“We have to lead the way, and then lead the world in doing it,” said Frances Frei, her words suggesting the school’s sense of mission but also its self-regard. Frei, a popular professor turned administrator who had become a target of student ire, was known for the word “unapologetic,” as in: we are unapologetic about the changes we are making.By graduation, the school had become a markedly better place for female students, according to interviews with more than 70 professors, administrators and students, who cited more women participating in class, record numbers of women winning academic awards and a much-improved environment, down to the male students drifting through the cafeteria wearing T-shirts celebrating the 50th anniversary of the admission of women.As faculty members pointed out, the more exquisitely gender-sensitive the school environment became, the less resemblance it bore to the real business world.
But they lectured about respect and civility, expanded efforts like the hand-raising coaching and added stenographers in every class so professors would no longer rely on possibly biased memories of who had said what.
They rounded out the case-study method, in which professors cold-called students about a business’s predicament, with a new course called Field, which grouped students into problem-solving teams.
Yet now that she had arrived at the business school at age 25, she was being taught how to raise her hand. Every year the same hierarchy emerged early on: investment bank and hedge fund veterans, often men, sliced through equations while others — including many women — sat frozen or spoke tentatively.
A second-year student, a former member of the military, stood in the front of the classroom issuing commands: Reach up assertively! The deans did not want to publicly dwell on the problem: that might make the women more self-conscious.
But during that week’s festivities, the Class Day speaker, a standout female student, alluded to “the frustrations of a group of people who feel ignored.” Others grumbled that another speechmaker, a former chief executive of a company in steep decline, was invited only because she was a woman.
At a reception, a male student in tennis whites blurted out, as his friends laughed, that much of what had occurred at the school had “been a painful experience.” He and his classmates had been unwitting guinea pigs in what would have once sounded like a far-fetched feminist fantasy: What if Harvard Business School gave itself a gender makeover, changing its curriculum, rules and social rituals to foster female success?
The grade gap had vaporized so fast that no one could quite say how it had happened.
The interventions had prompted some students to revolt, wearing “Unapologetic” T-shirts to lacerate Ms.
The country’s premier business training ground was trying to solve a seemingly intractable problem.
Year after year, women who had arrived with the same test scores and grades as men fell behind.
Attracting and retaining female professors was a losing battle; from 2006 to 2007, a third of the female junior faculty left.