying to solve. For decades HBS placed huge emphasis on a certain delivery style - over assertive, competitive - and this has skewed its environment towards male students. It's time for the business schools and world to teach people to value ideas based on their intrinsic merit and let go of the old boys' way of speaking as the model for verbal delivery.