MBA News: Is Class or Gender More Divisive at HBS?

Reacting to an article about a “case study” on gender inequality that was published in Sunday’s New York Times, many Harvard Business School (HBS) students, alumni and community members have voiced concerns about what they see as a more “pervasive problem” facing the school’s culture. A follow-up article published on Monday points out that class, in addition to gender, has become a dividing issue among HBS students. While tuition is more than $50K per year, the average MBA class is still economically diverse, “with 65 percent of students on financial aid.” Yet students report that to get the full HBS experience, they are expected to spend thousands of dollars more on social activities and section events. As one student stated, “The difference between a good experience and a great experience is only $20,000.”

Beyond the costs, students complain that the elite business school culture itself suffers from a conspicuous divide wrought by exclusivity and affluence. An alleged secret society of wealthy, mostly male, mostly international students known as “Section X,” for example, reinforces the image of HBS as a haven for extreme privilege. As the article suggests, “Every Harvard Business School class is organized into 10 sections labeled A through J, and the name Section X implies a pulling away from the wider community.”

Reportedly, the most recent class co-presidents have made efforts to reduce the price tag attached to school-sponsored socializing and to make social events more inclusive. But the problem appears even more entrenched than those of gender, given that “many of the school’s top donors and alumni are members of the same ultramoneyed culture that some students criticize.” If and how the administration will intervene to transform HBS’s culture around the issue of class in the same way it has tried to close the gender gap remains to be seen.

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