HALF A century after Harvard Business School first opened its doors to women, the school’s leadership is pursuing an ambitious plan to make it more female-friendly. The “gender makeover,” chronicled in a recent front-page feature in The New York Times, includes some straightforward remedies for female underachievement. Unfortunately, the initiative has more dubious aspects that infantilize grown women and men, promote polarization, and compromise women’s accomplishments — while failing to address issues highly relevant to their success.
The business school’s “woman problem” is not an invention. Women, who now make up over a third of the students, arrive at the school with qualifications similar to their male peers’ — but they have tended to lag behind academically, receiving a disproportionately low share of Baker Scholarships given to the top 5 percent of each graduating class. (In 2009, only 11 percent of Baker Scholars were women; in 2010, 20 percent.) Women were doing well on tests, but their grades were suffering due to lower marks for class participation.