What does feminism mean to you?
This is the question that we—the leadership of the Women’s Student Association and the HBS Manbassador Program—asked our peers in a recent survey. The above words and phrases are representative of the over 400 anonymous responses we received from HBS students. Some of these students self-identify as feminists, while others do not.
We understand that the word carries myriad meanings and connotations for women and men across the world. What we sought to learn through this survey is how HBS students associate with the term. The survey results demonstrate just how personal and multifaceted it is within our community—there are, it seems, infinite shades of feminism.
More broadly, as we celebrate International Women’s Day this month, we felt inspired to better understand how members of the HBS community—both male and female students—feel about topics related to gender inequity. To what extent do students believe gender inequity is a problem in the world? At HBS? In their own lives? Are there sufficient opportunities on campus to discuss these issues? Do they feel safe openly discussing gender inequity with people of the other gender?
As leaders of the WSA and the Manbassadors, we strongly believe in our shared responsibility to create and nurture a space in which the HBS community can openly explore these questions in an environment that is respectful, safe, and free from judgment. After all, while the survey reveals discrepancies between how students of different genders view some of these questions, both men and women similarly feel that there exist insufficient opportunities for these discussions to take place.
We are extremely grateful to the students who shared openly with us about their views on gender inequity and feminism. We found the survey results to evoke myriad complex and nuanced questions, and we sincerely hope that you feel moved by them as well. Below, you will find a number of questions that we’ve asked ourselves after reading the results. We invite you to use these questions as a foundation in building your own discussions around the survey results—within your sections or beyond.
Our hope and purpose in sharing these results is to invite a diverse set of perspectives and opinions to engage on these critical issues, to build bridges, to explore ways to push the debate further, to grow in mutual understanding, and to learn.
What you will see in the following results are the aggregated responses from 409 students: 220 males (82% of whom signed the Manbassador pledge) and 185 females (with four respondents choosing not to identify their gender). We asked a series of questions based on a 7-point scale, with 1 representing the lowest end of the scale (e.g., not at all a problem) and 7 representing the highest end of the scale (e.g., a very large problem). The survey was distributed to the Manbassador listserv, WSA Newsletter, all RC sections in newsletters and Slack channels, and to select EC sections. Of the approximately 1,090 total men on campus, approximately 44% (484) signed the Manbassador pledge. While we recognize there is a bias in the distribution methodology for men with a heavy leaning toward Manbassadors, a notable sample of men who did not sign the pledge took the survey (n = 39).
Questions Evoked by the Survey Results
- Both men and women at HBS feel similarly influenced by social perception when speaking about and acting on their beliefs. Is the pressure different when it comes to difficult topics like gender, race, and sexual orientation?
- Are there benefits to speaking more freely about these topics? What can be done to allow us to speak more openly?
- Why is it that some students believe that their friends of the opposite gender may not know their true views on gender equity? How do we change this?
- Some male and female students appear to recognize disparate impacts of gender inequity on their respective lives. How can we create a community at HBS where this disparity is reduced or eliminated?
- According to the survey, male students are more unlikely to report that gender inequity is a problem. Is gender inequity a problem in men’s lives?
- Are men and women MBA students reaping the same benefits from HBS?
- What leadership lessons can we derive from these survey results?
- What does feminism mean to you?
- Is it useful and possible for us to develop a shared definition of feminism at HBS?
This article was written (and the underlying research was conducted) on behalf of the Women’s Student Association and Manbassador communities.