Gender at HBS: An Open Letter to the Harbus

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We are three women from the Class of 2013 who are writing in response to the Harbus articles regarding the recent New York Times feature on gender at HBS.  We believe that, amidst the commentary prompted by the coverage, the Harbus conversation, led by the pieces “It will be OK,” and “A Response to Jodi Kantor,” have perhaps missed the opportunity to initiate a productive dialogue on gender issues at our school.  We think that a valuable campus discussion should focus internally on the issues that prompted the article, and their implications for campus culture, rather than externally on how those outside HBS perceive the school.

We believe that a key piece of the conversation – the direct acknowledgement and discussion of gender issues at HBS – is missing because the HBS community is reluctant to admit to a problem for fear of somehow devaluing the institution.  We disagree.  We think that this kind of coverage is an empowering exercise, a labor of love for our alma mater, that will make it a better place.  We found our interactions with classmates and colleagues after the article’s publication, in addition to our interactions with Ms. Kantor during her reporting, made us prouder of our school than ever before.

The denial that difficulties exist only serves to discount the personal opinions of fellow students and ignore the bold efforts of the current administration to better campus life. We admire and relate to the Harbus respondents’ efforts to come to our school’s defense.  It is easy to take exception to a report that contains viewpoints that are critical of aspects of HBS because the school is so near and dear to our hearts.  But we must remember that the article is not intended to be a sweeping depiction of the common HBS experience, nor do we believe that its implication is that women cannot and do not have a positive experience at HBS.

To the contrary, the article strove to convey how far our school has come, especially with the efforts of the current administration, to greatly improve the climate for women in recent years. While the breadth of HBS experiences could not be captured in a single article, we are proud that the perspectives featured – from the three of us to Patrick Erker, who managed a women’s basketball team – are anything but stereotypical.

We are also aware of the fear that this press coverage will dilute the HBS brand.  Indeed, this fear will in fact be realized if members of the HBS community refuse to acknowledge realities and dismiss thoughtful external coverage. If those on the outside perceive HBS as a place where contrary opinions and open dialogue is unwelcome as a result of this article, we all lose.  On the other hand, HBS and the way it is viewed by the world will be strengthened if we can use this recent attention to facilitate and sustain an open dialogue on this very important topic. The three of us are absolutely better off, in countless ways, for our incredible two years at HBS. This is a place worth fighting for. Let’s not shy away from the hard conversations.

Brooke Boyarsky, a consultant for McKinsey in Dallas, is a Baker Scholar and the 2013 Class Day speaker.  Kate Lewis, the former co-Editor-in-Chief of the Harbus, now works at McKinsey’s Dubai office.  Neda Navab, leader of the 2013 Portrait Project, currently works for Box, a cloud content management start-up, in San Francisco.  All of the authors are members of the Class of 2013 and were quoted by Jodi Kantor in the New York Times piece mentioned in this editorial. 

Photo Credit: Emma Toshack, 2013. http://emtoshack.com/ 

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