Whatever our feelings about the NYT story, we cannot be afraid to talk about this stuff, however difficult it may be.
My guess is this article is going to generate a lot of conversation on campus. This, in my mind, is not a bad thing. I don’t have to tell you guys how powerful a conversation can be when it is conducted with purpose, openness, and thoughtfulness. You experience this every day in our case classrooms. So if you feel compelled to talk about the issues raised in the story, don’t be afraid to do so. And if you would like to invite me to join in, please know that I would welcome the opportunity to engage with you individually, in small groups, large groups, or any other format you prefer.
I realize these are not easy topics to talk about. What has always struck me about conversations about gender is how difficult it can be to achieve common ground. Everyone has an opinion on the matter and the intensity with which we hold these opinions tends to vary from person to person. Speaking for myself, I know my own feelings on gender have shifted back-and-forth over the years, mostly as a result of the accumulation of different experiences. This is probably true for all of us. And yet despite the fact that we’ve all lived through these kinds of shifts, it can still be difficult to talk to someone who isn’t in exactly the same place we are. If we meet someone who takes the matter more seriously than we do, it’s hard not to label them as too “uptight.” If we encounter someone who takes the matter less seriously than we do, it’s hard not to think, “They don’t get it.”
I think we would all agree that this is not constructive. So: if you choose to have these conversations, try to remind yourself to enter the dialogue with an open heart and open mind. We are never going to improve our overall culture if we cannot first create an open and trusting conversational culture.
I would also encourage you to remind yourself that the way you experience this place may be very different from the way others do. The truth is, when people ask me about my personal feelings about our student culture, here is what I say:
I love our culture. I worry about our culture. I celebrate and cherish our culture; I have real concerns about our culture. Is it possible for a place to be both magical and deeply imperfect, at the same time? To be both empowering and dispiriting, at the same time? It must be, because this is the HBS I know. At its best, it is a community filled with aspiration; at its worst, it is a place with far too much cynicism. It is big and diverse and multifaceted; it is a place where a variety of subcultures abound. This is the challenge and this is the blessing associated with a two-year residential experience that is totally immersive, that asks you to be all-in from Day One, and I don’t think the New York Times captured even a fraction of this multidimensionality.
As you engage in your conversations, this is what I hope you keep in mind. Remember: There are 1,800 of you living in this village, which means there is going to be friendship and community and solidarity, but there are also going to be social fissures that can be hurtful and demoralizing. A gentle reminder to be thoughtful in your words and respectful of the range of experiences…
By the way, it’s important to not lose sight of why this is so important. The reason we care about gender dynamics, or about the dynamics associated with any demographic group for that matter, is not because of political correctness, and certainly not because we care about achieving benchmarks that look good from a public relations standpoint. Our motivation is much more fundamental. We care about these things for the simple reason that we aspire to be a best practice institution, a place where everyone is able to fully thrive.
That’s why we care. Because we know that organizations thrive when the people within them are thriving. And so, we need to set the standard. The standard for opportunity, for success, for dignity and respect. When we do that, we all win.
A few additional reflections:
I’m uncomfortable with the way the NYT story framed the salary and career choice differentials.
Can I vent a little here? 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.
You are all going to do that in different ways. This is a beautiful thing. There are countless ways to have a meaningful impact on the world; your challenge is to find your own path, the one that is right for you. What this means is if you are passionate about investing, please, do it. If you are passionate about marketing, please, do it. Consulting, healthcare, social enterprise, there are no right or wrong answers here. Find the path that is right for you and embrace it with the kind of vitality and integrity that we all know you have in you. Honestly, the world needs fewer people going through the motions, doing things for the wrong reasons… and more people doing things they care deeply about.
My guess is you are already surrounded by people who have expectations about what you should do with your life post-graduation…. your family, your friends, your colleagues, your mentors. It’s hard enough to sort through all of the static and try to figure out what makes sense for you. The last thing you need is a salary graphic from the New York Times trying to influence your decision on top of that.