Harvard Business School Dean Admits Unequal Treatment of Women

The head of one of the nation’s most elite graduate schools apologizes, vows to improve access and treatment for female students and staff.


By Chris Hoenig

Nitin Nohria, Harvard Business School


Harvard Business School has not been fair to women, and now its chief is admitting and apologizing for it.

Nitin Nohria, Dean of HBS since 2010, surprised a room full of alumni and guests at an HBS Association of Northern California event in San Francisco. Women at the school, both students and staff, felt “disrespected, left out and unloved by the school. I’m sorry on behalf of the business school,” he said. “The school owed you better, and I promise it will be better.”

To start “making it better,” Nohria committed to building a larger role for women in HBS’ signature case studies. Harvard Business School is responsible for about 80 percent of all graduate-level business-school case studies worldwide, but women only hold a protagonist role in about 9 percent of those. Over the next five years, that number will increase to 20 percent, according to Nohria.

But that benchmark wasn’t enough for the women in the audience, who let out an audible sigh at the announcement.

Other measures include a program to increase the number of women serving on corporate boards and a mentorship program for female students and alumni. “We want to make sure the school provides pathways for alumni to help each other,” Nohria said.

The dean’s comments come just after the school wrapped up the 50th anniversary of the first women being admitted to HBS—eight women enrolled at the school in 1963. Over the next 22 years, that number would grow to just 25 percent of the student body. This year, Nohria announced that there would be a record percentage of women at HBS: 41 percent of the new class.

Despite their mistreatment, women thrive at HBS—if they can get in. The top 5 percent of each year’s graduating class are recognized as Baker Scholars. A record 38 percent of those receiving the honor were women in the class of 2013.

Cathy Benko, Vice Chairman and Managing Principal at Deloitte (No. 11 in the DiversityInc Top 50), is an HBS alum. “My path was a rather circuitous one growing up the middle of five daughters in a single-parent household. Higher education wasn’t a realistic or financially practical goal,” she told the Huffington Post. “My choice of Harvard Business School was pragmatic: It had a stellar reputation and didn’t accept GMATs.”

Other HBS alumni include former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, President George W. Bush, former Time Inc. CEO Ann Moore, General Electric Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Immelt, Grok CEO Donna Dubinsky, former General Motors Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner, ex-jcpenney CEO Ron Johnson and self-help author Steven Covey.

Recommended Articles


  • Very interesting article. There is power in this brave acknowledgement by Dean Nohria. It got me wondering, has the B school also treated African-Americans unfairly? What about the school’s treatment towards gays and other disenfranchised groups? Have these issues been reviewed, as well?

  • I am sure that the situation is worse for women who are part of a “minority” group. It would be very interesting to have the data.

  • “Women at the school, both students and staff, felt “disrespected, left out and unloved by the school. I’m sorry on behalf of the business school,” he said. “The school owed you better, and I promise it will be better.”


    Liberals are to feelings as conservatives are to thoughts. Work your way back thru most any of our recent presidential elections, you’ll likely find yourself agreeing with the majority of pundits, who’ll say that Republicans usually have better ideas while Democrats usually have more attractive candidates.Or, to put it another way that is often attributed to Churchill, a young man who is not a liberal has no heart, while an old man who is not a conservative has no brain.

    • Luke Visconti

      After W., who said of Putin, “I looked the man in the eye. I was able to get a sense of his soul,” and Palin, possibly the least intelligent person to be thrust into a VP slot since Andrew Johnson. A neocon led an illegal invasion under false pretenses (Iraq) and spent billions to build infrastructure in the world’s No. 1 grower of opium poppies (Afghanistan), resulting in record-breaking supply of heroin at historically low prices. Running a candidate so inept that he couldn’t win against a guy running an economy that hasn’t been so bad since 1934. And the current front-runners: Governor Softbrain in Texas, Governor “I’m only capable of beating Mississippi’s economy” Christie, and Ted “I’m obsessed with what other men do with their penises” Cruz. I “feel” nauseous. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

« Previous Article     Next Article »