Two Harvard Business School MBA students who call themselves “unapologetic feminists” have taken issue with a New York Times article on gender relations at their school. In an essay published today (Sept. 11) by The Harbus, the MBA student newspaper, the second-year MBA candidates concede that the story “freaked” them because they didn’t “recognize the HBS that the article described.”
“While never explicitly stated, the NY Times article implied that this is an uncomfortable and unpleasant place to be a woman. We can’t speak for everyone, but we disagree,” wrote Becky Cooper and Alana Hedlund. “We’re unapologetic feminists, and we love this place.”
Both students are second-year MBA candidates. Cooper had worked in finance for News Corp. and did a summer internship at Deloitte Consulting. Hedlund is the former director of investments for Macalester College and was a summer associate at Bain & Co.
Their defense of the culture of Harvard Business School is a reaction to a storm of controversy raised by a pair of stories in the Times, especially a front-page article on Sunday that jumped to two full-pages inside the newspaper.
‘PATRONIZING AND OFFENSIVE’
“HBS has gender issues, but it’s living on the bleeding edge of trying to solve them,” the pair wrote. “Gender inequality exists. It exists everywhere, and that includes HBS. However, HBS is like the best, most inclusive workplace you can find. The structural societal issues are still at play, and there are going to be some bumps, but these issues are out in the open. And for that we’d also like to thank our male classmates; classmates who have engaged in the conversations about work-life balance, listened respectfully to our points of view, and added their own.”
They then took issue with a number of themes in the Times story. “As for the inequality, let’s start with grades. As the NY Times notes, the ‘intractable’ grade problem has been ‘tracted’, so to speak. The number of female Baker scholars is now representative of the proportion of women on campus. The faculty and the administration get kudos for using new technology to even the playing field. Equally, female students have earned their place here and have earned the honors they have achieved. To suggest otherwise is patronizing and frankly, offensive.”
‘PEOPLE FROM ALL WALKS OF LIFE CAN CROSS PATHS AT HARVARD’
Cooper and Hedlund also addressed reports of a secret society of ultra-wealthy, mostly male and international students known for their decadent parties and travels without directly referring to the group as Section X, its apparent name. “HBS provides a place where people from all walks of life can cross paths,” they wrote. “This community is more diverse than any other in which you’re likely to participate. Students come from all over the world; some have money and some don’t; some will go into the upper echelons of finance, while others are headed to non-profit careers. Don’t be intimidated by anyone’s experience – take it as an opportunity to learn from them and to figure out what you bring to the table. We all deserve to be here – and by the end of the first year, you’ll be able to throw out equations with the best of them.”
The students also attempted to grapple with the Times notion that teaching female students how to more aggressively ask questions in class was beneath them. Those sessions were held to encourage women to more fully participate in class where participation accounts for 50% of an MBA student’s grade. “It’s easy to laugh at the section norms discussions – and we all like to collectively groan when we’re heading into them – but they’ve served us well as we head into our second year,” the students added. ” Our sections have become healthy communities: not by accident, but because of our classmates’ efforts to be honest about their values and their vision for what this place could be, and their decision to live by those values.”
Still, the two said they would hold back backing donations to the school until Dean Nitin Nohria made more progress in hiring more female professors and adding more case studies on women executives. “We wish that there were more female case protagonists and more female professors. We love the ones who are here, and we would love some more. Nitin, we’ll be making a new version of that graph for our 5–year reunion before we cut any checks.”