MBA News: Addressing Gender Inequality Is a Work in Progress at HBS

An article published in Sunday’s New York Times details the social and administrative complexities of Harvard Business School’s (HBS’s) latest efforts to address the pervasive challenges faced by female students and faculty. For the past two years, under the deanship of Nitin Nohria, the school has performed a social experiment, overhauling its policies and much of its curriculum in an attempt to improve women’s experiences at this top business school. But for the Class of 2013, these initiatives have provoked questions about the role administrators play in changing student culture.

The Times’s look at “gender equity” at HBS reveals polarized reactions to the measures. While some—especially male—students have expressed resentment toward what they perceive as “patronizing” and heavy-handed directives on the part of administrators, others have been supportive. During graduation week, for example, a Baker scholar from the Class of 2013 captivated her classmates by alluding to a reported groping incident perpetrated by a male student in an off-campus bar. “Courage is one woman who wakes the entire school up to the fact that gender relations still have a long way to go at H.B.S.,” she said.

An interview with professors, administrators and students suggests that the two-year initiative has gone a long way toward improving the situation, which has historically been fraught with male-dominated class discussions, a grade gap and sexual harassment. Although the grade gap has since closed dramatically, many complain that the administration’s efforts have focused too narrowly on campus issues, boosting the “intellectual prestige” of women in the classroom but neglecting to remedy the lopsided situation with regard to compensation, networking and career advancement. In addition, women are still dramatically underrepresented on the school’s faculty.

“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,” said one administrator. Dean Nohria has stated that he plans to continue efforts to address institutional gender inequality, but exactly how aggressively HBS will cast off the old boys’ club standard remains uncertain.

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