50 Years Later: Gender Gaps Persists at HBS

HBS 50 years of womenHarvard Business School marked this year’s 50th anniversary of admitting women to the two-year MBA Program with the W50 Summit on April 4-5th. The event, which drew more than 800 female graduates to the campus, focused on accelerating the advancement of women leaders who make a difference in the world, and some interesting stories came out of the event.

A piece in Bloomberg led with the remembrances of Nancy Koehn, now a tenured professor at HBS, who recalled lengthy lines in the women’s restroom, formerly a men’s room and still equipped with urinals and few toilet stalls—in 1998. “The changes here have been hard won,” Koehn says.

The school has been actively trying to recruit and promote women faculty; women made up 22 percent of the faculty in 2011 and just 19 percent of full professors are female, the article notes. In an effort to make sure female students are called on equally, HBS has coached faculty to look out for the tentative hand-raisers and make sure they give women, who tend to speak with more brevity than men, the credit they deserve, Bloomberg reveals.

Professor Koehn has noted a changing dynamic in the classroom as women approach almost equal numbers as men (Forty percent of the class of 2014 is female.) “Women feel freer to speak more often and at greater length, and men feel freer to talk more emotionally,” she tells the media outlet.

On Thursday afternoon, HBS professor Robin J. Ely presented her study on “Life and Leadership After HBS.” The study surveyed some 6,500 graduates, both male and female, to better understand their views, professional experiences, and choices.

Ely and her team are still analyzing the data, but so far, the survey results indicate that Harvard women are less likely to be full-time workers than men and more likely to be stay-at-home parents, the Boston Globe reports. “We learned that many of the women leave HBS and expect to have a more egalitarian relationship with their partner than they end up having,” Ely says.

In the article “Three Ways Harvard Business School Can Change the World for Women,” alumnae Monisha Kapila points to positive changes ushered forth by Dean Nitin Nohria, who took the helm in 2010 and made inclusion one of his top five priorities. A lack of tenured female faculty and female case protagonists still needs to be addressed, Kapila says, ” But the fact that the academic achievement gap was narrowed in a mere two years is an indication of what is possible.”

As you can see, several illuminating stories came out of this Summit. Harvard Business School has cause to celebrate this major milestone, but judging from the many inequalities that still persist, much remains to be done to create a framework that promotes female leadership and supports women in the workforce.




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