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Harvard Business School Aims to Become “Go-To Place” on Gender Issues

HBSHarvard Business School (HBS) wants to help the world understand gender-related matters as never before—so today it launched a brand-new Gender Initiative designed to promote gender equity in the business world and society as a whole.

“Harvard Business School and its faculty have been leaders in defining the roles and functions of business, as well as effective business practice,” Dean Nitin Nohria said in a statement. “With the launch of this initiative, we want to have a similar and lasting impact on the way the world understands and acts upon gender-related matters.”

HBS Senior Associate Dean for Culture and Community Robin Ely will lead the new initiative, which will have as its main goal to provide rigorous research to ground discussions about gender, helping people make better-informed decisions as they relate to themselves, their families, their companies and their communities, she said.

Case in point: research released Friday by HBS Professor Kathleen McGinn providing evidence of advantages for children of working mothers. McGinn, together with Mayra Ruiz Castro, a researcher at HBS, and Elizabeth Long Lingo of Mt. Holyoke College, studied 50,000 adults in 25 countries. They found that in 24 out of 25 countries studied, the daughters of working mothers completed more years of education, had higher rates of employment and were more likely both to supervise others and earn higher incomes than those of moms who stayed at home. Sons of working moms, while their careers were not measurably impacted, were found to contribute more time each week to childcare and housework—which research has shown to increase women’s involvement in the workforce and perhaps impact the stability of marriages.

“There are very few things, that we know of, that have such a clear effect on gender inequality as being raised by a working mother,” McGinn said in a statement.

The study was conducted as part of the new Gender Initiative. Its findings help counter still prevalent perceptions that the increase in working moms is bad for society. (A Times article Friday cited a Pew Research Study in which 41 percent of adults had that view, compared to only 22 percent who saw more working moms as a positive.) This is precisely the role HBS hopes the new initiative and its research will play.

“So much of what people think they know about gender is simply not substantiated by empirical evidence but instead is based on gender stereotypes,” Ely said in a statement. “We want to develop the initiative so that Harvard Business School becomes the ‘go-to place’ on gender issues, where both researchers and practitioners can come together to find ways to advance gender equity in the workplace and help both women and men lead whole, fulfilled and sustainable lives.”

In addition to supporting such research—and related case studies, course development and conferences—the Gender Initiative’s mission includes spotlighting the intersection between gender and other axes of inequality and expanding women’s opportunities to lead and “challenge discrimination, stereotypes, implicit biases and power disparities  that limit both men’s and women’s ability to thrive,” according to a press release.

Further, HBS hopes to support collaboration among HBS faculty and other scholars and practitioners interested in issues of gender and to cultivate a community of business leaders who are committed to advancing women and promoting gender equity.

Nohria, appointed in 2010 by Drew Gilpin Faust, Harvard’s first-ever female president, has pledged since joining the business school to help redefine gender relations on campus. In September 2013, a front page New York Times article outlined efforts he had led for the prior two years to foster greater success among its female MBA students through changes to the school’s curriculum, rules and social rituals. In January 2014, Nohria promised to increase the number of female protagonists in HBS case studies from 9 to 20 percent by 2019.

Learn more about the new HBS Gender Initiative.