Harvard Business School gives itself a ‘gender makeover’ to ‘foster female success’

by Grace

Here is the problem, at least as perceived by many:

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As a way to close this gender salary gap, Harvard Business School set out to give itself a gender makeover, changing its curriculum, rules and social rituals to foster female success“.

It is an ambitious plan, intended  “to change how students spoke, studied and socialized”.

But in 2010, Drew Gilpin Faust, Harvard’s first female president, appointed a new dean who pledged to do far more than his predecessors to remake gender relations at the business school. He and his team tried to change how students spoke, studied and socialized….

Am I the only one who thinks this sounds a little creepy?

… The school saw itself as the standard-bearer for American business. Turning around its record on women, the new administrators assured themselves, could have an untold impact at other business schools, at companies populated by Harvard alumni and in the Fortune 500, where only 21 chief executives are women. The institution would become a laboratory for studying how women speak in group settings, the links between romantic relationships and professional status, and the use of everyday measurement tools to reduce bias.

Many of us are familiar with the gender wage gap, including the part about women often feeling they have “to choose between academic and social success” and that business schools see their graduates “part by gender after graduation, with more men going into higher-paying areas like finance and more women going into lower-paying ones like marketing”.

But I didn’t realize that a typical HBS female student had to “be taught how to raise her hand”.  Who knew that these best and brightest examples of high-achieving women were such wallflowers?  Apparently they need coaching on how to participate effectively in classes where men tend to take over discussions.

… Reach up assertively! No apologetic little half-waves! …

Women at Harvard did fine on tests. But they lagged badly in class participation, a highly subjective measure that made up 50 percent of each final mark. Every year the same hierarchy emerged early on: investment bank and hedge fund veterans, often men, sliced through equations while others — including many women — sat frozen or spoke tentatively. The deans did not want to publicly dwell on the problem: that might make the women more self-conscious. But they lectured about respect and civility, expanded efforts like the hand-raising coaching and added stenographers in every class so professors would no longer rely on possibly biased memories of who had said what.

Marianne Bertrand from the Chicago Booth School of Business recently gave a presentation that included a list of “documented robust gender differences in a set of psychological attributes”.

–Women are more risk averse
–Women negotiate less/women do not ask
–Women perform more poorly in competitive environments and shy away from such competitive environments
–Women lack in self-confidence (while men tend to be overly confident)

Even if the environment can be modified to promote more women into corporate leadership roles, Bertrand points out that policy responses will only be effective if we can confirm that these are learned behaviors.

… Innate or learned? nature vs. nurture?  …

Related:  Women who graduated from highly selective colleges more likely to drop out of workforce (Cost of College)

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