Gender Equity – WTF HBS‽

On September 9, 2013, in Discrimination, Heather Bussing, HRExaminer, Leadership, by Heather Bussing

The New York Times article on Gender Equity Issues at Harvard Business School reveals a culture of arrogance, self-absorption, and money as the highest good. It was about men and women "leveraging social capital" and calculating the ROI of every human interaction.

The New York Times article on Gender Equity Issues at Harvard Business School reveals a culture of arrogance, self-absorption, and money as the highest good. It was about men and women “leveraging social capital” and calculating the ROI of every human interaction.

The New York Times article on Gender Equity Issues at Harvard Business School reveals a culture of arrogance, self-absorption, and money as the highest good. It was about men and women “leveraging social capital” and calculating the ROI of every human interaction.

Sure. A certain amount of all college is about getting drunk, getting laid, and making money when you’re done. At least in law school we could pretend like we were going to help people. In Business School, it’s apparently just about power and money.  That explains a lot.

But Harvard also wanted to figure out why women didn’t do as well at HBS, didn’t make as much money when they left, why there weren’t more women professors, and ultimately, why there weren’t more women CEO’s.

“The school saw itself as the standard-bearer for American business. Turning around its record on women, the new administrators assured themselves, could have an untold impact at other business schools, at companies populated by Harvard alumni and in the Fortune 500, where only 21 chief executives are women. . . . ‘We have to lead the way, and then lead the world in doing it.’”

Harvard went to extraordinary lengths to untangle the question of gender bias, including putting stenographers in classes so professors could review transcripts and see whether they called on men more than women. They also provided coaching for women students and faculty, and required everyone to attend mandatory meetings to talk about the rampant sexual harassment on campus.

But the attitudes of women themselves is what made my head explode. Brilliant, talented, successful women were dressing provocatively to attract their male students and professors. They openly admitted to be more interested in their MRS than their MBA. One student said she blew-off studying for a midterm because she had been invited out for drinks with a group of guys, and was hoping to find someone rich to date. She didn’t want to appear to be too ambitious in class, because it would hurt her “social capital.”

The “heroine” of the story was a smart, funny, overweight student who wasn’t afraid to speak out because she was already excluded and had nothing to lose. In one of the mandatory sensitivity meetings, she talked about how the school revolved around appearance and money, and whether you could ever get connected to Section X, a group of extremely wealthy students who had lavish parties.

But while the Dean leveraged the prestige of a degree from HBS to force all the men to participate in the program, they saw it as a mild annoyance on their way to getting drunk, then leveraging their degrees to get rich. The women, and even the New York Times reporters went along. By the end of the article the overweight girl had lost 100 pounds, given the graduation speech, had a job at McKinsey, and “was dating more than she had a school.” (Cue boat and/or horse with sunset on the distant horizon. Optional tune: If I Had a Boat by Lyle Lovett.)

And the school realized how deep-seated the problems are.

No shit.

But the “problem” is not just about gender, or money, or class, or privilege.

It’s about power.

These are the people running our companies and our government. They believe that money is the most important thing, and the rules don’t apply to them.

There is nothing wrong with money, power, or success. But none of these things is a substitute for meaning and human relationships.

And although we live in a democracy, where everyone has one vote and the law provides for equal opportunity, most of us give our power away.

Instead of being ourselves, we want to look good. Instead of being kind, we compete. Instead of taking responsibility, we blame others.

Yet, you can’t force people to give up what they have through anger, guilt, or even the truth. It’s a waste of energy to complain, fight, or make demands. Anything that involves trying to change other people usually doesn’t work. When it does, it takes generations.

Real change requires something far more demanding, radical, courageous, and subversive. It requires that we be brave enough and vulnerable enough to be ourselves.

Change comes from being compassionate, curious, and kind. These things are not something you can legislate, mandate, or leverage. They are attributes you must develop yourself, and then demonstrate over and over again.

If we start by learning to be comfortable in our own skin, we will see clearly how to live and what to do. And everything around us will change.

As Anne Lamott explained: “I’m here to be me, which is taking a great deal longer than I had hoped.”

But there’s no wait to begin. Start anywhere.

 
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