It hardly comes a surprise that prestigious higher education institutions like Harvard Business School suffer from a lack of gender diversity. After all, Harvard didn’t start admitting women until 1977, which is perhaps why the Ivy League university is taking pains to encourage more women to apply to its Business School today.
Prominent alumni from Harvard Business School include Martin Escobari of General Atlantic, Fidelity Worldwide Investment chair Abigail Johnson, Mitt Romney, Sony CEO Michael Lynton, hedge funder Bill Ackman, former President George W. Bush, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, and others. There are definitely some powerful female businesswomen scattered among this selection of successful Harvard Business School graduates, but by and large women are outnumbered by notable male alumni.
Reportedly, of the 1,859 MBA students currently enrolled in the Business School, 41% are female. Now, members of Harvard Business School’s admissions department are attempting to increase this number by reaching out to students at women’s colleges and encouraging them to apply to the business program. One such advocate of this new imitative, dubbed “PEEK Weekend,” or simply “Peek,” is Dee Leopold, the school’s head of MBA admissions and financial aid. Of the new program, Leopold says, “It’s literally a peek into being a student here.”
PEEK Weekend will be an “educational experience for rising college juniors, seniors, and new graduates designed to increase knowledge and insight into the MBA degree,” according to the admissions department. Essentially, it will encourage women to come and stay on campus for a weekend during which they will have the opportunity participate in academic sessions and speak with Business School students and faculty to get a feel for what their experience there could be like.
Although this seems like a step in the right direction for Harvard Business School, some critics are not convinced. For one, access to PEEK Weekend will set prospective students back at least $500, which John A. Byrne, the editor of the business school news site PoetsandQuants.com finds quite troubling. “The fact that HBS, a school with the largest endowment of any in the world, would charge women for the privilege of coming to campus rubbed a lot of people the wrong way,” he commented.
Others have pointed out that the problem isn’t attracting women to the Harvard Business School, but rather making them feel advocated for and respected on campus once they’ve been accepted. Writes Emily Peck for The Huffington Post,
“For years, female students at Harvard Business School lagged behind men. There was a little-talked-about gender gab when it came to grades, and women received fewer academic honors than men. Women privately lamented the school’s ‘frat house’ vibe, according to reports. Blatant sexual harassment wasn’t limited to students. Female professors were also subject to hassling from male students, according to a 2013 report in The New York Times.”
Peck goes on to list even more deeply embedded sexist issues that the Business School will have to tackle before it will ever exist as an institution where women will genuinely feel respected and treated as equals to their male counterparts. However, she also mentions that in recent years, the school’s newest dean Nitin Nohria has come forward to address these kinds of issues head on.
Perhaps Harvard Business School’s PEEK Weekend is just the first step of many needed to combat sexism and create a more inclusive environment for women pursuing degrees in business.
Learn more about PEEK Weekend in this report from The Harvard Crimson.