01 Jun 2015

Creating Change

Learning from the integration of the Harvard Club of New York City
Re: Roslyn Payne (MBA 1970)
by April White


(HBS Archives Photographs: Student Life)

In 1970, there were no female members of the Harvard Club of New York City, and women entered the club through a separate entrance. Alumna Roslyn Payne (MBA 1970) and her classmates were determined to change that. Their strategies are valuable lessons for anyone seeking to change an organization from within, says Professor Kathleen McGinn, who recently presented on the topic to the HBS Women’s Association of New England.

She outlines four steps to creating change in the face of resistance:


“Learn why people are resisting change and work through the existing structure.” Women from the Classes of 1970 and 1971 wrote letters and met with decision-makers.


“Figure out who those committed and powerful people are who can help you make a change.” For those seeking to open the doors to the Harvard Club, one such ally was then-University President Nathan Pusey.


“Frame the change. Effective change processes draw attention to the ways in which the change will parallel accepted practices.” The Harvard Club would never have separate doors for different races, the women argued, so why would it have different doors for men and women.


“Finally, worsen the other side’s no-agreement alternative. If people in the organization think the worse thing that can happen is that everything stays the same, it’s very hard to push change.” The alumni advocating for change filed a lawsuit that would have closed the club’s bar. Shortly thereafter, in January 1973, the club voted to admit women members.


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