When Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg returned to Harvard Business School earlier this month to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of women’s admission to the school, she asked the women in the audience to stand up if they had ever said “I’m going to be CEO of this company.”
The vast majority of the 800 women at Harvard’s W50 Summit, remained seated. “I want to give every woman in this audience not just the permission but the encouragement to stand up the next time that question is asked,” she said.
THE URINALS IN THE RESTROOMS AT HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL
A 1995 Harvard MBA who is the chief operating officer of Facebook, Sandberg’s appearance was the highlight of the April 4-5 event–and she wasted no time delivering an engaging speech that was well received by HBS alumni. “Fifty years ago at Harvard Business School, they let women in,” said Sandberg, author of the recently published book, Lean In. “They did not take the urinals out of the restroom. That took a little time. A woman i met from that class told me, ‘It was as if they were saying, we’re not quite sure this whole girl thing will work out. And if it doesn’t, we don’t have to reinstall the urinals so we’ll just leave them there. Today, at Harvard Business School there are so many women in attendance that the men’s room became a women’s room but the urinals are still there.”
The audience laughed.
Sandberg also congratulated her alma mater on closing an academic gap between men and women at the business school. Though women accounted for 36% of Harvard’s Class of 2009, only 11% of the school’s Baker Scholars were female. That honor is given to students who are in the top 5% of HBS’ graduating class. Meantime, only 21% of the first year honors (for being in the top 20%) for the class were awarded to women and only 22% of the second year honors were given to women (see Why Men Outperformed Women At Harvard).
CLOSING THE ACADEMIC GAP AT HARVARD BETWEEN MEN AND WOMEN
Sandberg lauded HBS’ leadership team, including Dean Nohria who appointed the first woman as head of the school’s MBA program, Youngme Moon, a dynamic marketing professor who has led major changes to the MBA curriculum. The Facebook executive also singled out Frances Frei, a senior associate dean and HBS professor and Robin Ely, a professor who is also associate dean for culture and community. Sandberg said that it took HBS just two years to completely close the academic gap.
“Harvard Business School is great proof that talking about these issues openly and honestly can change things,” Sandberg said. “Historically at HBS, American males have outperformed academically females and international students. They (the school’s leadership) were determined to change this. They decided they would go around classroom to classroom and say that openly. Here is what is happening.
“No one ever said that when I was here,” she added. “They said we are going to define leadership differently. Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence. Two years later the academic gap has disappeared. The biggest congratulations to this team. And importantly, satisfaction is up, not just for women and international students but for the American men as well. because equality makes us all better off.”
‘MEN STILL RULE THE WORLD’
“Men still run the world.” Sandberg proclaimed, “and other than Dean Nohria, I’m not sure that’s going that well. There is not a single country in the world where more than 5% of the companies are run by women.”
Sandberg says it is not surprising that more men than women lead. “We have a leadership ambition gap. If you ask boys and girls starting in junior high, do you want to lead? Do you want to be president of your junior high school class? Do you want to be president at your college? Do you want to run the club you are volunteering for at your college? Do you want to run the division you work for? Do you want to run the company you’re in? do you want to be the dean of the school at which you teach? At every level, more males than females say yes, starting in junior high. That is a leadership ambition gap and we need to close that in order to fix it.”