17 Dec 2015
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Addressing Gender Equity In Business And Society


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Professor Robin Ely
(Photo by John Deputy)

With the launch of the Gender Initiative in spring 2015, HBS is poised to become an important resource for research on gender. “So much of what people think they know about gender is simply not substantiated by empirical evidence, but instead is based on stereotypes,” says Robin Ely, the initiative’s faculty chair, who is also the Diane Doerge Wilson Professor of Business Administration and senior associate dean for culture and community. “One of our main goals is to ground discussions about gender in rigorous research so that people can make better-informed decisions for themselves, their families, their companies, and their communities.”

HBS research on gender has indeed upended conventional wisdom. A recent study by Kathleen McGinn, Cahners-Rabb Professor of Business Administration, links working mothers to high levels of career achievement by their daughters, and research by Ely shows that cultures of overwork—rather than the lack of family-friendly policies—impede gender equity. The School’s own Life and Leadership After HBS alumni study, launched in 2012, is teasing out intricacies of career, work, and family dynamics, and exploring the gender gap in leadership.

Research findings are integrated into the MBA curriculum through an expanded pool of case studies with female protagonists—an effort led by Boris Groysberg (DBA 2002), Richard P. Chapman Professor of Business Administration—as well as through the creation of new courses. Groysberg himself has written such cases and uses them in the elective he developed, How Star Women Succeed. One case he teaches, “BlackRock: Diversity as a Driver for Success,” examines BlackRock’s efforts to increase diversity in management and build a more inclusive culture at the firm.

The work of the faculty is disseminated more broadly through Harvard Business Review, the online research forum HBS Working Knowledge, the annual “HBS Gender and Work Symposium,” academic journals, and national media.

The Gender Initiative is illustrative of the School’s commitment to inclusion and the advancement of women leaders. It was inspired by the robust body of research on gender conducted by various faculty members and conceived during the 2013 commemoration of 50 years of women in the MBA Program. Today, women make up 41 percent of MBA students, and HBS is furthering its outreach to potential admission candidates who are female. In June of 2015, 124 undergraduates from 14 women’s colleges attended PEEK, a new two-day on-campus academic experience designed to give applicants an introduction to HBS and to business.

Ultimately, Ely hopes the School will become the go-to destination for relevant research on gender, where researchers and practitioners can come together to find ways to advance equity in the workplace and to help both women and men improve their quality of life.

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