Gender Versus Class at Harvard Business School

images (4)We all saw the NY Times piece on the Harvard Business School and its frat house, misogynist atmosphere. Now the Times is running a piece saying the class divide among the students is even more of a problem.

Doesn’t gender and class always compete for “what-is-the-most-important?”

Questioning whether the Harvard Business School being divided by class and gender is a problem at all, or its intent, should be acknowledged. It seems the female Dean of the HBS wants to tweek the distribution of privilege from men to women without bothering to make the case. Why? She has certainty not made the case that equity and lack of hierarchy is a teaching goal. A good school would use the class and gender division as a teaching moment — what is the goal of education?, what do we care about in our school? She might use it as a way to teach that gender divisions hurt or help business (I think it helps more than hurts) but that would require and honesty about their sense of purpose than any business school has or would ever engage in.

This conversation would hit my interest level if we were called to ask as readers of the newspapers and citizens giving up tax deductions: “Are business schools necessary?”

Prof. Daniel Mitchell at UCLA Anderson School of Management and the School of Public Affairs reports on the article in on the UCLA Faculty Association blogIn recent years, second-year students have organized a midwinter ski trip that costs over $1,000, while others, including members of “Section X,” a secret society of ultrawealthy students, spend far more on weekend party trips to places like Iceland and Moscow… When Christina Wallace, now the director of the Startup Institute, attended Harvard Business School on a scholarship, she was told by her classmates that she needed to spend more money to fully participate, and that “the difference between a good experience and a great experience is only $20,000.”

“Class was the bigger divide than gender when I was at H.B.S.,” said Ms. Wallace, who graduated in 2010. In reaction to an article published in The New York Times on Sunday about Harvard Business School’s attempt to improve its atmosphere for women, many students, alumni and readers echoed her comments. “A pervasive problem,” a member of the class of 2013 wrote on nytimes.com. Another member of the class said that she had borrowed tens of thousands of dollars a year to keep up socially, and that she never invited classmates to her parents’ home nearby because she did not feel it was lavish enough. Many alumni from decades ago, including Suzy Welch, a former editor of The Harvard Business Review, said they were startled by the culture of spending that was depicted in the article, including the news that one student had lived in a penthouse apartment at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Boston… “The Section X dynamics really deteriorate the section togetherness,” said Kate Lewis, a 2013 graduate who edited the school newspaper. By the end of this academic year, Section X had become an adjective on campus for anything exclusive and moneyed, with one student talking about a “mini Section X dynamic” within her real section. Asked in an interview about Section X, Nitin Nohria, the school’s dean, sounded crestfallen because he had hoped the group had disappeared…

Perhaps the better question to ask, rather than which is worse – the class divide or the gender divide – is what are we teaching in business school? And to what end? What is business school good for in the first place if the privileges you arrive with are compounded once you’ve made it in? Once we address this in a more serious way, then students will have equal opportunity based on merit, rather than their gender and/or class identity.

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Categories: Lady Business, Poverty and Inequality

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