How Star Women Succeed: Leading Effective Careers and Organizations - Harvard Business School MBA Program

How Star Women Succeed: Leading Effective Careers and Organizations

Course Number 2062

Professor Boris Groysberg
Winter; Q3Q4; 3 credits
25 Sessions

Career Focus

The focus of this course is twofold: managing one's own individual talents, and managing gender diversity in the workplace. Men, as well as women, will be able to leverage the skills taught in this course when making their own career decisions, as well as when managing, being managed by, or collaborating with others.

Educational Objectives

The objectives of this course are 1) to help students develop the skills necessary to successfully build a business career, navigate challenges and opportunities presented in the workplace, and most effectively leverage their talent 2) to give leaders strategies for leveraging female talent at an organizational level.

Foundations for the Course

The foundation for this course comes from the following four sources:

Research on "How Star Women Succeed"

To better understand how successful women build their careers, we have interviewed women in senior leadership positions across the globe. To date, we have interviewed over 250 highly successful women. The participants represent the for-profit (75 percent), not-for-profit (15 percent) and government and military sectors (10 percent) of 17 countries. Close to 40 percent of participants hold or have held the position of CEO, chair and/or president; the sample includes two U.S. ambassadors, two recent U.S. secretaries of labor, and three military generals. Twenty participants have been named by Fortune or Forbes to their "Most Powerful Women in the World" rankings. Insights from these interviews are contrasted with findings from interviews of star men. We have also conducted surveys and in-depth interviews of both female and male members of corporate boards of directors, in order to contrast their experience.

Research on Organizations That Successfully Leverage Female Talent

We have interviewed 25 CEOs (both men and women) of large companies from around the world that are succeeding in leveraging female talent. The purpose of these interviews was to gather data on what motivates CEOs to make diversity a priority in their companies, what they determine as the barriers facing women, and what practices they have in place to combat those barriers and achieve an inclusive workplace.

Examination of Courses at Top Business Schools

We have collected data on the top-ranked 75 business schools in the United States to examine what courses are being offered in the field of women and leadership and to determine common trends and topics, as well as demand from students. This study has been used to identify the best and most popular articles, cases, research, and topics to be covered in this course.

HBS Student Survey

For three years, we have surveyed MBA students to gather their feedback on the creation of an elective course on "star women." The feedback from these students on what topics they would like to see incorporated into the course played a crucial role in course development.

Course Content and Organization

This course has been specifically designed to teach practical skills for leaders who seek to best leverage their own talent, and that of the women they work with. Male and female case protagonists will come to the classroom to offer their insights and share their experiences. In addition to case discussions and other exercises, students will choose one of two field projects, which will allow them to somewhat customize the course to their own major interest-managing themselves or managing others.

Segment I: An Individual Approach

In this segment, students will analyze the career trajectories of successful women and determine what lessons from these women's experiences can be applied to their own lives and inform their own decisions. Topics will include: leveraging strengths, managing both men and other women, finding mentors, networking, negotiating, mapping careers, finding the right organization, managing transitions, achieving work-life balance, and developing the right traits and leadership skills.

Segment II: An Organizational Approach

The second segment will focus on an organizational approach to leveraging female talent. In this segment, students will analyze the best practices of companies that leverage their female talent well. Topics will include: the role of leadership, organizational practices, and creating an inclusive culture. In addition, in this segment, students will examine the role of women in business around the world and the societal implications for businesswomen in different countries.


Students will have a choice of two projects. Students interested in best practices in managing their own human capital will interview about a dozen male and female senior executives and board members from around the world about how they have managed their careers and write a report summarizing their findings. These executives come from a group of male and female executives who have already agreed to be part of the course, although students can also use their own networks for this exercise.

Students interested in the organizational side of the course will examine an organization, evaluate its effectiveness in leveraging female talent, and offer an action plan for improvement based on their findings and the lessons they have learned in the course. Students can choose an organization or be assigned one.