At Harvard Business School, 42% of the MBA Class of 2019 are women, and the Women’s Student Association (WSA) is the largest club on campus. Women can face unique challenges in the workplace, and we often hear questions from prospective students about how women experience business school. 

To give you more insight, we checked in with leaders from the WSA to learn out more about their experiences and viewpoints. Here are the six most important things they thought you should know about being a woman at HBS.

1.  You’ll find support and resources for women on campus

“The resources and the size and influence of the WSA is a huge support system in itself. I wanted to become more involved in WSA primarily because I wanted to meet all the incredible women here at HBS. In terms of HBS culture, I feel very much a part of it. That is, I don't walk around thinking 'I'm a female HBS student'…I'm an HBS student!” 

“I was a little nervous initially speaking up in class, but I quickly found there are many systems in place to help anyone in a situation where they’re afraid to participate. First, the professors track their call patterns to ensure they’re getting everyone into the conversation and they’ll make sure to call on you (even if you’re hand isn’t raised – we call this a “cold call”) to draw you into the discussion. The school also offers tutoring and workshops on class participation. What worked best for me was more organic in my section – we set up ‘comment buddies’ in other areas of the classroom. Your comment buddy would give you a signal if you needed to participate, and then give you feedback after class to help improve your comment.” 

2.  You’ll be inspired by female faculty members in the classroom 

“I was surprised and excited on my first day of class when I realized that I had two female professors. Kristen Mugford is an incredible advocate for women in business - especially for women in investing (where women remain significantly underrepresented). Caroline Elkins, my FIELD Foundations professor, is passionate about ensuring students recognize implicit, gender-driven biases at school and in the workplace. She is an incredibly accomplished woman across disciplines and teaches at three separate Harvard programs (she’s also a Pulitzer Prize winner!).” 

3.  You’ll encounter female protagonists in cases you read

“I think it's incredibly important for women to read about female case protagonists. Not merely for the women in section (though it's definitely important for us!) but also for the men who may not have spent much time considering women's roles in the workplace.” 

“The first year Required Curriculum featured several strong female protagonists in LEAD this year (Taran Swan at Nickelodeon and Toby Johnson at PepsiCo stick out as particularly memorable). Toby Johnson is a strong female protagonist who is decisive, delegates well, and able to see the big picture - characteristics that women are sometimes criticized for not exemplifying. Having a discussion about their strengths and challenges as a co-ed section is quite powerful, and it provides tangible examples of exemplary women in leadership positions.”

4. You’ll get exposed to inspiring female alumni

“I am inspired by Tracy Palandjian, who founded Social Finance US after a successful career in asset management and consulting. She is changing the funding landscape for social/public causes with the pay-for-success model, and seems to have a well-balanced professional and personal life.”

“When it comes to an HBS alumna who inspires me I have to go with Sheryl Sandberg. I know, she's the obvious answer. But I am consistently impressed by the example she sets, and not just for women -- for anyone in the workforce, for anyone in the public eye, for anyone balancing work and family.”

5. You’ll find women offer a unique perspective during discussions 

“I absolutely think women offer a different perspective in the classroom! There are a lot of implied gender stereotypes that women in the classroom help to offset - and there are numerous times when women in the classroom call out (often subtle) sexism.”

“Women don’t always have a different perspective in the classroom, because many of the class topics are related to specific business experiences and situations – the diverse perspective comes more from our work experience than our gender. However, there are times when the discussion is more personal within the business context, and we talk about difficult, more emotionally charged situations. It’s in those moments when I think the women in the class can help to offer a different perspective on how to handle those situations.”

 “All forms of diversity are imperative to a successful learning environment and women most definitely provide a different perspective. The case method clearly highlights the importance of developing a culture that promotes the discussion and integration of unique information. Research shows that team’s with diverse backgrounds are more likely to share unique information, driving success.”

6. You’ll find women are more likely to doubt themselves during the business school application process

“I believe that women consistently under-value their abilities and potential, and are absolutely more likely to doubt themselves in the admissions process to business school. This is why I think mentorship is so important. When you have a strong female leader who you look up to as a mentor, she will serve as your advocate and encourage you to take these opportunities. This is also why groups like WSA play such an important role in helping women connect and learn from each other. If you’re thinking about applying I encourage you to visit campus, talk to your mentors, and reach out to other women who have pursued an MBA. I found speaking to other women to be the best resource in applying and being here!” 

Interested in learning more? To hear about upcoming women's events and the latest admissions news complete our getting started form.