Harvard Business School's " Woman Problem"
BY Jerry Useem
This is an excerpt from an article that appeared in the June 1998 issue of Inc.
On June 4, when members of Harvard Business School's class of 1998 file across the platform to receive The Most Powerful Degree in the World, only 24% of the procession will be female. That's the lowest percentage of any HBS graduating class since the mid-1980s, and lower than any other leading business school. But the gender imbalance won't be the most glaring manifestation of what has come to be known, simply, as Harvard Business School's "woman problem." At least one student will also be missing from the procession.
The student, a man, is one of six who were disciplined earlier this month for harassing their female classmates during their first year at the B-school. All were members of Section G, one of the 80-student units in which first years take all their classes. Among other infractions, the men were found to have passed women lewd and sexually explicit notes. Some of those were among a packet of notes given to Inc. anonymously.
"You look delicious presenting your shareholder argument. Come over here so I can lick you!" one note read.
"What do you say we go and get a stall in the men's bathroom after the session and undertake over own 'review' session?" asked another.
On April 7, more than a year after some of the events in question took place, the school handed down sanctions to six of the note writers. (All of the disciplined students contacted by Inc. declined to comment.) All six will have to apologize to the B-school community as a condition to graduating. At least one of the students will be prohibited from crossing the platform at graduation ceremonies, though he will receive his diploma.
Two days later, the afternoon before Good Friday, HBS Dean Kim Clark issued a memo announcing that "a small group of students in the section" were being punished for what he later termed "salacious" behavior. According to the HBS student newspaper, the Harbus News, the memo was released to pre-empt reporting by Inc., which had been investigating the issue for more than a week.
But the "small group of students" story left many insiders shaking their heads, as conversations with dozens of students, alumni, and faculty made clear. They say that those students' behavior, though inappropriate, was all too typical of the fraternity house atmosphere that has come to pervade the world's top training ground for business leaders. Says a woman from Section G: "It's not a case of a few bad apples."
Some feel, moreover, that the six students are being scapegoated for the administration's history of unresponsiveness to the issue.
"There's a constant blizzard of these notes being passed around every section," says one faculty member. "Punishing these students is like picking six snowflakes out of a snowstorm and prosecuting them for ruining the driveway."