Harvard Business School Dean Apologizes for Sexist Environment

Harvard Hall

February 5, 2014

Last year, Harvard Business School made headlines when it disclosed its two-year experiment to help women succeed in the classroom and in the business world at large. The institution admitted its female students and alums had been treated poorly, and revamped its curriculum and social rituals to foster their future success. Some of the measures were less than conventional, like hand-raising workshops for female students. Last week the the institution's dean announced yet more initiatives meant to support women -- and made what the Poets&Quants deemed a very "unusual" public apology.

Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria apologized before 600 alumni and guests last week for the institution's treatment of female students and professors. According to Poets&Quants, Nohria conceded there were times Harvard women felt "disrespected, left out, and unloved." The event, hosted by the Harvard Business School Association of Northern California, included more than 100 Harvard alumnae who were being honored for their contributions to business and their communities.

"I'm sorry on behalf of the business school," said Nohria. "The school owed you better, and I promise it will be better."

Among Nohria's pledges: A new campaign to increase the number of Harvard case studies that feature women protagonists to 20 percent over the next five years. Poets&Quants noted that while this may not sound like a lofty goal -- and even earned an exasperated sigh from the audience -- it would more than double the current share of case studies protagonizing women. The shift would have a major impact on the way leadership is taught in business schools the world over, said Nohria, since almost all MBA students use HBS cases over the course of their educations.

Lori Osterberg, founder of Vision Business Concepts, told CityTownInfo that women in business need more of this type of exposure.

"We need more resources that appeal to women - women role models (who can) share how to achieve a successful business," said Osterberg, but she said this is just the beginning. "It also important to have male role models for men to show how to support successful women," she said, especially in matters of work-life balance where women are traditionally expected to put in more time at home and less in the office. "We teach business in business school, but do we ever teach life balancing and gender equality?"

Though HBS's initiatives to support women aim to reshape a b-school culture in which women are overshadowed by their male peers, Sarah Walton, CEO of Better Way Moms and regular contributor for The Huffington Post, told CityTownInfo that the problem begins much, much earlier.

"In Kindergarten, the girls raise their hands as often as the boys. By third grade, the rate of girls raising their hands has dropped dramatically," said Walton. "I'm very clear that this is NOT intentional - instead I think it speaks to how deeply ingrained this issue is in our society. The more we talk about it now, the more honestly and swiftly we can alter it."

Walton hopes these trends do not deter women from pursuing careers in business. Initiatives like those at Harvard can help, but so can women in the field inspiring change,

"Be aware of the types of issues being discussed here, but know that they are fixable," said Walton. "(We're) doing everything we can as the generation right in front of them to ensure that they will deal with these types of things less and less, so they can focus on what really matters - doing a fabulous job, having fun and making the money they deserve."

Compiled by Aimee Hosler


"HBS Dean Makes An Unusual Public Apology," poetsandquants, January 28, 2014, John A Byrne, http://poetsandquants.com/2014/01/28/hbs-dean-makes-an-unusual-public-apology/

Interview with Lori Osterberg, February 3, 2014

Interview with Sarah Walton, February 3, 2014

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