To the contrary, she found upon entering with the class of 2015 that fewer than one in three of her peers were female. Faculty used language “that was more focused toward males” or were “teaching things about communications that were more male styles, rather than a more balanced style,” Benintende says.
The lack of gender parity, and its effect on classroom learning, would drive Andresen, Silberberg, Benintende and four of their peers to take action – and help Haas to reach a record proportion of women for the latest class: 43%, up from 29% the year before.
ACTION SPEAKS LOUDER THAN WORDS
The student initiative started as a research group. “We decided to act rather than just talk,” says Andresen. They approached some faculty members, including McElhaney, and found them very supportive to the idea of an intensive effort to boost the percentage of female students at Haas, and to bring gender parity to the school’s culture and academics. Then, in a group of six women and two men that represented a diverse set of student organizations, plus a few staff members including McElhaney, they met with dean Richard Lyons in April. “He said, ‘This sounds great, I’m so happy you guys came to me and are focused on this.'” Lyons asked the students what immediate steps he could take, Benintende says. “We encouraged him to get female faculty and high-powered female alumni to call female applicants,” Benintende says. “He’s become an extraordinary supporter of seeing all of this move forward and become more integrated into the fabric of the school.”
Last spring, a student approached the professor of a core class on strategy, and advised him that he habitually defaulted to male pronouns when discussing people of unspecified gender. Next class, the professor told the students he’d “do his best to diversify his pronouns,” Andresen says. When the mid-term exam came, it had an equal number of female and male protagonists, Andresen says. The professor had said he hadn’t given the gender representation in class materials much thought before it was brought to his attention, she says. “It was a really eye-opening experience for him and one he was super happy to quickly rectify,” Andresen says.
Through the Women In Leadership club, the students helped present admissions events in key U.S. cities: New York, Chicago, Washington, San Francisco, Seattle. The events were aimed at women admitted to Haas but yet undecided about where to get their MBAs, but as with the other elements of the students’ gender-parity initiative, men were welcome. “We want men to opt into coming to a school that’s focused on gender equity,” Benintende says.
ENTER THE ‘MANBASSADORS’
In fact, there’s a name for the male members of the Women In Leadership club: they’re “manbassadors,” Andresen says.
McElhaney believes the student’s gender-equality activism was a significant force behind Haas’s single-year jump from 29% women to 43%.
This fall, seven of the gender-activist students – five female and two male – created for themselves an independent study course to examine what worked and what didn’t in reaching the 43% mark, and to analyze gender representation in Haas’s culture, academics, and administration. “The whole idea was to interview students, find out what made an impact on them, and then repeat it again the next year,” Benintende says. The group also looked into the student experience, comparing their class of 2015 to the one that followed.
“The women in the 2015 class felt either less sense of community, less a part of the community, and in many cases less satisfied with their experiences than the women in the 2016 class that had a higher percentage of women peers,” Benintende says.
One of those class of ’16 students was Ryann Kopacka, a former strategy and operations consultant for Deloitte in Atlanta, and a former Team USA triathlete. With a master’s in industrial engineering and a history in supply chain work, “being the only woman in the room wasn’t weird,” Kopacka says. However, before coming to Haas, she attended a conference by the Forte Foundation, an organization dedicated to promoting women in business and leadership. At the event, Kopacka met women she’d enter Haas with, and she began to learn about the gender issues in business school. With 43% women in her class, entering the MBA program felt like a celebration of progress, Kopacka says. “The question after the celebratory phase was, ‘How do we continue this? How do we ensure that it’s not a blip?'”
HOW GENDER IMBALANCE PLAYS OUT IN CLASS
Now that she’s in the program, and has become aware of gender-related concerns, she’s noticed what happens within herself in classes where men make up a strong majority. “I find myself speaking up less in classes with more men,” Kopacka says. “It’s not the thought that, ‘Oh, I’m a female and I’m going to let the men speak.’ It’s that I’m not as motivated to speak, or I don’t feel as comfortable.”