In 2013, HBS celebrated 50 years of women in the MBA program. Eight women joined the Class of 1965 – and this year 383 women from the
Class of 2015 walked across the stage to collect their diplomas.
So what is it like to be a woman in business school – and at
HBS in particular? We recently spoke with Suzanne Willis and Jessica Snow-Wasserman
(both from the Class of 2015) about what they think women need to know about
1. There is support for women in business
school on many levels
Suzanne: At HBS the Women’s Student Association (WSA) is one of
the largest student groups on campus. Its mission is to support women at HBS
and to actively foster a community that will help women be successful – both during
and after the MBA program.
The WSA’s activities range from female student-led final
review sessions (basically the best way for first years to prepare for exams),
to second year mentoring programs, to advocating for more female case
I think the biggest impact for me has been the subtle
cultural shift on campus towards gender equality – seeing female students representing women as
strong business leaders via cases and on campus events, and spreading this
vision beyond our campus via the Dynamic Women in Business Conference.
Jessica: In many
campaigns for equal rights – including those around race, sexuality, and
more – those seeking equality often struggle to achieve success without help from
those in power/those in the majority. In light of that, we have a Manbassadors
initiative on campus which is about considering how women’s organizations can
utilize the power of the majority to further equality for women.
Additionally, the WSA has many programs to help women at
HBS, from more social interactions to mentorship opportunities to career
For me personally, the biggest benefits I’ve derived from
the WSA have been social; I’ve loved meeting highly intelligent, fun, friendly
women who share similar career ambitions. As a member of the WSA board, I feel
like I get to regularly interact with some of the people on the HBS campus who
care most about gender equality. That’s an awesome experience!
2. Business school can open up new career
back, I had some specific goals for pursuing my MBA in general. I wanted to
develop a more comprehensive business toolkit. With a background in chemistry
and history, I had learned all of my business skills in a haphazard way at my
previous job; I wanted to fill in the gaps in a systematic way. I also wanted to test different potential
career options via classes, internship opportunities, conversations with
classmates, and side projects.
Jessica: I had a
very liberal arts background (majored in Women’s Studies undergrad), and I felt
that I really needed more of a business education to move forward. I also wanted to
pursue a career switch: I was previously in high tech and, while I loved my
job, I wanted an opportunity to travel and move more with my job, so I decided
to pursue consulting. As much as I value my undergraduate degree, I don’t think
I could have successfully become a consultant without my MBA.
3. Women with MBAs are doing awesome things
It’s a fact that women with MBAs go on to do amazing things
in the world. Just take a look at what Sheryl Sandberg, Sheila Marcelo, Meg Whitman, Ann Fudge,
Abigail Johnson, Alexis Maybank and Alexandra Wilkis Wilson
have been up to since graduating from HBS.
As you go about deciding whether business school is the
right next step for you, reach out to your network and learn from them. Find
mentors to nurture you. Take advice from women who have gone through this before
you. “Ask business school graduates questions about their experiences – what
did they like and not like?” suggests Suzanne. “It helped me to peel back the
onion on what the actual student experience is like at different institutions.”
And as for Jessica’s advice for women? It’s simple: “Don’t
ever be afraid to show others how smart you are.”