Correction: Drew Gilpin Faust is the first female president of Harvard University; she is not HBS's first female dean, as stated in the original post. We regret the error.
I don't know whether I should feel optimistic or discouraged about what's going on at Harvard Business School on the gender front. As Jodi Kantor of New York Times describes it, the school essentially underwent a "gender makeover" in the last two years.
Before Harvard University's first female president, Drew Gilpin Faust, arrived on the scene, the school was basically a boys' club. NYT reports:
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.
Moreover, though entering female and male students had similar test scores and grades, women ended up with worse GPAs at the end. And female professors weren't staying: "from 2006 to 2007, a third of the female junior faculty left."
To change this environment, HBS took drastic measures in 2010, installing stenographers in classroom to monitor bias, coaching female students and untenured female professors to be more effective in class, and mandating students (male and female) to attend meetings about gender issues.
Some students and faculty grumbled about the social engineering, but the class of 2013 showed impressive gains on the gender front. Let's look at the major improvements:
- Class room participation by women increased.
- The grade gap disappeared.
- Women constituted 40 percent of the Baker scholars (top 5 percent of class).
- Classroom discussion became more civil: "Cruel jokes, along with other forms of intimidation, were far rarer," and student satisfaction ratings went up.
Powerful stuff, right? It shows what institutions can do if they make a concerted (or is it "radical"?) effort at correcting a problem.
So why am I not optimistic that a systemic overhaul will fix gender inequity? Because if you read closer, the students (male and female) haven't changed much in their private attitudes. In fact, they seem downright retro—more so, I'd say, than what you'd find in a law school environment:
- Women felt "they had to choose between academic and social success." One student in the article, Neda Navab, blew off studying for an exam to participate in a dating event because she felt it was her "last chance" to meet a suitable mate "among cream-of-the-crop-type people."
- "Women were more likely to be sized up on how they looked. . . many of them dressed as if Marc Jacobs were staging a photo shoot in a Technology and Operations Management class."
Bascially, you have all these super-bright women who should be focusing on running the Fortune 500 strutting their stuff so they can fulfill their primary mission: catching a husband. (Note to Princeton mom who advised gals to snag a husband in college: Wait until B school—hubby candidates there have much higher earning potential.)
Not surprisingly, perhaps, the gender divide persists once these graduates enter the job force:
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.
Men assume positions as masters of the universe while women gravitate to far less powerful and lucrative positions, even though many women now presumably qualify for those fancy finance and consulting jobs. It's back to the same old order.
So how does this affect the gender situation in other professions—such as law? Given the dearth of women in power positions on the business side, Corporate America will continue to be a thoroughly male culture.
And you're still wondering why female lawyers are having a hell of a time trying to develop business from the guys?
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