Gender and the Harvard Business School

Found this NYT piece on the role of gender at the Harvard Business School absolutely fascinating.  Among other things, it totally re-affirmed my many negative beliefs about business school.  The crux of the problem:

The country’s premier business training ground was trying to solve a seemingly intractable problem. Year after year, women who had arrived with the same test scores and grades as men fell behind. Attracting and retaining female professors was a losing battle; from 2006 to 2007, a third of the female junior faculty left.

The faculty part is definitely quite hard, but as for the performance of female students, some really determined efforts by the Harvard administration seemed to have made a huge difference.  That said, it seems that there’s a highly problematic culture at HSB that cannot be truly eliminated by administrative action:

After years of observation, administrators and professors agreed that one particular factor was torpedoing female class participation grades: women, especially single women, often felt they had to choose between academic and social success…

The men at the top of the heap worked in finance, drove luxury cars and advertised lavish weekend getaways on Instagram, many students observed in interviews. Some belonged to the so-called Section X, an on-again-off-again secret society of ultrawealthy, mostly male, mostly international students known for decadent parties and travel.

Women were more likely to be sized up on how they looked, Ms. Navab and others found. Many of them dressed as if Marc Jacobs were staging a photo shoot in a Technology and Operations Management class. Judging from comments from male friends about other women (“She’s kind of hot, but she’s so assertive”), Ms. Navab feared that seeming too ambitious could hurt what she half-jokingly called her “social cap,” referring to capitalization.

In many ways, a distressing and depressing portrait.  Even among these highest of achieving women, they are highly motivated to grab a husband from among their classmates (personally, about the last place I’d want a spouse from).  And the, men, my God, you just take the worst aspects of competitive male behavior and put them on steroids, and you seem to have HSB.  What a dreadful environment.  Why don’t women succeed at the same rate as men?  To me, it’s because (fortunately) women are less likely to have as many or be as extreme in the anti-social (oh, they are very sociable– anti-social in the bad for society sense) traits that seem to characterize so many of these men (i.e., look at the size of my hedge fund and my vacation home, baby).  Anyway, very interesting stuff.  And yet more reason I don’t ever see myself recommending business school for any of my advisees.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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