By Chris Hoenig
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.