Last week, the New York Times seemed to have struck a nerve when it ran a story about Harvard Business School’s (HBS’s) two-year initiative to redress gender imbalance. Although the school successfully closed its long-standing grade gap, many have criticized the rampant “frat-house culture” of the student body as a more significant problem affecting women. Others have suggested that class and elitism are the prevalent issues, targeting Section X—HBS’s secret society of hyperaffluent students—as emblematic of the social pressure to spend conspicuously.
But an article in The New Yorker this week by Laura Hemphill, who writes about Wall Street, asks the question “Why go to business school at all?” Hemphill argues that for women especially, time invested in completing a degree could be better spent climbing the corporate ladder, starting one’s own business or learning a new skill that, often, affords the same advancement in salary and position as is conferred to newly graduated MBAs. Hemphill suggests that before rushing into business school, women ask whether listening to male classmates “openly ruminate on whom they would ‘kill, sleep with or marry’” and “taking courses in which only eight per cent of case studies feature a female protagonist” is the best use of two years.
Apparently, business schools need to do a better job of addressing gender inequality and creating learning environments that are inviting to women. A Bloomberg Businessweek article notes the systemic implications of this problem: “If we truly believe that the world’s top business schools are the breeding ground for the next generation of corporate leaders, then trying to shape attitudes in the right way, despite the challenges, is more than just a good idea. It’s critical.” In other words, a woman may prudently choose to forgo the frat-house culture of business school, but that is no guarantee she will not at some point find herself working for an MBA who is a product of that same culture. Changing attitudes about gender across the board may require having more women—not fewer—earning MBAs and breaking into exclusive business school networks.