Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria publicly apologized for the school's treatment of female students and professors

Business schools remain male-dominated cultures where men account for the vast majority of students, faculty, and administrators. Back in September 2013 a lengthy front-page article in The New York Times described Harvard Business School's efforts to deal with gender inequality. The story fueled a major debate on gender issues at Harvard and many other business schools, bringing attention to a problem that is rarely discussed or acknowledged openly.

Now five months on, at a ballroom in the Ritz Carlton Hotel in San Francisco before 600 alumni and guests, Dean Nitin Nohria acknowledged that HBS had sometimes treated its female students and professors offensively.

Nohria conceded there were times when women at Harvard felt "disrespected, left out, and unloved by the school. I'm sorry on behalf of the business school," he told a hushed room. "The school owed you better, and I promise it will be better."

Among other things, Nohria pledged to more than double the percentage of women who are protagonists in Harvard case studies over the next five years, to 20%. Currently, about 9% of Harvard case studies -- which account for 80% of the cases studied at business schools around the world -- have women as protagonists.

At the event, Nohria said that a record 41% of this year's entering class of MBAs were women, up from 35% 10 years ago and only 25% in the class of 1985. "A lot of people wondered if we had to put a thumb on the scale," he said, to reach the record female enrollment number. "Everyone of those women deserve to be at Harvard Business School."

Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria

Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria


Harvard Business School began to admit women to its two-year MBA program in 1963 with eight students. Last year, the school ran a series of events to celebrate the 50th anniversary, using the shorthand "W50" to acknowledge the milestone. The school now has 11,000 MBA alumnae around the globe, including more than 1,200 women in Northern California.

The dean also told the group that last year's class of female MBA graduates at Harvard received a higher percentage of academic honors than their actual representation in the class of 2013. A record 38% of last year's Baker Scholars were women. Baker Scholars are graduates who make up the top 5% of Harvard's graduating class.

Noting a recent World Economic Forum report that showed the U.S. trailing more than 20 other countries when it comes to women in leadership roles, Nohria said "we can do better and we must do better. Harvard Business School has to lead the way to make that happen. We are taking many steps to ensure that W50 is not an event."

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