LESS THAN HALF THE WOMEN ARE SATISFIED WITH THEIR PROFESSIONAL ACCOMPLISHMENTS
That may be one reason why the study shows that Harvard’s MBA alumnae want much more out of their careers than they are getting. Less than half of the women under the age of 67 report being satisfied with their professional accomplishments or opportunities for career growth. Satisfaction skews the opposite way for men—most of whom agree that their work is meaningful and satisfying.
The survey results also suggest that encouraging female MBAs to return to the workforce could boost productivity, if the HBS Boomer alumnae are any indication. Female Boomers report working more hours than their male peers. Women employed full-time average 51 hours to the men’s 50.6—a close call, but a clear indication that HBS alumnae certainly don’t take their later years to slack off. Older generations of alumnae widen the divide even further with their 43.4 hours compared to older male alums’ 41.6 hours.
HOW DEFINITIONS OF SUCCESS HAVE CHANGED FOR HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL ALUMNI
Both genders also overwhelmingly recognize the importance of personal and family relationships. Ninety-eight percent of HBS alums rate these bonds as “very” or “extremely” important, but only 55% say the same about professional accomplishments. Ely says that one popular misconception is that men are less willing to sacrifice career for family. “I don’t think men value family any less than women do, and when push comes to shove they are going to go for family,” she says.
“For women, it’s so much harder for them to actually enact their parent role and to feel they can be full-on committed workers. Men channel that value for family into the provider role. They say this is how I care for my family. This is how I prioritize my family over my work. So they work harder. They take the promotion because it’s better for the family. It’s consistent for them to value family over work and yet make decisions where they are advancing. Women take up the caretaking role and are doing tradeoffs almost every minute of the day. They’re more likely to ask, ‘Should I take this phone call or put my child to bed?'”
In the study, Harvard also asked alums what their definition of success was when they left Harvard Business School versus now. One male respondent said when he graduated with his MBA, his definition of success was “becoming someone who is an expert at bringing new innovations to the marketplace.”
SUCCESS AT GRADUATION: ‘MONEY, MONEY, MONEY!’ SUCCESS NOW: ‘BALANCE, BALANCE, BALANCE.’
His definition now? “Being married with two kids I can no longer define success only from a career accomplishment perspective. Success to me is summed up in the following equations: Family money earned is greater than family earning spent. Dad’s effort equals mom’s effort. Helping others is better than complaining about others. Family happiness is greater than anything else in the world.”
Another male alum summed up his definition of success before and after with three-word answers: “When he left HBS,” says Ely, it was ‘money, money, money.’ His definition of success now is ‘balance, balance, balance.'”
Ely believes that organizations need to be more open to recruiting and hiring women who have left full-time work but now want to resume their careers. “A 20-year-old woman has a life expectancy of 100 today,” she says, quoting an earlier speaker who came to Harvard Business School during the kickoff week of the 50th anniversary commemoration. “And so if she steps out of the workforce when her kids are a certain age, she still has a huge amount of time left to come back to work. We really need to reconceive careers. We have to start thinking about careers in a different way, with people moving in and out and for organizations to be nimble enough to identify that talent and think about ways to bring them back in and use them. There is a possible win-win but our organizations are not structured to do that kind of recruiting and on-boarding.”
WHAT FACTORS MOST CONTRIBUTE TO CAREER SUCCESS FOR MBAS?
When it came to identifying factors that have been important to success, HBS alums cited two that were most important to both women and men: Developing effective leadership skills and having a spouse or partner who is supportive of career decisions (see table below). Women are more likely than men to cite structural supports as important to their career advancement, such as having supportive supervisors and an over-all supportive work environment.
Harvard said that among its alumni, men outnumber women more than five to one, an indication of women’s more recent entry into the school. Men are also significantly older than women, with half of them ages 60 or older. Alumnae are most likely to belong to the Baby Boom Generation (ages 48 to 66) and Generation X (ages 31 to 47). Most (66%) HBS alumni earned MBA degrees, one-third (32%) attended Executive Education programs, and a small proportion (1%) received doctoral degrees.
HBS alumni encounter many different opportunities and challenges after their time at the School, including family roles and personal responsibilities. About nine out of ten (87%) alumni are married or partnered and about the same proportion have children. Roughly one-third (31%) have children under age 18 living at home. In all generations but Generation Y (ages 25 to 30), men are more likely than women to have children. The study found that one-tenth of alumni expect to have their first or another child in the future.
Factors Rated Extremely or Very Important To Career Advancement