Gender Equity at Harvard Business School: An AAUW Fellow Responds
As the dust settles and the media and online community move on from critiques and counter-critiques of Jodi Kantor’s New York Times article “Harvard Business School Case Study: Gender Equity,” the internal conversations continue, as we HBS students react to how our learning — and, in most cases, living — environment has been dissected.
My initial response upon reading the article was one of nonchalance. I did not find anything particularly unrepresentative of things I had heard during my first year at HBS (2012–13) and did not feel that anything new or unknown was being shared with the world. The fairly defensive responses I heard from my classmates over the following week surprised me. After all, we did have significantly fewer female professors, despite recent efforts by the administration. Some classes could be unnecessarily dominated by male voices. Attending costume parties often did mean being surrounded by scantily clad women who believed that they were simply meeting expectations. And, yes, people do refer, from time to time, to the informal “Section X” secret society of a select, wealthy elite.
Kantor has done her homework and, to a certain extent, everything she writes rings true. The problem is that, while the article undeniably represents some students’ realities, it does not present the “other side of the story.” My earlier nonchalance was based on the fact that I am living this underreported other side of the story and not relying solely on an article for my understanding of HBS culture. I have benefitted from the admirable work done by Dean Nitin Nohria and his administration. I have encountered a surprising number of female protagonists in class discussion and never felt that my voice was going unheard as a woman, a complaint often expressed by past HBS graduates. I never felt disrespected by my male classmates; rather I always felt their support, in both academic and social settings.
Last year, I watched my female peers excel across the board: in job interviews, planning conferences, leading finance review sessions. Some returned this year having earned first-year academic honors and others having received full-time job offers. Many remain unclear about what the year will bring but are excited to return to the HBS community to pursue some clarity. My point is that many of we women, like our male counterparts, are quite satisfied with and even thriving in our learning environment, in spite of the aforementioned flaws. Our realities have been, more or less, neglected in the discourse inspired by Kantor’s article.
My larger concern is that one important question has received less attention: To what extent is Kantor’s article an exposé of HBS culture versus business school culture or, even more generally, that of corporate America? Lifting up the veil of our country’s “ivory towers” sells papers, but it would be more interesting to understand the somewhat inevitable consequences of bringing together individuals from the typical feeder organizations and institutions that send students to top business schools. How can the cultural forces behind the resulting community be most productively leveraged to maximize the good and managed to minimize the bad?
This post was written by Layusa Isa-Odidi, a current student at Harvard Business School and Harvard Kennedy School and an AAUW Selected Professions Fellow.