The first eight women to enter the full 2 year MBA programme at HBS in 1963

In 1962 faculty at Harvard Business School voted for women to be directly admitted to the school’s MBA programme.

The following year eight women joined the programme to study alongside 676 male students. Today, with women comprising 40 per cent of the class of 2014, the school has come a long way, but as a new case shows, more still needs to be done.

The case,‘Women MBAs at Harvard Business School: 1962-2012 is being introduced by Nitin Nohria, dean of HBS to all second-year MBA students to mark International Women’s Day. The case is also being taught to all first-year MBA students by members of the teaching staff.

Prof Nohria looks at how the school has integrated women into its MBA programme over the last 50 years. In his introduction he reflects on HBS’s future role regarding women in management education and how to help women in business advance in their careers.

But, as the case demonstrates, there is still work to be done to leverage diversity.

Written by Boris Groysberg, a professor of business administration, Kerry Harman, associate director of the HBS Global Research Group and research associate Annelene Lobb, the study contains anecdotes gleaned from 60 interviews with male and female alumni over the past 50 years. Not all of these interviews are positive.

For example, some former female MBAs recount their sense of being taken less seriously by their fellow male students in the classroom and even by their male faculty, says Robin Ely, co-chair of the HBS Women’s 50th celebration.

However, it is this range of responses that the school wishes to showcase.

“One purpose in holding this case discussion is to have students discuss the extent to which issues raised in the case historically still exist or whether new gender issues have surfaced,” says Prof Ely.

“We believe that openly discussing these experiences and using history as a foil, will engender better gender relations among our students…which we think will stand them in good stead even as they leave HBS and enter the workforce where they will need skills for discussing and addressing gender and other diversity-related issues,” she adds.

In April the case will be taught to 700 alumni at the W50 Summit, the centre piece of the school’s 50th anniversary celebration. There is also an exhibition tracing women’s business education at Harvard from the 1930s.

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