HBS Does Damage Control On Times Story

Youngme Moon, chair of Harvard Business School's MBA program

Youngme Moon, chair of Harvard Business School’s MBA program

Ever since the New York Times published its highly provocative story on the Harvard Business School last Sunday (Sept. 8), HBS officials have been publicly mum on the controversy. There has been no official response from anyone in a senior leadership role on the story that chronicled the school’s efforts to deal with gender inequality or social and economic divisiveness.

Instead, Harvard deans have been communicating more privately with the HBS community, doing damage control with students, alumni, faculty and staff. In those communications, obtained by Poets&Quants, the school’s senior leadership is showing surprising poise and restraint.

In a memo to faculty and staff, Dean Nitin Nohria is neither defensive nor apologetic about the Times’ coverage. “Initial reactions have run the spectrum from congratulations and encouragement for our efforts to concern and disappointment at the one-sided portrayal of the School, including our MBA students,” wrote Nohria. “This range is to be expected—these are matters that we filter through our own experiences.  And each of us has our own experience of gender, not only at Harvard Business School but also in our lives and careers more broadly.”


Nohria reminded faculty that “inclusion” was one of his five major priorities for the school when he became dean in 2010. So many of the changes at HBS to address an academic gender gap as well as the smaller number of female faculty have come out of that initiative.

“Change, as you know, is rarely easy,” added Nohria. “Tackling deep-seated issues that affect not just business education, but business and society more broadly, necessitates sustained commitment.  It requires courage to take action, and humility to recognize that the road will be long and may include missteps.  The Times article reminds us of this, but I hope it also inspires us.”

More telling, if not inspirational, is a lengthy five-page memo written by Senior Associate Dean Youngme Moon to the school’s 1,800-plus MBA students. As the first female chair of the MBA program, Moon said she was “uncomfortable with how the story explicitly played into the stereotype of the HBS student” as well as “uncomfortable with the way the NYT story framed the salary and career choice differentials.” She also called parts of the the story “misleading.” The thoughtful and candid tone she takes in the memo is convincingly heart felt–and a model of smart communications in a crisis (see the following pages for the complete memo to students).


Among other things, Moon took aim at a graphic in the story based on an analysis of MBAs from the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. The Times ran the Booth analysis explaining that HBS grads earn comparable salaries. The data showed that at graduation, male MBAs averaged $130,000 in pay compared with women MBAs who made $115,000. Over time, however, the income earned by gender significantly diverged. Nine years after graduation, men were earning $400,000 a year on average, while women were earning only $250,000. Moon suggested that the Times’ portrayal of MBA salaries by gender may encourage more women to pursue careers and lives they don’t really want–just to make more money and erase the differential in pay.

“Can I vent a little here?,” asks Moon in her memo to students. “There were places in the New York Times story that referenced the salary and career choice differentials of male versus female MBA students, and this part of the story irritated me. Are there differences in the earnings of female graduates versus male graduates? Yes, I’m not disputing the data. Do I think it’s an important issue? Yes, I’m not disputing that either. But I also feel the way the New York Times framed the issue was not helpful to you, right now, in this moment.

“Please remember. You were put on this planet to build a life. Not to build a résumé, and certainly not to build your net worth. You are here to build a life, a life full of impact and a life full of meaning,” added Moon.

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