It is good that HBS acknowledges it has a problem developing women – students and faculty alike. It is also good that they take this issue seriously, as well as their stewardship responsibility. HBS is a springboard to the C-suite and Board Rooms which control so much of the power and resources of our country.
After reading this article about Gender Equity at Harvard Business School, however, I felt fortunate to come into McKinsey the easy way – by earning a hard science PhD in twice the time at MIT. Who’da thunk? At least while in graduate school, I was liberated to focus on the work. We were largely undistracted by pressure to social network and find the perfect mate and/or job. Learn, teach, and do great research – that was job #1. Relationships evolved out of common interest, and opportunities emerged naturally. Success depended predominantly on brains and discipline – not on gender, appearance, or socioeconomic status, which are common starting points for networking when you have less experience. So, this apparent stratification of “us” and “them” was the first source of discomfort in reading the article, but it wasn’t the most egregious.
The most discouraging part was that HBS is working so hard on “enhancing women’s styles” to increase gender equity. Been there, done that. Teaching women to raise their hands more and be more assertive during case discussions wouldn’t have done anything for the many talented women (or men) I know who lead below their capacity now. The time for making us all into the mold of the old-fashioned CEO is over. We need changemakers. We need something new and paradigm shifting from institutions like HBS instead of these tired answers. Here is what I think about this case study on gender equity:
1. The results of the HBS effort suggest more about the bias of HBS professors than anything else. Shining a light on the wise yet overweight Baker scholar in the end of this article seemed like a grab – to show how open and enlightened things are now. What she does next will be the most interesting part of the story. The fact that this system didn’t manage to discourage and marginalize her is hardly cause for celebration. They didn’t make her either. These young women and men who have the courage to lead in different ways and with integrity will make real change.
2. If descriptions of modern life inside of Ivy League schools like this are accurate, there seems to be more pressure on women to actively find husbands while in school than there was in my generation. I wonder why. If true, it’s robbing young women now of the joy of mind-expanding education, a sense of wonderment, and precious time young adults have to focus on what they really want to be/do in this world – to find a passion and learn all they can – absent responsibilities to other people, especially parents and children. It’s sad.
3. The rubber hits the road when it comes to raising children and time. Period. Style is in many ways a red herring – something to work on so we seem to be busily addressing the issue of the dearth of women in leadership – and the work remains squarely in women’s laps. A new paradigm for growing changemaker leaders and changemaker children has to be everyone’s goal, not just women’s. Until we tackle this issue head on, there is nothing new here to jumpstart our stagnant companies, economy, educational systems, healthcare industry, etc, etc, etc.
So, what did you learn from this HBS case study? Raise your hand high and speak up please!
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