When Women Were 4% Of An HBS Class

Having women live in the dorms was not a universally popular idea.  “I remember a knock on my door one Saturday morning that first autumn on campus.  A man and his college aged son stood outside.  Taken aback when a woman answered the door, the man said that this had been his dorm room when he had been at HBS and that he wanted to show his son his old room.  Indignantly he asked to speak to the man who currently lived there.  Smiling I explained it was my room but I was happy to have them step inside and look around if they wanted to.  He left immediately with his amused son in tow exclaiming that HBS had lost its moral footing and that he would never give the School another penny!”

Then there was the bathroom situation.   A member of the class of 1970 recalls that “there were no bathrooms for women in our first year in Aldrich.  We had to take a hike to the basement of Baker where there was a ladies’ room.  It was there because of the young women WAC readers.  In our second year they made a restroom at the end on the second floor of Aldrich that was thrown together quickly.  In fact, that restroom is still there and has been improved over the years.  Amazing what one remembers and what we forget.”

Some employers had purchased ads in the Prospectus to lure future hires from the class.  An ad from Allied Stores, a then huge retail store conglomerate, proclaimed that they needed “superior men for (our) management teams.”  On the other hand, a progressive Mobil Oil ad sent quite a different message.  “We don’t care what color, age, religion or sex you are,” their ad read, “if you’re qualified for the job … we want to talk with you.”  At the time, the latter seemed more unusual.

Recruiting practices presented special challenges for women in those days.  “When companies came on campus to recruit, MBAs were only allowed to sign up for 2-3 companies, a policy which was ‘policed’ by the School.  There were many companies coming on campus that had no intention of even considering women MBAs (and sometimes said so when you showed up for the interview).   As I recall several of the MBA women in our class got all the women together and suggested that, under the circumstances, women should not have the same 2-3 company restriction.  We all agreed and went to the administration and got the restriction lifted.”  Up until that time, it d­­idn’t appear that there was any need to have a women’s group, such as the WSA, but this was the first time that it seemed there might be a reason for the women to get together.

There were some interesting interview experiences – often beginning with the double take of the interviewer upon seeing a ‘member of the fair sex.’   One woman recalled that “it was especially enjoyable two years later to be at HBS interviewing current students for positions at Citibank. The double take was still there, but we were proof that a turn had occurred.”   Sometimes the recruiting process could be demoralizing.  “Our starting salaries were often less than male hires doing the same work.”

Out in the real world times were changing quickly.  The Vietnam War was raging and the class included men just back from combat as well as those who were vocal opponents of the conflict.  There were anti-war riots in Harvard Square and protests on Wall Street.  A group of MBA students marched across the bridge to Cambridge bearing an HBS banner and peace signs, to the cheers of our Harvard colleagues on the other side.  In May, 1970 about 1,400 people from the HBS community gathered in front of Baker to protest government policies and student killings at Kent State.  African American students organized a major strike at the School to remember the similar slaying of students at Jackson State.  The overall cultural environment in the United States was going through significant change.  At HBS things were changing as well – fueled in part by the women in the MBA program.

Susan Luick Good is a founding partner of Newbridge Management Advisors and a senior advisor to the Aviador Group.  She has more than 35 years of experience in consulting and management.   Her consulting career has focused on strategy development and implementation for multinational organizations. Ms. Good serves on a number of not-for-profit boards. She is the Chair of the Harvard Business School Women’s Student Association Alumnae Advisory Board.

Contributors: Ellen Marram, Kazie Metzger and Roslyn Payne from the class of 1970; Sara Goldman, Susan Luick Good, Nancy Havens-Hasty and Beverly Benz Treuille from the class of 1971.

For more insight on women at HBS check out  Harbus Reflections from 1959. This essay is reprinted with permission from The Harbus (here is a link to the original article).

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